Don't let critters get the better of your hard-earned crops, writes Justin Newcombe. Invest in a net and reap the rewards.
Emergence is a delicate time for many young shoots, especially those we have nurtured out of the ground ourselves. That's not to say we feel any less attached to the ones we stood in a queue and paid for. Either way, the last thing we want to see is razed beds. Those fresh seedlings are also tasty for the birds, slugs and snails, and who could blame them? We wouldn't turn down a free lunch.
Birds seem at first to be attracted by the fresh soil more than the plants. I often find my withered seedlings discarded next to a shallow divot where a bird has been rooting for worms.
Birds have been less of a problem since my wife, using a combination of fresh chicken necks and lots of patting, stole my neighbour's young cat. She even gave it a new name. I can now see first-hand why feral cats are so destructive for our native bird population.
Even so, we diligently put the bird netting out to keep the birds off the plants in the early part of the summer, and have found the netting is also useful for trapping slugs and snails.
Slugs and snails tend to get tangled in the netting and dry up as they're attempting to gobble the plants. Clearing the net is not unlike clearing a fishing net after a trawl - I'm quite impressed by how effective it is.
I decided to use a frame to keep the net off the ground, otherwise the seedlings tend to grow through the webbing and are ripped out of the ground when the net is lifted.
It also seems more efficient to wrap the net around a box frame as it spreads it out more, making it go further. You could make any size or shape depending on your plots and if you have a problem with smaller slugs getting through the netting, don't staple it at the bottom. Just let the netting drape on to the ground like the bottom of a dress. The smaller ones will get caught in the ruffles.
In summer, place some shade cloth over the top of the frame to protect young plants like basil or lettuces from sun exposure. Watering can still be done uninhibited and harvesting your fresh greens will remain straightforward.
Using light timber or bamboo, cut eight long-width lengths (mine are 1m) and four short lengths for height (mine are 200mm).
Pre-drill holes for the screws in the ends of each piece.
Screw the long pieces together to form the top square. Repeat to form the bottom square. It helps to have a jig of some sort. I used an old mitre vice for picture framing which made life easy.
Screw the shorter lengths to each corner to form a box.
Staple the bird netting over the box frame.
DIY workshops at your local Bunnings Warehouse this weekend
Saturday: 10am: Kids' mosaic workshop; 11am: How to grow vegetables and culinary bulbs; 1pm: How to lay laminate flooring.
Sunday: 10am: Kids' mosaic workshop; 11am: How to install a water-saving dripper system; 1pm: How to re-grout tiles.