Re: Setting up our first fruit cage
Postby Geoff » Mon Jan 04, pm
Welcome to the forum. First my usual comment to newcomers, please edit your profile to let us know where you are.
The first question about the fruit cage would be, is it on your own land or an allotment? Below I'm assuming you own it.
I have an exposed garden so believe in strong permanent structures. I have found in the past if you use traditional cage netting pegged down into grass you get problems with weeds tangling up with the bottom of the netting. I have taken the extreme solution of using a wall one breeze block high round the bottom but a more economical solution is gravel boards, you can then strim the outside without destroying netting and weed the inside. I would build a solid framework of tanalised round poles and 3x2 cross pieces, gravel boards all round then one metre high windbreak netting (the sort that is usually black plastic with oval holes in it), the rest of the height and the roof can be traditional cage netting or chicken wire (I use chicken wire). A good door for access with no gaps for birds.
Inside mine is completely bare with concrete dividing paths but again this is probably an extreme solution. You do have to remember though that for quite a period in the summer you are walking up and down many days picking fruit. Yours is not a massive area to clear, the paths could be anything fabric/bark, paving slabs or concrete like mine.
One of the problems is that Strawberries need fresh ground from time to time whereas the other stuff is permanent. I put my outdoor tomatoes in there as a break from Strawberries. If my maths is right you could use a layout with a 1' wide path down each long side (a bit of a squeeze but probably enough), then starting from one end 1½' path, 2'x8' bed of summer raspberries, 1½' path, 2'x8' bed of Autumn Raspberries, 1½' path, 2'x8' bed of Strawberries/Tomatoes, 1½' path, 2'x8' bed of Strawberries/Tomatoes, 1½' path, 3'x8' bed with 2 each Blackcurrants/Redcurrants/Gooseberries then a final 1½' path. I'll let others give you some varieties or contribute a simpler approach!
What is the best kind of netting for a fruit cage?
You can use a variety of netting depending on the wildlife around your garden and what you want to keep out—there is specific netting for birds, rabbits, deer and even butterflies. To conserve the roof netting (which can be damaged by snowfall over winter), remove at the end of each growing season.
What size fruit cage should I choose?
Fruit cages come in all shapes and sizes from low cages for strawberries and smaller bushes to vast walk-in cages that will protect fruits grown on a big scale so you need to consider not only the amount of space you have to dedicate to growing but also how much you actually want to grow. A walk-in fruit cage is arguably easier to work in too.
How long will a fruit cage last?
Metal frames should last for decades, even if your netting needs to replaced over time but timber frames will, of course, rot eventually—but it’s easy to replace any damaged or weathered parts.
What else do I need to know about fruit cages?
Prepare the ground before you install the structure; you will have more room to maneuver if you want to rototill or dig over the ground. Ideally to prepare for your plants, incorporate lots of manure and then cover the whole area with a ground cover sheet – you can then plant directly into it. Taller bushes like raspberries will also need supporting wires so plan these before you do ground preparation.
If youre planning to grow fruits or berries, see our Garden Design guides, including Edibles A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. For more ideas to protect edibles from pests, see:
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My weekend work for the last 2 weeks has been building our new fruit cage video location. The plan, as I think I mentioned in a previous mail, is to film a new set of videos showing how to plant, prune and care for a broad range of fruit varieties. Our most popular videos on you tube (we have over 3 million views!) are the ones where we re-visit our vegetable garden a number of times in the season so we will be doing the same here for fruit.
As you can see in the plan we are planting a wide range of fruit in our new cage. The crops will require a range of supports which I will hopefully be able to explain well enough that you can build them too. We will also be supplying all the parts used in the videos including the main fruit cage so it should be pretty easy to build your own fruit garden at home.
I will be filming the first phase of the videos in the next few weeks concentrating on supports, preparing the soil and planting the fruit. We will return in the Spring to cover pruning (much better done in early Spring) and applying any feed. I will be back again to look at flowering and plant management before wrapping it up with harvesting and any other seasonal jobs that need doing. I will be keeping you updated with photos and information as we shoot so if youre interested in cultivating fruit this should be a nice little series.
My fruit garden
Unfortunately the site I want to use is wet with only a thin layer of topsoil and impermeable grey clay below. I have remedied this situation by building rows of simple raised beds and adding about 25cm of soil. I also dug and removed some of the poor soil underneath the beds before filling so have about 40cm of good stuff before the tap roots hit the grey clay. The beds are very simple to construct by hammering timber pegs into the ground and simply leaning the boards against them, the weight of soil inside holds them in place with no fixings required.
The structure, which is obviously to keep the birds out, has been made by sinking posts in the ground and making net supports with fence rails, I will go into much more detail when Im finished. As I said we will be supplying all the parts needed to build the same design but we are also working on a modular version that does not require any digging but more on that in a later mail.
Plant roots and waterlogging
If you have a wet site, even if waterlogging only occurs in Winter, it is essential to grow in raised beds or mounds to keep roots above the water and allow them to breathe. Water holds less than 1/10, of the oxygen air can so if roots are in wet soil for long periods the plant will struggle and eventually die. Fruit trees were traditionally planted on mounds of earth for this reason.
Most tree and bush roots grow in the top layers of soil so your raised beds or mounds do not need to be that high. Even very large trees have most of their roots in the first inches of soil and the same applies to your fruit bushes. If you think about it this all makes perfect sense; in nature all the plant food is near the surface of the soil where fallen leaves or dead vegetation decompose. Surface feeding roots are also very fine (mm in diameter) so you may not be aware just how far they spread.
Shallow roots feeding and mulching
Once you understand that the feeder roots are very close to the surface of the soil and spread over a wide area your feeding regime should also slot nicely into place. Roots are opportunistic and will grow wherever the nutrients are so it makes sense to feed over a broad area with slow release surface mulches. By doing this you will encourage an extensive root system with a large catchment area for your fruit bushes or trees to absorb food.
Mulching with well rotted manure or garden compost are ideal both to feed your plants and protect your soil. Roots do need oxygen so dont make mulches too thick, this is especially true if using grass clippings which can form a dense and soggy air excluding mat. I use a thick seaweed mulch on my vegetable garden as a Winter mulch but I dont use it so much on fruit as they like a slightly acidic soil and seaweed will slowly raise the pH. Heavy applications of seaweed can also have the same effect as grass clippings so it is best used on dormant vegetable beds rather than live fruit plots.
Indian root bridges
Yes, I am aware I am drifting off the point of my fruit garden but I came across (not literally) this Indian root bridge the other day which I thought you might find interesting. The bridges are living structures made by training the aerial roots of rubber fig trees across rivers. Apart from looking very cool the bridge also strengthens as it grows as long as the parent trees remain healthy and can last many hundreds of years.
The ficus elastica is a master at anchoring itself to steep slopes and rocky surfaces so the roots are perfectly suited to this application. If you are planning crossing a ditch on the roots of your gooseberry bush you might need to think again.
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Plans fruit cage layout
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