6 Steps to Looking After Nets

Protecting the precious fruit crop with nets
Protecting the precious fruit crop with nets

We’re big fans of netting fruit trees, because as you’ve probably experienced if you’re trying to grow fruit in the same habitat as birds, possums, rats and all manner of animals who like to eat fruit (kangaroos, anyone?), if you don’t net, there’s a pretty good chance something else will beat you to the fruit. 

So, you’ve followed our advice and put out your nets in spring or early summer, you’ve picked your wildly successful fruit crop, and now it’s time to put the nets away.

Here’s the 6 steps to proper net care: 

  1. Mend the nets. By the end of the season nets have often been damaged by kangaroos, birds or other misadventure, and mending them is often easiest to do while they’re still on the trees, when you can see the holes easily and get to them for easy mending. We use polypropylene fishing net mending twine and special needles, but anything will do – baling twine, clips, cable ties, even twist-ties can be useful.
  2. Remove nets from the trees. If you’re removing drape netting and are a little height-challenged you may need to borrow a tall friend or two, or find a nice long pole (or a broom!) to help you to push the nets up and over the tree. If you’re removing the nets while the trees still have leaves (highly recommended, it’s much easier), you may be able to remove the net by pulling from one side and hoping it slides off the tree, and of course if you’re removing nets from a frame it’s much easier as the net will usually just slide over the frame. Be as careful as possible to prevent breaking limbs and laterals, and particularly careful of the more delicate growing tips of the branches.
  3. Remove debris. Any twigs or branches that have become entangled, or any fruit that has become caught in the net, must be removed; the former because it makes putting them out next year a nightmare if there are snags in the net, and the latter because the fruit must be disposed of correctly so it doesn’t harbour pests or diseases. 
  4. Label the net. If you’re netting multiple trees, this step makes it SO much easier next year to figure out which net goes with which tree!
  5. Pack into rodent-proof covers. Take it from us that rats and mice LOVE to live in nets in the winter, and putting out net that has been lived in by rodents is a most unpleasant and smelly job. Ideally find sealable bags or boxes that are large enough to accommodate your nets.
  6. Store out of the weather. The whole point of taking our nets in each year is to prolong their life, so it just makes sense to store them out of the weather. Sunlight is actually the most destructive element for nets (after physical damage), so if you’ve managed to do step 5 successfully and completely cover the nets you could store them outside, but they may be more prone to invasion by rodents or insects. 
Packing nets away at the end of the season
Packing nets away at the end of the season

Though it takes a bit of time to put your nets away properly, you will definitely thank yourself next season when you go to put them out again! For some help in choosing the right netting system to suit you, take our Protect Your Crop From Birds short course.

Could grasshoppers be eating your fruit?

If you still have fruit on your trees this summer, you may have seen this type of damage on it:

Grasshopper damage on a clingstone peach
Grasshopper damage on a clingstone peach

It’s caused by grasshoppers (or more unusually, locusts), which can become quite a problem from about mid-summer onward.

A locust on the window of our packing shed
A locust on the window of our packing shed

They can also eat leaves quite badly, as you can see from this devastated little plum tree.

Leaves stripped from a young plum tree by grasshoppers
Leaves stripped from a young plum tree by grasshoppers

As bad as it looks, a tree can survive this damage late in the season, because it’s already done most of its growing for the year. This damage happened a couple of years ago to this plum tree, and it came back in full leaf the following year, and has continued to grow and become very productive.

Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage
Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage

However severe damage can also kill really young trees, or if the trees are completely stripped of leaves too early in the season, so the next question is, is there any way to prevent the damage?

One way to combat them seems to be keeping the grass cut (or eaten down by animals) under the trees, but this can have limited success.

A chicken on earnest bug eating duty on the farm
A chicken on earnest bug eating duty on the farm

The best method is to use some animal friends to do what they do best! Chickens and other poultry just LOVE to eat grasshoppers, so if you can confine them around your fruit trees, even for a brief time, they can help to clear up a grasshopper problem very quickly.

This is just one of the ways that animals can be really useful to help you
successfully grow organic food. We’ve put together a short course called Fruit Tree Care for Animal Lovers to help you explore all the ways you can go into partnership with your pets to grow better food.

Netting options for backyard fruit trees

Fruit damage from birds, bats and possums is high on the list of complaints from home fruit growers. This week we look at various netting options,and how they can protect your crop from most of these problems.

The birds left us the stems!

Our new cherry trees are now producing fruit (hooray), and even though we drape netted some of them, it wasn’t completely successful – partly because we were a bit late getting some of the nets on, and partly because the type of birds that were giving us a hard time (parrots) are also particularly clever at getting under drape nets!

So, successful netting is not just about doing it in a timely fashion, it’s also about having the right system for your situation.

Another big advantage of netting your trees is providing some protection against hail, and if you’ve experienced hail before, you’ll know what we’re talking about! Hail storms are a pretty common occurrence on the farm and we lose at least some fruit to hail most seasons.

This is what hail damage looked like on our apricots last year:

Hail damage on apricots

Birds not only damage the fruit, but can help spread brown rot as well. There are lots of different ways to try to scare birds away, such as CDs hanging in the tree, fake predators and the like, but the only real solution is to net your trees – the sooner we all resign ourselves to this necessity, the happier we’ll all be!

This simple net below is made with a frame of star pickets and pipe, and is the easiest and most effective solution we’ve seen (and used).

It’s easy to put up (and take down again if you choose), and easy to peg down around the perimeter to stop persistent smaller birds getting in under the net, which can happen with drape netting (as we saw this year!). This particular set up also has wire netting around the base, which can be useful for stopping larger animals from getting into the enclosure.

Drape netting is easier if you are doing a lot more trees, and is very effective against big birds, and can also deter fruit bats, both of which descend on the tree from above and don’t like to get in under net.

Unless you are really diligent about tying off the net around the trunk, it won’t stop smaller birds like parrots, which are happy to nip under the edges of the net and help themselves. Having said that, it does keep the damage to minimum and is definitely worthwhile.

Learn practical strategies that actually work to protect your fruit from birds and other critters in Protect Fruit from Pesky Pests.