Now is the time to get your vegetable garden started! The journey will be a much happier one once you figure out how to reduce pest problems, which is what this series is all about. In this seventh post on the topic, let’s talk about creating barriers.
Despite your best efforts to create healthy soil – especially the first couple of years, when the nutrients in the soil are in the process of being built up – you may end up, with certain crops, with a larger pest population than you can control simply by using the aforementioned techniques. And if you have non-insect pests, such as birds or rodents, none of the previously mentioned techniques will help at all.
That’s where barriers come in.
A garden cage
I’ll start by telling you about the most clever barrier I’ve seen: a garden cage. Someone had built a cage out of wire mesh, making it about eight feet high by using plastic ties to attach two four-foot rolls of wire mesh together to make the walls. They also attached a wire mesh roof, and cut out an opening where they installed a makeshift door. It was firmly implanted into the ground with metal stakes. While insects could get in, the wire mesh holes were too small for even a mouse to crawl through.
Granted, this kind of set up is expensive, especially if you need a large one for a large garden. However, you will have no worries about deer eating up your tomatoes or rabbits snacking on your greens…and such a cage will last many years.
My husband did something like this on a smaller scale. The first time, it was a two-foot high, four-foot long wire mesh cage to keep the neighborhood cats from scratching up a new bare bed. The second time, he tied plastic window screen material around several two-by-two-by-four-foot PVC pipe frames to keep cabbage moths off of my brassicas. Later, I used these same frames to keep the wild rats from eating up my mung beans.
If the first cage I described above is beyond your budget, you might try making several PVC and window screen cages instead, varying the heights to fit whatever crop you are trying to protect. These will keep birds away, as well.
Fences, netting, etc.
A more common barrier for birds is bird netting, usually available at garden centers. If not, they are easily found online. It’s a mess to deal with, though, so use it judiciously.
If you have to deal with particularly large pests, such as raccoons or deer, a tall wooden fence might be your best bet. Put one up before you plant your garden, because if the animals don’t know you have “treats” for them, they are much less likely to go over the fence (especially deer).
What about gophers? Before you plant your first bed, ask around your neighborhood – if you don’t know the answer already – to find out if people have trouble with them. If so, cover the entire area of each bed with wire mesh so that they can’t pull the plants down into the ground.
For an insect barrier, the cheapest is the row cover. Purchase the summerweight type if you don’t want to heat up your plants. Row covers will keep off insects as small as flea beetles, so they are worth the investment.
For a comprehensive resource that will help you get a low-maintenance, high-yield garden going, be sure to check out my e-book How To Grow Vegetables Without Losing Your Mind.
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