You might think that living in a city means -- if you have a vegetable garden -- it comes with no care about wild critters munching on the garden goodness. Not so. Our nearby Rock Creek National Park is home to many veggie loving wildlife, including deer and rabbits, they move about the neighborhood, and they love a good garden snack. And so, we’ve always had to maintain at least a 6-foot tall fence around our small veggie garden. This brings to me to the tale of a tomato hunter.
A few years ago we began losing our beautiful red-ripe tomatoes, not to deer or rabbits, but birds. The 6-foot-high heavy-duty plastic fencing we have is very effective against our wild mammal friends (deer, rabbits), but did nothing to keep our birds out.
We have seed feeders for birds; we attract a lot of birds; and we love our birds …. but not when they eat our hard-earned tomatoes. After considering a few options, we decided to cover the tomato “patch” area of the garden with a fine reusable plastic netting (see top half of photo below). I used only a handy point-and-shoot camera for these pictures. The netting goes over the tomato patch area as they start ripening and stays on until we’ve harvested all we want for the summer. The netting is secured/tied down in multiple areas and weighted on the ground in our efforts to seal every small entrance from birds.
For a small garden, the netting has proven really effective. It holds up well, is inexpensive, and generally won’t require maintenance. We remove it at the end of the season, roll it up and store it for the next year. In the growing season it has to be checked periodically for damage, holes, and wear and tear.
In the five or so seasons we’ve used the netting, we’ve had two birds that breached it, and got themselves trapped inside. I’m happy to say that both situations ended well. We were able to safely release the birds; one, an adult cat bird, and the other, just last week, an adult female cardinal.
During my morning garden check from inside the house, I saw the cardinal flying about in the enclosed netted area. I bolted outside to free her. The bottom half of the photo below shows she got herself pretty tangled trying to get out but also trying to avoid me as I was approaching her. Again, I used only a handy point-and-shoot camera for these pictures and did not delay to get my professional gear.
Rescuing a small, healthy bird is not an easy task because their instinct is to fly and/or fight if they can. When they do this inside a very small enclosed netted area, they can obviously end up injured. Working fast as possible, I cut an opening in the net and then “moved her” towards the direction of the opening. I moved her by walking in her direction, which caused her to get away from me and go in the opposite direction.
This tomato hunter’s tale ended well. She found the opening and flew out like a rocket. A relief for both of us.
After this episode, I surveyed the netting and found a few small holes torn on the top. I can only attribute this to clever birds who made a way in to munch on our ripe tomatoes. Eventually, they created a hole big enough and got inside before my human eyes could detect any damage.
We will still use our tomato netting, and continue checking it daily, and continue feeding our birds --- seeds. We pick our tomatoes when they’re just about fully ripe. I try to avoid letting many ripened tomatoes sit for long before picking. Seeing those beautiful red fruits just raises the temptation for birds and will coax them in.
Netting is non-lethal, non-chemical, lightweight, let’s sun, rain and pollinators in, and virtually requires no maintenance. A great option for smaller gardens that are well-monitored.