Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living with wildlife

With the rain come the pests. Baby snails are hiding under the soft baby leaves and the the larger snails are doing rude things on the footpath early in the morning. The parrots are fighting over the olives, the last of the figs and the ripening apples. It’s obviously a time to revamp my defences.
The first line of defence for snails has always been picking off by hand. This is fine if you have time or grandchildren you can pay per snail collected. They are then fed to the chickens, who adore them. Don’t be tempted to tread on them as it is said that their eggs will survive if they are squashed on a damp surface. This could be an old wives tale.
Two years ago I made snail ‘peppers’, a witchy Bio Dynamic preparation involving snail cremation, the grinding of ash and the making of a homeopathic tincture when the planets were in certain positions. I won’t go into here, contact your local BD Society for precise explanations. I will say that in a year when the snails had reached plague proportions (I had been ‘picking’ up around fifty every day) it made a stunning impact. After spraying twice, the snail numbers reduced dramatically and haven’t been seen in huge numbers since. It is really worth the effort.
The easiest, most time efficient and safe way I have found to control them is with bird and pet safe snail pellets. These contain a small amount of iron chelate which the snails ingest. It binds them up and they die of constipation. As the amount is very small, other creatures are not affected.  Scatter about two pellets per square metre, in the evening. They seem to work best on damp soil but dissolve in the rain. Two or three applications should keep them under control. You need to store these in a tin as rats and mice love them. I tried a glass jar but they soon discovered that a jar can be pushed off a shelf and smashed. I have to lock my dogs away when spreading these as they will seek them out and eat them one by one.

Twenty eights are the main hassle here, they will taste and try everything in the garden from green olives to under ripe almonds and rose buds. If they don’t like the taste, they simply throw it away and try another one, just in case it tastes different. I am sure they destroy some plants just for fun.
The only way to totally keep them at bay is to net everything. I don’t use nets as they are impractical in a small garden. The last time I netted a tree a caught a snake, which died and a hawk, which I had to rescue with the help of a strong man wearing leather gloves.
These cheeky vandals are fearless.  Nothing works for long, so the plan here is to change methods all the time.  In the olive tree, I have a disco ball and a swinging CD and the fig has a shiny set of wind chimes. Last year I had plastic shopping bags rustling in the branches but as these are not environmentally friendly,I try not to use them. Christmas tinsel, owls on sticks with glass eyes, balloons, hawk kites, dogs trained to see the parrots off - I tried them all at different times. The new addition to my arsenal is Mr Scary, made by my grandson, Christopher. He’s been out there a couple of weeks now and the parrots haven’t been seen landing on him – yet! He certainly scares me when I pass him at night!
It is possible to protect some fruit by bagging. I use paper bags tied with string as they are biodegradable. You can mad bags that last with net curtains or shade cloth. Plant clips or pegs can be used to close them. If the weather becomes wet, check for mould and mildew on your fruit, especially grapes.
You can get one step ahead of the parrots with fruit that will ripen off the tree, like quinces, by picking them when the first parrot damage appears.

Tree house
Dwarf and young trees can be protected by sewing a cube of shade cloth with one side left open. Measure the height of your tree, adding 15 cm to allow a little room and cut 5 squares of shade cloth. Sew together with a bodkin or upholstery needle, threaded with string or nylon knitting yarn, using a simple running stitch.
Hammer four stakes in a square of the same size into the ground around your tree, carefully avoiding the roots. Slip the shade cloth over so the corners of the top rest on the top of the stakes. If the cloth doesn’t reach the ground, hammer the stakes in a little more. Weigh the bottom down with bricks or timber or peg with loops of fencing wire. This will keep rabbits out for a while too.
My worst strategy ever was to provide the birds with extra food. Every parrot for miles arrived to squabble and screech outside the window. They lost all fear of people, seeing them as a food source. As the feeder was next to the chicken pen, they soon noticed there was food to be had there too and began to steal wheat from there as well. With the black cockatoos flinging gum nuts to land like rocks on the tin roof on the other side of the house it was like starring in a Hitchcock movie.

The truth is, I can be a bit lax about controlling pests as I am rather fond of all the wildlife in my garden, even the twenty eights. The fact that they are here, with the beetles and praying mantis, the frogs, the blue tongues and the gecko's mean my garden is a safe haven for everyone. Before we build the front wall we used to have kangaroos visiting too The reality is that we grow more than we can ever eat, why shouldn’t they have their share too?

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