Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bird Wars

The first 4 of my 13 tomato plants were planted in early March. I've waited months to enjoy the epitome of the garden experience - picking a ripe red tomato and sinking my teeth into its juicy flesh. Enter birds.

As soon as the first tomatoes started to ripen - started, mind you, not fully ripened - the bird were ready, lurking on a neighbor's tree just waiting to scoop down for a little tomato-love. I tried to let them ripen on the vine as long as possible, but inevitably, I'd try to leave a tomato on for just a few more hours just to discover during the next inspection that it had been half pecked. Honestly, I don't mind sharing, but the birds were in no mood to share and pecked anything that looked like it might start to ripen. Disappointed that I'd been denied this gardener's pleasure, I started picking the tomatoes yellowish-green and letting them ripen in a paper bag on the counter.

That's when I started to do a little research and let me tell you, the internet is full of 101 ways to scare birds away: scarecrows, pie pans blowing in the wind, wind-chimes, aluminum foil, bird netting, leaving water out for the birds (what they really want from the tomato is moisture), leaving bird food out, hanging red Christmas bulbs before tomatoes ripen (to fool the birds into thinking these red orb things suck)...

I tried all the free options available to me like the aluminum foil, the wind-chimes, and setting out a water dish for the birds. It did slow them down, kinda... but it certainly didn't stop them. Day after day, I was pulling in pecked tomatoes that would have to be eaten without ripening.

That's when Dave wisely suggested we break down and spend a little money for bird netting. It took awhile to figure out where they keep the stuff in the hardware store (in the pest section - hmm. Apropos, no?). It was only $6 roll so we decided to give it a try. We spent all of five minutes on Sunday draping the netting and staking the corners over the 2 x 8 foot bed containing 12 of the 13 tomato plants. The results? Well, those are some mighty fine looking tomatoes still ripening on the vine, aren't they? The war may not be over, but I finally won the battle. 

10 comments:

Sue said...

I'm so happy you found a way to keep the birds at bay. I'm just at the strawberry stage in my northern garden, but netting is good for many many things! :)

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

You know, I wouldn't have known that birds would be a predator to tomatoes, I will have to keep a close eye out. Do you know what kind of birds were messing with your plants or was it a variety? Good thinking with the bird netting, I wouldn't have known such a thing existed.

There ARE some very interesting remedies for garden pests. I've heard that leaving a sweaty male shirt (it has to be male sweat) hanging over a chair near your garden will keep deer away. I don't know if that is true or not, but it is definitely different.

sharli said...

So far, the birds haven't found my tomatoes yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed! But, it sounds like the netting is working out for you.

Heather @ SGF said...

Sue - I've heard strawberries are a big bird draw as well. I've read that if you take some rocks, paint them red, and lay them in your berry patch before you berries start to ripen, the birds will get tired of pecking rocks and leave the berries alone (same idea with the christmas bulbs hanging from the tomato plants). I don't know if it works though.

Jennifer - I'm not sure which birds are actually the problem (or if all of them are). We don't have any trees in our backyard, but our neighbors have one just over the fence line where the birds can sit and watch me in the garden. I swear as soon as I leave then dive in 'cause I can never quite catch them in the act.

I guess the sweat thing would be because the deer can smell human, though I'm not sure why only male. Maybe they're more pungent than we are :)

Sharli - You're lucky. I would have guessed with all the trees you have at your house that one of the birds would have discovered your garden. If they do make the discovery, at least it's an easy (and cheap at $6) fix. I'm still jealous of your cucumbers. My largest is only about 4 inches. Come on little cucumbers...

Lynn said...

I gave up about 12 years ago.

What do you do about the mice?

Heather @ SGF said...

Lynn - Actually, we haven't had any trouble with mice. We have some outdoor cats in the neighborhood, so maybe that's why. It's just those pesky birds :)

ttammylynn said...

Adaptation will help you through. Just don't give up. Birds are what they are and have been for decades or centuries or longer, scavangers. They are equiped with flight, good eyesight and the will to live. You are equipped with a brain to cope with birds, lol, and a desire to devour beautiful tomatoes. I feed birds by my lack of picking berry trees, the birdseed I give, the flowers they like and my general goodwill, but there are limits to everything so, to some extent, these birds must fend for themselves...
When I see birds making compost and gardening, tending the tomatoes and then enjoying the fruits of their labor
1. I will be happy for these hard-working creatures.
2. I am sooo getting it on video.
LOL...have a good day. I didn't make it to Wed market, my delivery truck has serious technical issues, it needs a new transmission. So expensive...I love my old truck and we decided to fix it.

Heather @ SGF said...

Tammy - I'm still waiting on the birds to pull weed for me. Why do they go for the good stuff? :)

Diane said...

Hi there, I was just reading your posts on tomato pests. The netting works well, but here is a cheap idea for the four legged pests, such as mice, rabbits, raccoons and others. They can't stand the smell of vinegar. I soak some rags in white vinegar (full strength) and put them on wooden stakes around my garden. They stay away! even when it is dried the smell remains. Resoak the rag every week or so, until you get your harvest in.

Heather @ SGF said...

Diane - What a cool tip! Thanks!