Garden On, Vashon

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Structures Part 2: Protecting Fruit

August 4th, 2013 at Sun, 4th, 2013 at 10:59 am by Karen Dale

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Jerry Gehrke’s many structures to protect his garden vegetables from pests and plaques. Today we’ll look at his protections for all the fruit he grows in his northend backyard, starting with his cherries. Below you can see his 1-year ‘Lapin” wrapped in a black tangle of bird-netting; on the right, his ’2-in-1′ semi-dwarf.


The  cherry on the right, planted in 2005, is a 2-in-1 ‘Bing’ plus ‘Glacier’ on a dwarfing Gisela 5 rootstock. Two years ago Jerry built a 10′ square wooden cage around the tree and wrapped bird-netting around the cage, to the ground. It took three sections of 17′ x 20′ white netting from Raintree Nursery, but Jerry found it worked perfectly. “I watch birds jump up and down on its roof trying to make an opening, to no avail. And no raccoons have gotten past the netting.”

To frustrate crawling pests, he’s slathered “Tanglefoot” goo around each tree’s trunk a few inches off the ground. The wide strip was littered with bugs brought to a dead halt en route to Jerry’s fruit.


When he has picked all the cherries (freezing half), the netting comes off the cherry cage and goes around the soon-ripening blueberries. Here too he’s built a net-supporting cage out of furring strips to keep birds off his ‘Blue Crop’ and ‘Olympia’ blueberries. He planted these bushes in sphagnum moss for the acidity and moisture retention. In the inset photo you can see an even simpler pair of net supports made of furring strips.


The bottom of his yard is fenced, and here in 2005 Jerry espaliered a couple of nectarines. In our climate, both peaches and nectarines tend to get peach leaf curl, a fungal infection that overwinters and breaks out on leaves and bark during spring rains. The infection spreads on wet leaves when air temps are cooler than 61° (most of the year, here!) so planting a fungus-resistant variety and keeping it dry are excellent strategies against this common maritime malady.

Jerry’s trees browned so badly from peach leaf curl, he was ready to pull them out. But his designer’s mind got the better of that. He devised a 4′-deep roof supported on tall posts, framed in wood and covered with translucent plastic that’s reinforced with hardware cloth. Between the roof and keeping the nectarines pruned to the single plane of a fan espalier shape, these nectarines no longer suffer from peach leaf curl.

Raccoons are just as fond of stone fruit as Jerry is, but they’re stopped short at the electrified fence. I have seen such a two-wire fencing before, around Kathy Wheaton’s strawberry patch: the idea is that the coon can neither go under or leap his bulk over the two strands of wire, so he gets zapped every time he tests this little fence. Humans can easily hop right over. 

 Jerry electrifies this system with an Energizer on the fence, running from it parallel lines of #18 aluminum wire (commonly used for electric fences). Every ten feet is a short steel post, holding a pair of plastic insulators that support the wires (photo left, above). The wires never touch, but are held parallel at 6″ and 12″ above ground. The Energizer is good for a mile of wire, puts out 1000 volts at 6 millamperes, and runs across most of Jerry’s lower yard, protecting the two nectarines and an apple tree. A third short wire runs from the same Energizer ground screw to a steel bar driven into the earth to ground the system (photo right, above).

This system looked so easy, I consulted my gardening partner Bill Green about doing the same to protect our corn. It’s quite cheap if you buy the parts: bags of these insulators (for positioning on either wood or metal posts) are under $5; posts can be either short T-bars or wood; the wire comes on spools, cheap. Bill already had an energizer (apparently you can also use boat batteries, around $75). We’ve already had a raccoon raid in our corn patch, so next week, fence in, let the Zapping begin!

Now I came here motivated by the loss of my own strawberries to chipmunks and a hungry raccoon. So I wanted to see how Jerry saved his strawberries. I wasn’t disappointed: he has short cages over his strawberries, walled with hardware cloth permanently stapled to corner posts, a removable lid of wire fencing roofing the top. If I were building my own (and I really SHOULD), I would make my walls higher to accommodate my taller berry bushes: in my shady garden, my plants throw stems up about 16″ high.

“Why go to all this trouble?” I asked Jerry. “Because the fruit is to DIE for,” said Jerry. But I sense two other motivations: this Fruit Club member succumbs to his plants’ cry for help and the urge to do a little Erector-Set work in his own backyard.


gardens on the south end of Vashon Island, on a sandy hilltop overlooking Quartermaster Harbor. "Garden On, Vashon" shares what the Island has to teach us about gardening HERE—from making soils to sowing seeds to raising plants to harvest, cooking, preserving, and designing new ways to cultivate your little chunk of Vashon Island. To contact me, email, or leave a comment.

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