vegetable patch management
pest control
DETER - birds
The first line of defence in the Three Ds pest control method is to Deter pests from eating or damaging your vegetables.  By making it  difficult for insects and birds to get at your vegetables you will stop them from doing damage in the first place. 

This section looks at how you can deter birds from damaging your vegetables.

Wire mesh protection
Photo of wire mesh over rocket seedlings
Wire mesh placed over Rocket seedlings.
Birds such as Starlings and Blackbirds can wreck havoc in a vegetable patch by constantly scratching up seeds and young seedlings in their search for worms.  The most direct way to prevent this is to lay pieces of wire mesh over any seeds you have just planted.  While the wire can be laid straight on the bed the best method is to raise it two or three centimetres above the ground (to give the seeds room to grow).  This can be done by making a wooden frame for the wire mesh to sit on. 

However, if the gauge thickness of the mesh is heavy enough to support it's own weight, it is easier to simply bend the edges of the mesh over suit forms it's own border.  Eventually, as the seedlings grow, you will have to remove the mesh.  But by then the plants are usually big enough not to be threatened by scratching birds.

Photo of sticks in pea ptach.
Stakes driven into the ground amongst young Greenfeast pea plants.
Another method of protecting seed beds from scratching birds is to drive 10 to 20 cm (8 to 12") long sticks into the ground. They should be driven in at different angles in the fashion of a Greek battle phalanx. Even thought birds can still get in amongst the sticks they seem very reluctant to do so as it makes it harder for them to see approaching predators such as cats and escape quickly when they are threatened by these predators.

The sticks I use are made from fruit tree prunings. This method of is very useful for crops such as peas and dwarf beans as they support the growing plants as well as protect them from birds. As the sticks don't cost anything they are a cheaper alternative to wire mesh and more flexible in the area that they cover.

The main disadvantage with using sticks is that they only last two or three years and I found that I could never cut enough to meet all my needs.

photo of 13 mm polypipe mini stakes to deter birds.
13 mm polypipe stakes protecting young bush beans.
These  are a great alternative to wooden mini stakes.

Cut lengths of low density 13mm polyethylene pipe (polypipe) into 20 to 30 cm (4 to 8") lengths and drive them into the ground as described above.  Each cut is best made at a 45 degree angle to make it  easier to drive the stakes in.

The big advantage of polypipe stakes is that you can make as many as you need and they last a lifetime, not just two or three years, as is the case for wooden mini stakes.  The main disadvantage is that they are slightly harder to drive into ground that has been covered with mulch than the wooden mini stakes, however a simple twisting motion as you drive the stakes in overcomes this problem.

This is now my preferred method of bird protection, these days I rarely use wooden mini stakes or wire mesh.

bird netting over hoops protection
Photo of 19 mm polypipe hoops with bird netting over them.
19 mm polypipe hoops covered by bird nettng.

Photo of 25 mm high desity polypipe hoops with bird netting over them.
Larger 25 mm high density agricultural polypipe covered with bird netting.
While wire mesh and mini stakes effectively deter birds scratching the garden bed as they search for worms this is sometimes not enough protection for birds that eat the actual leaves of the plants.  Lettuce and silverbeet plants are very susceptible to being eaten by sparrows and at times they can do serious damage to them even when the plants are quite large.

To counter this I use two sizes of polypipe hoops to create temporary frames that I can cover with bird netting.
  1. 1.2 metre lengths of 19 mm low-density  polypipe.
    Usually placed over younger plants in addition to polypipe mini stakes and removed when the plants get larger.  Ideal for young lettuce plants.
  2. 2.4 metre lengths of 25 mm High-density  agricultural polypipe.
    Placed over plants for the entire lifecycle of the plant.  As this pipe is stronger the lengths can be longer without the structure collapsing, which means it can cover a larger area to a higher height. 

    I typically place them in the shape of a cross and tie the top together for added strength.  Sometimes I place the smaller 1.2 metre lengths of 19 mm polypipe along the edges to hold out the sides of the net.  This system is ideal for protecting silverbeet plants.  It is useful for protecting Brassica plants from cabbage butterflies.
Like the polypipe mini stakes the ends of the hoops are cut at a 45 degree angle to make it  easier to drive them into the ground.  I have standard lengths for each size of hoop so when set up  they have a more even frame to place the net over. 

aluminium foil to scare birds
In most cases wire mesh, stakes and bird netting over hoops will provide all the protection against birds your vegetable patch will need but they generally cannot cover really large areas. The best way to protect larger areas is to run string with aluminium foil attached to it over your garden beds.

To do this you cut strips of aluminium cooking foil and tie them at regular intervals of about 40 cm (15 ") along a piece of string.  Drive a stake in at each end of the vegetable bed and stretch the string with the foil attached between the two stakes. The string should be about 30 cm (12 ") off the ground. The reflective foil will move slightly in the breeze. As birds are startled by movement they will tend to stay away from that part of the garden.