Caged: Thornless Blackberry Plants

I was fortunate to have a few hours tonight after work to tidy up my large containers of thornless blackberry plants. Using some of the remaining chicken wire (stucco netting), I caged them up. No fancy stuff here, just cut the chicken wire to fit around the inside of each container and securing them by bending the cut ends into makeshift hooks. I then carefully lowered them into the containers.

The task was challenging because 4 out of the 5 containers were root bound so I could not move those containers. So, it was a matter of detangling the multiple canes to know which canes belonged to which container. Aside from the weeds, surrounding the containers are a few canes that came through the containers’ drainage holes, enjoying the uncaged life – freedom! Several blackberry flowers have emerged so I’m likely to enjoy these fruits this season. The next challenge, of course, will be the trick of removing cages as needed come harvest time – steady hands!

 

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Apple Tree, Caged!

Nearly a year ago, I noted how the sparrows in my area had descended upon my helpless (but prolific) 3-in-1 apple tree. I recall losing up to 50% of this tree’s fruit to them, which is quite an astounding feat (well played, birds). The tree is still relatively young, so the loss was significant. Following through on my thoughts from last year, I decided that today was the day to cage the tree, using stucco netting (also known as chicken wire), wire cutters, and a few pieces of twine. One apple was already knocked down (but not victim to the birds, happily – it was sweet and delicious). Several apples are nearing ripeness and I didn’t want to lose the chance and then more fruit this time around.IMG_1480

The handiwork is a bit basic, but I wanted it to be a simple project, which it was. I wrapped the tree with netting with a circumference just out of the reach of bird beaks – I know how funny that sounds! I wrapped another round atop the first one since the tree is taller than the height of the netting. I also put a layer of netting on the top. I secured the layers in a few places with twine, with a few tied in “bows” or “rabbit ears” so that I can open up the cage in strategic places to get to the fruit. The design is easy to remove and expand as the tree gets bigger, and I could do it myself, in about an hour. I’m already so happy looking outside and thinking about all of the fruits that I will get to enjoy this year!

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  Apple seeds are highly toxic if ingested. More information on toxic plants can be found here:

http://www.calpoison.org/hcp/KNOW%20YOUR%20PLANTS-plant%20list%20for%20CPCS%2009B.pdf

The Great Barrier Relief

My battles with weeds and gophers have prompted multiple solutions, but I’m happy to report that a 2-part solution that has had the most staying power for these problems involves barriers, namely chicken wire and landscape fabric. In September 2013, I wanted to re-start a container garden of English roses (since in-ground roses had been destroyed by gophers over several years). After removing weeds in a narrow rectangular garden space, I covered the area with chicken wire (also known as stucco netting, which is made of the same material but is much cheaper and you get more product) – held in place with garden staples – and on top of that, I laid down landscape fabric, also held in place with garden staples.IMG_3297
Now, 1-1/2 years later, I have received great relief from weeds and gophers using this strategy. With regard to weeds, as shown in the photo, the landscape fabric will not block out 100% of weeds – weeds fight hard to poke through anything. But instead of a carpet of weeds to have to mow and then whack with a string trimmer, all I have to do is pull up a few weeds by hand. The fabric will block out nearly all weeds. The savings in time for garden maintenance is significant.

With regard to gophers, in this very area, as I was pulling the weeds, I felt a few mounds underfoot. Indeed, there were attempts by gophers to break through, but they were unsuccessful. The chicken wire – when held down by garden staples – proved effective in blocking them out.

The cost for materials (landscape fabric, chicken wire, and garden staples) has been modest for this garden space. The project is also straightforward and can be done by one person, as I can attest. I’m always happy to report on things that work well!

Caging Out Gophers with Chicken Wire

Last year, I laid down chicken wire/stucco netting and mulch to keep gophers from wrecking my raised row garden. Although the chicken wire and mulch remain a good deterrent for gophers in terms of the specific square or rectangular areas involved, the rest of my back yard was not covered by chicken wire so, like a bunch of hooligans, gophers dug up holes in other parts of the garden, got to the raised row garden areas, and tore up a bit of some of the rows of soil (which have seedlings in them). Really, it’s like the aftermath of a college party. Punks.IMG_3183

Fortunately, I had quite a bit of chicken wire left over from last year’s project. I put in some shepherd’s hooks into the ground around the raised row garden areas (each area had one shepherd’s hook put in each of its four points). I then  wrapped the chicken wire around each hook to make a rudimentary open-air cage. They can easily unwrap for me to harvest crops and light maintenance. When I ran out of chicken wire, I finally, at long last, brought out of my garage, a very old screen door that came with my house nearly 16 years ago when I bought it. I kept in storage all this time with the thought that it might be re-used for a project some day. That day is today! (I have two old wood doors in the garage also – still trying to think up ways to re-use them, too!)

