Addendum: this was a good idea, but not quite good enough. For information on the next thing we tried, look at my post “How to keep birds out of your grapes, 2nd edition”. By the way, we are still using the same netting that is depicted in that post. It was a little costly, but in the long run, SO much better at what it was designed to do, and much easier to deploy. HMH August 18, 2012
One of the aggravating things about growing fruit crops is the struggle to keep the little birds and other animals from eating them before you can. I didn’t get any strawberries this year. The box turtles got the few that survived the freeze before I did.
If there is a good fruit to eat, the birds are right on that job, and they will keep on it until there is no fruit left. Not only that, but their definition of “good fruit” is a lot different than ours. They are not patient. They will start eating grapes the second they start to turn color, which is a good month before the grapes have developed enough sugar to be useful as wine grapes. The vineyard grapes are beginning to turn color, and it didn’t take the birds more than a couple of days to notice that fact, and start helping themselves to the berries. We needed to do something to keep the birds out while the grapes got ripe enough for us to make wine.
We were working in the vineyard today on that very task, when the irony of my attitude towards the grape poachers struck me. I was just thinking, as I worked my way along the row of grapes I was attending to, “HAH! This will keep the little bastards out of the grapes for sure!”
The thought had not stepped up onto the curb of the street in my mind it was crossing before I realized the “the little bastards” that I was referring to were the finches, cardinals, blue jays, robins, and other birds that I spend around $300 a year buying bird food for. Not only that, but I dug a pond and spend quite a lot of energy maintaining it mostly for their benefit. When they are out on the bird feeders and providing me entertainment through the window, they are beautiful, cute, funny; and valued citizens of the yard. But when they are eating the grapes? Well!
The first year we had baby grape vines, keeping the birds out of the fruit was not an issue, since we didn’t allow the vines to make any grapes. The second year, there were very few bunches of grapes, for the simple reason that we systematically pruned off all but two bunches per vine so that the vines would make roots rather than spend energy making fruit. That year, the birds were able to eat all the grapes on two entire rows in one day. We did some fast research and found information that indicated it is possible to keep the birds out of the grapes by bagging them. Jim went to a lot of trouble doing that, and it worked.
So, last year, having pruned off all but 8 or 10 bunches of grapes per vine, we used the bagging strategy. It had worked before, and we expected it to work again. Our birds were hungrier, smarter or bigger, or simply more clever. It only took them about two weeks to learn that they could tear into the bags and get the grapes. They got busy denuding the first row of grapes to ripen of all its berries, and we looked into the cost of bird netting for the vineyard. Rolls of vineyard netting are 14 feet wide and 100 feet long. It was going to cost right around $500 to cover the vineyard, and this seemed prohibitively expensive to us.
Besides that, the mesh size on commercial bird net is 1/2″ by 1/2″, which keeps the bees, wasps and wrens out as well as any bird that might eat the grapes. Since we are organic growers, we like having the pollinaters and small bug-eaters to be able to access the vineyard.
Enter my mother. She has a 100 foot row of blueberries, out of which she successfully keeps the birds. She went to the local iron worker and had him build her nice 7 foot tall arches, which she stationed about every ten feet down the row. The first year she used the arches, she purchased UV resistant bird net, and deployed it. The birds stayed out.
However, the UV resistant netting wasn’t really, and it was very expensive. She was balking at having to buy it every year, even though this was how it was possible to actually eat the blueberries she was growing.
Well, my mother raises cattle. The year that she was cogitating on the blueberry net problem was also a year when she had to buy a lot of hay. She puts up hay in a big round baler, but her baler is designed to use baling twine to tie off the bales. The bales she purchased had been wrapped with bale netting. It is a plastic mesh 4 feet wide, which due to it’s hexagonal weaving, will stretch to 6 feet wide. It comes in 6000 foot rolls. One roll of it costs about $250.
I’m not sure what made the lightbulb go off in my mother’s head, but she saw the potential of the bale netting to act as a disposable bird net. It took three lengths of bale netting to cover her blueberries. At that rate, she could buy one roll and have enough to protect her blueberries for 20 years at a cost of $12.50 per year as opposed to the $100 per year the conventional bird netting would cost.
In order to connect the lengths of netting, she was rolling the edges together and stapling them together. We mentioned our problem with the birds in the grapes, and she mentioned her solution for her blueberries. Not only that, but she offered to let us use her roll of bale netting for free!
So, last year, we proceeded to wrap each row of grapes with bale netting. We struggled with how to connect it along the length of the row. Stapling did not work for us, especially when we tried to stretch the bale net over the grape vines. And wire ties, while they worked, had to be deployed every 3 inches to be effective. That runs into a lot of wire ties in a hurry. I thought about dental floss, and tying that instead of wire ties. That worked pretty well, but it was very tedious. Then I thought of making a single chain stitch of crochet to hook the lengths together. That worked really well, but the dental floss was so limp it was taking a lot of stitches to accomplish the task. That was when Jim’s mental lightbulb went off, and he rushed off to get our roll of jute twine. I used that to crochet the lengths of bale net together, and boy was that ever the right answer.
This is what the “crochet” line looks like:
And this is what the vineyard looks like with the net deployed:
It takes me about 45 minutes to connect two pieces of bale netting long enough to extend from one end of a row of grapes to the other. We had to make 9 seams. We started working on it on Friday afternoon, and finished today.
The birds will just have to eat wild grapes.