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An unconventional approach to gardening, and how to address the challenges that come with it

In the Garden

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Photos: Lance Ellis |

Growing can mean so many things, but I would like to recommend a method of growing that most people never consider. Try growing your crops vertically and use the area above where they normally grow, as additional growing space.

For some crops this is just not feasible such as corn, beets, and potatoes. But for vining crops, rather than dedicating a huge amount of space to an aggressive grower, try vertical gardening and cut down the space used.

Vertical gardening has been used for centuries when growing beans and peas and consists of giving a vining plant a structure to grow on. Fence lines, trellises, arbors, and string or wire were always the norm for getting plants to grow up off the ground, but in the last decade people are getting creative and using other materials to make unique and artful growing structures.

The most popular structure is to take a hog wire panel, and bend it over to make an archway and then planting any vining type of plant along the base, and letting them cover the wire with foliage and fruit. It’s a neat experience to pick a 15 lb. squash fruit off of a vine that is hanging at eye level or to walk through a human-sized tunnel of squash plants and fruit. This method works well for cucumbers, pole beans, and climbing flowers and vines. Tomatoes have a hard time climbing on their own, and while many of them have a vining habit, they don’t have the tendrils that allow themselves to be held onto a wire, and instead have to be contained and supported in their growth habit.

Another issue we commonly face is bird damage on fruit trees or bushes, just as the fruit is maturing. An excellent deterrent against birds is lightweight bird netting. Normally made out of plastic, this mesh is laid over the tops of strawberry patches, and over any fruit-bearing tree or shrub that is being raided by unwanted birds.

Chicken wire cages can also be constructed for particular plants to keep birds out, but they are far more expensive. One raspberry producer that I know built an entire chicken wire enclosure around his raspberry patch. It was 7 feet tall and completely bird-proof. While that was a great deal of work and expense in the beginning, he never has an unwanted bird damaging his raspberry crop.

Another alternative is noise emitting devices that are triggered by motion sensors. They can emit the sound of an owl or a hawk screeching, thereby frightening away small birds which tend to be the ones who do most of the damage. As with any of the frightening devices, once the birds get used to them, they lose their effectiveness.

A different, but somewhat labor-intensive approach, is using clear fishing line strung tight and hung above your strawberry or raspberry beds. The birds cannot see the line when swooping in to eat the fruit and when they bump into an unseen fishing line it unnerves them, and they are scared away. This has proven to work well, as the birds never really learn where the line is.

Another method is to create a colorful moving garden area filled with animated objects that either move by themselves or with the wind. Tying helium balloons to the ground, hanging sparkling or twisting garden ornaments above desirable plants, and using other noise-making devices makes the garden a “spooky” place for birds. Once again the challenge is that birds can become accustomed to the colors, moving objects, and reflecting sunlight, so it is critical to change and move these objects often to prevent them from just ignoring them.

The same would go for fake owls, and or fake snakes that sometimes can be used to help keep birds at bay. They need to be moved often, at least daily, for a fake snake, and at least every other day for an owl.

For further questions please contact Lance Ellis at (208) 624-3102.