There is only one sure way to keep the birds off your fruit – and that’s to bird net. I write this today because this is the question on your lips, and you’re all so disgruntled when I answer bird net! Why do you all hate bird net so much? I love it! And I love the birds too, I really do as long as they aren’t eating the bulk of my fruit.
Start with good quality net. Cheap net will tear, and holy bird net is not helping your cause. You want something with integrity, so you can use it many times over. You’ll also use it in the vegetable patch and it makes an excellent screen to fence chickens onto garden beds with. Its a worthwhile investment.
Jump online and find a commercial outfit like Cosio or Redpath. I used to use 10m wide stuff but have moved to 12m to achieve a much slacker fit, and its heaps easier to put on the wider it is. I prefer them to hang loose in as closer semblance to their natural shape as possible, its so awkward for the poor trees when they’re strait jacketed.
Keep an eye out and when the birds start pecking, that’s your moment to get the net on. I leave it as long as possible, to avoid the new shoots growing through the net, but not so long I loose the bulk of the crop.
Putting the net over is a bit of a knack but after a few go’s you and your net partner will get the hang of it. If you’re a shorty like me then get a broom. You also need a helper (preferably a tall one).
Lay the net out in a box of tissue concertina type style so that as you lift it over the tree it’ll keep flowing. This will save arguments, trust me. Stand one on either side of the tree and hook your broom under one edge of the net to lift it over. When you’ve gone as far as you can, take the broom out and get it under the net again a bit lower down and lift another section up onto the tree.
If god is good, all you need do now is go round to the other side of the tree and hook the edge of the net with the broom and pull it towards you. They say the best things come in small packages, but tall people are winning all the way here.
Be as gentle as you can and hopefully you wont knock too many fruits off. A few laterals may get broken but don’t worry too much, consider it a start to summer pruning.
Leave a little edge laying on the ground – most birds get in at ground level. Weight it down with planks or stones whatever you’ve got. I keep a stash of them in the orchard precisely for this time of year. Don’t skip this step or the birds will get in! Another option is to secure it Ray style (if you’re reading this Ray – you should send me a photo!), by gathering the net around the trunk and securing it with a bungy if I remember rightly.
Have a check for holes or gaps. Not so hard aye and doesn’t it feel good having all that fruit nicely protected.