The opportunity cost of not netting

Beautiful autumn colours in the apricots
Beautiful autumn colours in the apricots

Autumn is one of the most stunning times of year here on the farm. But it hasn’t all been beautiful sunny weather, we’ve finally had some decent rain. We’ve even had a bit of hail the last couple of days.

Hailstorms at this time of year are much less damaging than when we have fruit on the trees, but have reminded us of one of the main benefits of netting your trees.

Most of us think of netting fruit trees as a preventive measure to stop the birds eating the fruit – and it is – but it can also provide a level of protection against hail damage, depending on the type of net you use, and how you apply it.

Putting away the nets after the season
Putting away the nets after the season

As the fruit season winds down and we start to have a bit more breathing space to think about other things, now is a great time to review how your netting (if you have any) performed this season. Think about both the pros and cons:

  • was it easy to manage the infrastructure (either building your netting system, or putting out and taking in nets)?
  • how well did it protect your fruit from different species of birds or other animals like bats, possums, rats, kangaroos or deer?
  • did it provide any protection from weather events like rain, hail or storms?
  • did it have a negative effect on birds or wildlife? 
  • did it cause any damage to the fruit or trees?

It might have been a bit of a pain to manage, or not been completely effective. But here comes the real convincer (and it’s probably something you don’t want to think about!)

If you didn’t net your trees this year, try to estimate how much fruit you’ve actually lost to birds, other animals or weather events that you think might have been preventable with the right protection in place. 

Considering that a mature tree can easily produce from 20 to 40 kg of fruit (or even more in some cases), you may well be looking at substantial losses!

Once you have the answers to those questions, they’ll steer you in the right direction for making some good decisions about how you’ll approach the question of netting your fruit trees next season.

A netting enclosure over cherry trees reinforced with wire
A netting enclosure over cherry trees reinforced with wire

And it’s definitely worth putting protection in place if you can. If you’ve never seen hail damage of peaches, check this out – gruesome, huh?

Hail damage in cling peaches
Hail damage in cling peaches

Our farm is in a fruit growing area, and it’s becoming increasingly common for commercial orchardists to net their orchards to prevent hail damage as well as bird damage.

Two common methods commercial growers rely on are to use either a permanent canopy system (as you can see in the photo above), or drape netting the trees each year and then storing the nets in the shed over winter, as we do on the farm.

Surprisingly, both systems can offer substantial protection against hail. It’s tempting to think that you’ll only get hail protection if you put in a highly engineered (and therefore expensive) permanent structure, but actually those systems can be more easily damaged by hail, as we saw in a really bad hailstorm in Harcourt a few years ago, where the weight of the hailstones caused severe damage to the net of a neighbouring orchard (though to be fair, it did protect the crop underneath).

Drape netting may still result in some fruit on the outside of the tree (where it’s in contact with, or just under the net) being damaged by hail, but actually the net deflects most of the hail and provides pretty good coverage for most of the crop.

In our opinion, the best system for both birds and hail is something like the one above, because it’s not in contact with the tree, but it also allows the hail to fall off rather than catching it. This type of system can also be as temporary or permanent as you like and the same structure can also be used for frost cloth or fruit fly cloth if needed.

So there you go, the pros and cons of different types of netting systems for providing hail protection.

Which netting system you use (and you can see quite a few different versions in our short course Protect Your Crop From Birds) will depend on your garden, your budget and your capacity to build it – but guaranteed, your future self will thank you for installing the most effective system you can manage!

5 thoughts on “The opportunity cost of not netting”

  1. The big poly pipe over the tree in last picture…do you put that over a star picket or stake. My stakes were too big…

    1. Hi Chris – we put 50 mm poly pipe over star pickets, and that system seems to work pretty well.
      Thanks for the question.

  2. If have found a few of the 9 different apple varieties I have in my front yard will have several ‘flowering’ episode in a season – currently my Granny Smith has finished flowering & has many clumps of 2inch diameter apples currently growing. So I have 2 questions
    1) when is the best time to net the fruit tree? After the first flush of flowers have been pollinated?
    2) should I remove the unripe apples currently growing (thanks to unusual weather conditions here in Toowoomba) so the tree can go dormant, shall I just leave it there to see what happens?

    Last season I had so much enjoyment seeing the rainbow lorikeets & king parrots coming in & feeding on my apples that I decided not to met any of them that year. Somehow I did manage to collect several fruit that where hidden in lower branches that had been left untouched. I won’t do that again though as delightful as it was to watch them they are very wasteful eating chunks out of the apple, not even eating half of it, before moving on to the next one.
    My nets will go up next time & as I never have enough nets to cover all trees, the birds can still share some anyway.

    1. Hi Kelly, thanks for the question. Good on you for being able to enjoy watching the birds eat your fruit, that zen approach probably makes you much happier than stressing over it. However, it’s great to see you’re also planning to net the trees. To answer your questions, put the nets up after the first flush of flowering – this is the main one, and these are the flowers that will turn into the best quality fruit. Later flowering, including the end of season flowering you’ve experienced is actually pretty common, and they do sometimes turn into fruit, as you’ve observed, but it rarely comes to anything. Usually the fruit just falls off by itself at the time the tree would normally go dormant. There’s a couple of reasons that pulling this fruit off is still a good idea though – one is that if you have fruit fly you don’t want to provide any food for them late in the season, and the second is that leaving them on the tree might slightly delay the tree going dormant, and with our winters getting warmer and warmer, we need the trees to be dormant for as long as possible.

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