I love birds. I love to watch them nesting and breeding around my place. But I don’t love what they do in my garden. I don’t mind sharing with the birds, but sometimes they ruin what they don’t completely consume. This year, they’ve gone after my ripening tomatoes.
Usually, the birds don’t bother with the tomatoes. They aren’t sweet enough to compete with plums, apricots, and berries. But this year, I don’t have any blackberries for them. This spring, Dennis and I cut my blackberry patch to the ground to renew it. There were an awful lot of huge, dead canes in the patch that just got in the way when we wanted to get in and pick. I knew we wouldn’t get any berries this year, but that’s okay because I have a small chest freezer full of berries from last year. But without the blackberries this summer, the birds are turning their attention to my ripening tomatoes.
It’s a lot of extra work to try to protect fruit from the robins and Steller’s Jays that nest around my garden and orchard and live on their bounty. As I discovered with my apricots, netting only discourages birds if they can’t perch somewhere and peck away through it. I don’t like to net tomatoes because it’s too hard to remove the netting to pick the fruit without damaging the plants. Some years ago, I tried using brown paper lunch bags to hide the tomatoes from the birds, and it works very well.
If I can slip the whole bag over the individual fruit or clusters, I can clip the bag together at the top with clothespins. If the clusters are wedged awkwardly between stems, I tear the bag and wrap it around the cluster as best I can to hide it from the birds. Wooden clothespins can be manipulated to close the tops of the bags.
I also use nylon tulle in certain situations to protect my produce from birds. I can lay it over berries or wrap it around tomatoes to protect them. In the pictures below, I took the tulle off the boysenberries and wrapped it around the bottom of the tomato cage to protect my cherry tomatoes. I’d already lost a few nearly ripe tomatoes before I realized the birds were going after them. The tulle is fastened to the tomato cage wire at the bottom and at the join with clothespins. The fruit at the bottom of the plant is ripening first, so it has to be protected first. And I had to wrap the tulle in a way that will allow pollinators to get in and pollinate the blossoms on the upper part of the plant as it grows. I can add another section of tulle as needed.
I reuse the tulle and brown paper lunch bags from year to year until they start falling apart. Sun will eventually rot out the nylon, but I have some pieces I’ve been using for ten years. It’s very dry here and rarely rains in the summer, but the paper bags will hold up though a thundershower or three. They dry out quickly here, so they don’t lead to mildew issues. (This might be a problem in humid climates.)
I also use the lunch bags for seed collecting. I can cut seed stalks of plants like kale, lettuce, heirloom carrots, dill, parsley, penstemon, and lupin, label the bags, and close them securely with masking tape. Then I stash them in a cool place and let them dry without worrying about losing the seeds. Drying seed can scatter everywhere with seed pods that pop open when dry, like petunias, snapdragons, lupins, sweet peas, and beans. If these pods are contained in paper bags, there’s no muss, no fuss when the pods pop. The bags allow air to circulate, so seed pods dry quickly. And all I have to do later is remove the stem and empty pods, re-close the bags, and store them in a cool, dry place for next year. I have plastic shoe boxes for my seed storage. I save those silica drying packets that come with things like boxes of new shoes or prescription drugs and tuck them into my plastic shoe boxes with my seeds to keep moisture to a minimum.
Brown paper bags and nylon tulle are both inexpensive ways to protect my garden produce from the depredations of the birds I love.