The hooks are 4 feet tall; the chicken wire is 3 feet tall. I’ve read the gophers can climb a height of at least 1 foot, so my plan and hope is that, like some athletes, although strong, even they have limits in their upper body strength and give up after the first foot. I also had the wire be not too taught with the idea that if their upper body strength for climbing is not too good, then the  swaying and movement of the chicken wire during any attempted climbing will freak them out and frustrate them enough to make them go away. They may be good diggers but they may not be very good at climbing that high.

In other words, I am using a plan that takes advantage of their (hopefully) limited ability to climb and their fear of falling down from a relatively great height. On the bright side, I can put hanging baskets later in the season to enjoy. The chicken wire and shepherd’s hooks give visiting birds more areas to perch and enjoy the yard!

Fighting Weeds with Landscaping Fabric

Not so long ago, this narrow side yard off my kitchen had tall, dead grassy weeds that looked like prairie lands! It was a project that I long delayed, until after I put in my fruit trees and raised row garden beds. With the help of a good string trimmer, I cut down the weeds and saw that they were, in fact, dead. Firstly, it was such a great relief to have that part of my back yard restored. I’d forgotten how much space I’d actually had there!IMG_3102

I’d decided that this side yard would be a container garden, likely to grow heirloom fruits and vegetables (at least that is what I am thinking as of this moment). As narrow as this area is, and even though it’s been covered with weeds for a while, gophers still attacked it. So, after removing the dead vegetation, I covered the area with stucco netting (chicken wire), holding it in place with landscaping staples. After that, I covered the area with landscaping fabric, specifically polypropylene woven ground cover. In combination, I should have a gopher- and weed-free side yard that is ready for a container garden. I am also considering roses again for the first time in a long time, but they would always be in large containers. I covered the even narrower space across from it surrounding western/southwestern part of my house. I might put in some nice container plants from the dollar store in that area for color. So many possibilities for these blank garden canvasses!

This method of managing weeds is not the most elegant, it’s true (check out the fancy blue stripes!), but it is very low maintenance, easy to replace (I have plenty of landscaping fabric left over), moderately priced, and frankly, very easy to haul to and from your car. The area is empty for the moment, but will be filled in soon. Until then, it’s very wonderful contemplating the plants that might go into this reclaimed space!

UPDATE: I’ve owned this string trimmer for less than three years and something in the wiring makes it short out and not work. This happened today, 3/15/2014, the second such incident. I only use it once a month, so I doubt it is from overuse. Sadly, I will hold off on bringing it back to the repair shop since I suspect the problem will return and I am not sure what causes it to short out. It is also a bit tiresome to have to the battery run out in under 30 minutes and then you have to wait to recharge it to continue on with your work. (Hands thrown up in the air). Disappointed with Ryobi. If manufacturers want more people to “go green,” they have to make the products last as long (if not longer) and perform as well as non-green products. I will be shopping for a gas-powered string trimmer soon.

Chicken Wire: A Gardener’s Friend and Gopher’s Foe

For anybody who has had to deal with gophers in their garden, you know the frustration of having to find something, anything that will reduce their damage. In my city, gophers run rampant, so it’s an ongoing problem that requires quite a bit of vigilance to prevent crop damage/loss and garden hazards from holes in the ground and large mounds of soil.

When I put in my raised row garden beds, the first thing I attended to was the issue of gopher management, not my future crops! I’d lost over two dozen rose plants over the years because of gophers (they eIMG_3101at their tender roots) so wanted to make it difficult for them if they decided to trespass onto my new garden beds. I laid chicken wire, securing them with landscaping staples, before covering the garden bed areas with mulch and gardening soil.

Apparently, the chicken wire has made at least one gopher unhappy. It’s interesting to see that the gopher attempted to dig a new hole and had to stop because of my 20-gauge galvanized steel chicken wire. I am so pleased to see that! I inspected this hole a bit further and saw that the wire was intact. Behaviorally, I hope that the gophers that attempt to attack that part of my garden will remember that these areas are un-diggable, and would prompt them to leave my back yard alone. For now, I am happy to see a successful result from having this rather modest-cost solution to my gopher problem. For larger yards and gardens, multiple methods might be deployed, but for most gardeners, chicken wire might be something to consider for specific projects.

Shopping Tip: Pre-packaged rolls of chicken wire (about $35 per roll, 36″ x 50″)  were about triple the cost of stucco netting, which is used for houses. The product is the same 20-gauge galvanized steel. The stucco netting also came in a roll three times the size (36″ x 150″ for $46.25), so you get a lot more for the money if you buy stucco netting. I have more than enough extra chicken wire for when I have to do any replacement of the product, which I hope will be many years from now, as well as for other projects.

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