Come the start of summer there is no higher reward for the hard-working gardener than plates of fresh strawberries from the garden. [Fun with strawberries here ]However it isn’t always straightforward as, in additions to the slugs and snails, blackbirds will do almost anything and expose themselves to great danger just for a taste of your strawberries.
It is most disappointing to go out into the garden and find your beautiful crop, pre-discovered and beak-hacked to smitherines. Over a few years I have used several techniques to combat the garden competition for strawberries and keep the blackbirds off my strawberries and would like to amuse you by keeping a record of them here.
Technique number one is that old garden favourite, hanging CD’s, bits of feather and netting that move in the breeze. This worked for about a day and exposed the danger of bits of old fruit netting only partially obscuring the strawberries. The blackbird shown got its foot trapped in the netting and I got a good pecking in order to free it.
Next, came ‘the contraption’. An electric drill in a bucket weighted down with rocks. Attached to the drill bit is a plastic flowerpot with slits cut down the side. Every time I went inside, or every now and then when I was in the kitchen, I would flick a switch on the wall and the black flowerpot would spin, raising up from the bucket with a horrible noise and opening its ghastly maw to consume the birds. The birds flew away. I was so effective even I got nightmares about it. But it was completely impractical as you had to stand in the kitchen watching and waiting for them to land.
There really is no substitute for a properly laid fruit net and an investment of less than £10 ensured my fruit reached the kitchen, un-nibbled by birds at least. This net had at least 2 blackbirds jumping up and down on the top in what appeared to be frustration as they failed to reach the strawberries. I felt a slight sense of pride in affirming that my brain was slightly larger than that of a blackbird’s.
The next year I decided that just two weeks worth of strawberries around Wimbledon time wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel that they were reaching their potential size and that putting them in a growdome would extend the growing season. [How to make a growdome here]
In order to use space effectively, I dug up a 12 foot square strawberry bed and constructed a ‘strawberry tower’ with up-cycled containers stacked on top of one another. This worked very well with edible strawberries appearing at the end of May, two weeks earlier even in a very late spring. Of course one of the blackbirds got in the open door of the grow dome and helped itself until I netted off the whole dome, which was easy. I watched from the kitchen window as it discovered the modification and systematically searched for another way in, which it failed to find.
I had dug up 2 strawberry beds and potted all of the others up – some of them were in the growdome but didn’t crop very well in pots even though I fed them on the juice from my worm composter. There were a whole lot in pots outside which pollinated so I moved them into my other growdome and the blackbird soon found its way in to take the first ripe ones. There was even one of the local feral cats waiting in there for it when I went in. The small pots these strawberries were in seemed to dry out quite quickly. I had a cheap ‘asda’ paddling pool which had punctured after a couple of days and set these strawberries in the pool to soak up water and worm juice from underneath. It was an easy job to harvest a bit of bamboo and lay the other net over it, tucking the edges under the pool.
This all sounds rather mean, re-reading it, so I should just add that I didn’t dig up all of the strawberries and there are random patches around the garden which I leave for the blackbirds – after all its their garden too and I enjoy their singing, which is some of nature’s finest music. They are beautiful birds and its good to see them sleek and fit and know that in some small part this comes from the strawberries (and other fruit) that I choose to give them.