Fruit And Its Feathered Foes

One morning last week I was standing at the patio doors, surveying the garden with my morning cup of tea. I was amused to watch a male blackbird trying to figure out how he could eat my ripe balloonberries (Rubus illecebrosus). The humans in our house had already been enjoying the ballonberries, which are a little bit like blackberries, but are held in upright clusters of fruit that don’t all ripen at the same time. When fully ripe, and eaten warm straight off the plant, they have a very sweet and tangy, fruity flavour – a real treat for the gardener who is tackling the chore of watering the pots.

With the berries held at the top of the tall, swaying stems, the blackbird wasn’t having any luck. From a perch on the top of the fence he was too high; standing on the edge of the pot he was too low to be able to reach any of the berries. The stems weren’t strong enough to take his weight without bending – something he seemed to recognise without attempting it. On that day, at least, my balloonberries were safe.

My plants are growing in pots, and have travelled with me from one garden to another (with an extended sojourn in my parents’ garden inbetween) and this is the first year I have been able to taste their fruits. They’re very nice, and the plants will eventually find a permanent home in my new garden. It’s hard to gauge their productiveness this soon, though I suspect it won’t rival that of the more familiar raspberries and blackberries. But if they’re ‘bird proof’ then that’s a definite plus!

The other fruits in my garden that are routinely ignored by the birds are the white alpine strawberries. They grow in exactly the same as the more conventional red variety – held aloft on stems in the midst of leafy clumps of plant. These aren’t the wild strawberries that spread via runners (although I have those, too), but are more restrained in their habits. Red alpine strawberries are a gourmet treat, providing an intense burst of strawberry flavour. The white version has a surprising zinginess, almost as though the fruits had added sherbet. Again, the fruits ripen over time and provide multiple small harvests throughout the summer, so you’d be hard pressed to find enough to make jam, but they are a real treat.

In my last garden I had a cherry tree that occasionally bore fruit, but I never got to taste it – the birds wolfed them down before they were even vaguely ripe. It was never worth the trouble of trying to protect its meagre harvest, and the year it grew nothing but wasps it was finally ripped out! Theoretically, my new sour cherry won’t be as popular with the birds as the sweet varieties, but that remains to be seen.

I never had any trouble with birds taking the berries from strawberry blite (Blitum capitatum) plants, although I suspect that most people wouldn’t mind if they did, since the fruits are a bit insipid. And the chickens loved the wonderberries (Solanum burkbankii), but the wild birds never seemed to catch on.

Sometimes it does seem to be a question of the plants being around long enough for a bird to try them and find out they’re worth eating. During my first few years gardening I had no problem growing leafy veg, but then one year the house sparrows took a liking to it, and stripped my chard and leaf beet to the stems. From then on I could only ever grow them in a mesh tunnel…. The new garden isn’t home to a population of house sparrows, so my greens may be safe.

But that blackbird… he’s got his eye on my fruit, so I will need to bear that in mind in my plant choices and protection systems.

Which fruits can you grow without fear of losing your harvest to the birds? Do you net everything else, or are you happy for them to take their share?