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Birds and berries

07/31/02 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer loves both birds and berries, but not necessarily together. So he's devised a way to keep the birds and his berries apart.

(Homeyer) I love berries, all kinds of berries. I love strawberries, and raspberries. I love blackberries and blueberries. Unfortunately, so do all the birds in my neighborhood. We've had some serious discussions about this, but birds don't seem to listen very well. So what does a berry-loving fellow like me do? It all depends on the type of berry in question.

I let the birds have as many raspberries and blackberries as they want, and they always leave enough for me. Strawberries are another thing. Birds tend to just take one bite, then go on to the next - like a pie judge at the county fair. So I cover my strawberries. I can't stand to waste all those good berries. I use stiff wire arches - or hoops - that are about 16 inches high and four feet wide, with a fine mesh net.

I cover my blueberries, too. I love to pick and freeze plenty for winter pies, and I've only got 8 bushes, so I don't share. Covering blueberries used to be difficult, but I've come up with a simple system that works well for me. I construct arches from half-inch diameter plastic pipe - the kind used by electricians. I cut and glue it together in 15 foot lengths. The plastic pipe is flexible enough so I can bend it into an arch about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. This fits over the berry bushes nicely. I place them 8 to 10 feet apart. I just poke the conduit into the soft earth, but if necessary you can slip it over a fiberglass rod, the kind used for electrical fencing. Unlike wooden supports often used for netting, this system has no corners or rough places to catch the netting, so it slides on and off easily.

When I first tried this system the birds beat me the second day. They all sat in one place. That pressed the netting down, closer to the berries, so the birds could reach them right through the netting. So now I run a string along the top of the arched pipes, tying it firmly to each one before I put on the netting. I hold the netting in place with plastic hair clips, the kind that you squeeze to open the jaws. When I pick berries, I just slide up the netting, and fasten it with the hair clips.

If you don't want to use netting, there are all kinds of other devices that are sold to scare away birds, from reflective tape to recordings of robins in distress. There are huge eyeball-simulating balloons and plastic owls, but these things never seem to work for very long.

A friend of mine told me that her grandfather, the late Fred Beauchamp of Rutland, rarely used anything to protect his berries. He figured it was his job to grow enough for his family and the birds. I like that idea, so this fall I'll try to find some time to plant another row of blueberries.

This is Henry Homeyer, the gardening guy in Cornish Flat, N.H.

Henry Homeyer is a gardener and writer. His new book is "Notes from the Garden: Reflections and Observations of an Organic Gardener." More information is available at: www.gardening-guy.com

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