In the kitchen garden we have three custom made fruit cages. Designed and made by a local blacksmith, they follow the curves and levels of the wall. For the first two years we had these covered with a black fabric netting. Going up in the early summer, this netting simply stretched over the frames and could be pinned directly to the ground. Whilst this was sufficient to keep the birds at bay we found ourselves being raided by what appeared to be highly organised gangs of grey squirrels. These audacious creatures would burrow under, chew through or simply push the netting aside to get at the fruit within.
Having decided enough was enough, last winter we covered two of the three with chicken wire and this week I have finally finished covering the last. Whilst the end result is very satisfying, the job itself is both time consuming and fiddly. First we cover the roof knitting together the sections with wire and attaching them with cable ties. Then the same process on the sides, with each panel having to be done separately as the structure curves with the path. The final stage is to dig a trench 12 inches deep around the edge of the cage and bury the netting into the ground to prevent any burrowing by potential pests. The good news is that although costly (both financially and time wise), this is a permanent covering and with luck a task I won’t have to undertake again for a good many years.
With all the cages now covered, we have only to find a solution for one more pest. Difficult to eradicate, due to its usefulness in other parts of the garden, the Isle of Wight gooseberry eater can decimate a crop in a matter of hours and the only solution could be a robust system of locks attached to the door of the cage.
Words by Helena, photographs by Martin.