Protecting Ripening Fruit in an Urban Garden
It’s the beginning of July, and the garden is rewarding me for months, arguably years, of planning and hard work. All the fruits we planted in the last few years are finally producing and giving us a taste of how our backyard homestead will be in the coming years. The patience required to create a backyard orchard has finally started to pay off, and yet now I’m faced with a new dilemma: learning about protecting ripening fruit in our garden.
Boysenberries, peaches, apricots, strawberries, apples, and lemons are just some of the fruits that are now available this season—-and the animals know it. Before I started gardening, I never saw (or maybe noticed) any kinds of covers in gardens. Most pictures I saw showed everything green and luscious, no hint of bags or unattractive mesh or netting covering fruit. Protecting fruit in the garden from pests was actually not something I ever thought about! The reality is much messier and much more cutthroat than I imagined.
I can’t claim to be an expert on this topic, but I am happy to share what has worked for us in regards to protecting fruit in the garden and being able to eat the fruit we grow!
A little about growing a backyard orchard
Sam and I have been working towards the goal of having some sort of fruit ripening year-round in our backyard. Creating a backyard orchard is not something that happens overnight, especially if you are like us and didn’t start out with this goal in the first place! We had originally wanted a simple kitchen garden on one side of our yard, while the rest was mainly grass and landscaping. Pivoting our entire yard into a backyard orchard and edible landscape was something that kind of took us by surprise. If you are lucky enough to have had this goal in mind from the very beginning, my best advice for you is to get those fruit trees in the ground as soon as possible! Many don’t truly start producing until years 3-4.
Growing fruit trees from bare roots is truly cheaper and just as rewarding as buying a potted tree. I have covered things to consider before buying a fruit tree in a previous post, but I’d like to add that it’s really important to take note of what kind of fruit you (or your loved ones) really enjoy eating and follow that inspiration. Make sure you know your gardening zone, and then research what fruit trees grow well in your zone along with the ripening window!
Last but not least, plan for the mature sizes of your trees. This was something Sam and I did not do well in the beginning, and we are currently battling lots of overgrown and crowded spacing with our backyard fruit trees! Honestly, this makes protecting your fruit from critters even more difficult as they have more areas to hide!
Ways to Protect Ripening Fruit in the Garden
Let me be frank. There is no garden that is free of pests. In fact, if that’s your goal, you will probably drive yourself far crazier attempting to achieve that goal rather than simply accepting some losses. That being said, the next few photos are the different ways we have protected our fruit from insects and animals over the years:
Organza Mesh bags are one product I’ve been using for years to protect various fruits in my garden. Please note that these bags come in many different sizes—some are perfect for strawberries while I’ve seen bags large enough to cover pomegranates! Furthermore, organza bags are reusable, so I simply keep some in my garden shed for whenever I need them. Admittedly, some gardeners have reported that squirrels and rats have chewed through them before, but that still doesn’t make me write them off. Why? Because they have worked well for me and I’ve also seen other gardeners in this city use them as well. So, it’s worth a try!
This particular solution for protecting fruit has been a game-changer for our boysenberries! As soon as our boysenberries started to change color, we draped some shade mesh over them to keep birds out. Now, this is one reason why it is important to know what type of critter or pest you are dealing with in the garden! For instance, if rats were eating our berries, I don’t think the draped shade mesh would work. Whereas, a simple draped cover has been enough to keep the birds off the berries.
Another consideration when protecting ripening fruit is to decide how much time and effort you are willing to put in. Tools like the organza bags take a lot of time to cover each individual fruit, whereas our draped shade mesh is relatively simple and less time consuming. Furthermore, the more mature our fruit trees got, the more fruit they produced and we found ourselves struggling to justify the time spent covering individual fruits! Understandably, a young tree with a few fruit might be the perfect candidate for bags whereas large trees make that method very undesireable. In the end, we have resorted to larger coverings (picture above) and even mesh tree bags to cover our more mature fruit trees. In fact, I put a tree bag over our front yard multi-grafted peach tree and it worked like a charm!
Covering Grapes with Brown Paper Bags
I posed the question over on Instagram: what’s the easiest way to cover so many bunches of grapes? It was great to hear how all of you are protecting your fruit! Large (wine-sized) organza bags were a logical option for grapes, but they seemed a little pricey to cover all the bunches of grapes. I thought we had 50-75 bunches, but it is looking like more than that!
I really liked brown paper bags, but I didn’t want to staple them. Funny fact, staples bother me. Ever since Sam and I became DIYers around the house I discovered that a lot of things, like carpet, were held down with insanely strong staples that were a pain to remove. Now, whenever we do a project, I always say ‘I want bare minimum staples please!’ It really annoys him. So, personal preference, no staples. Also, I can’t compost staples and I’m thinking I want to just compost the bags. Don’t forget to check out the Compost 101 section of the blog.
The plan? Brown paper bags held closed with clothespins. I already have clothespins in my garden shed for my DIY Fabric Row Covers too! What do you think?
Final Notes on Urban Gardening & Growing Fruit
As a general rule of thumb, I use organza bags for fruit when the trees are young and there isn’t as much fruit to cover. If the trees are really large (like our apricot) I aim for a larger covering like this black shade mesh or fabric row cover. In the past I’ve read horror stories about birds (and even squirrels) getting caught in bird netting, so I’ve just avoided using it in the garden. Despite how annoying birds can be when they destroy my plants, we still care about them and want them to feel comfortable here. One thing our bird population loves is sunflowers. I grow them consistently all Summer and just leave them to go to seed and feed the birds.
If you’ve struggled to protect your fruit, I feel your pain! Even now, we still lose fruit to critters. The only things I know for sure are that critters and pests will always be here and what works for one gardener might not work for others. But this is also why I think it is important to share this information between ourselves! Organic gardening can be frustrating, and yet we are constantly finding new things to add to our gardening toolkits.