By Analiese Paik
Many years ago I planted a bed of strawberries in the perennial flower bed just outside my kitchen window. It’s a sunny spot that gets a lot of birds, but not the wildlife – racoons, squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, turkeys, foxes and coyotes – that love to frolic and sometime wreak havoc in our backyard. The plants have thrived and each June we eagerly await the perennial strawberry crop, making sure to keep the patch weeded so the leaves get full sun.
I thought it would be a safe spot, but over the years I’ve had to deal with chipmunks and squirrels noshing on the strawberries just as they achieved peak ripeness. What irks me the most is that they take one nibble out of a strawberry, then move on to the next, as if marking them as their spoils of war. I prize my strawberries so highly that I’ve been tempted to cut off the part that’s been bitten into and eat the rest myself. Instead, I pick off the bitten ones and cast them into the walkway so they’ll eventually be eaten by some critter or another. The patch is too large to cover and the clematis and black-eyed Susans that share the space would no doubt suffer. Edibles in the landscape are a good idea, but protecting the crops requires some creativity and may not be possible in some cases.
This year I had guests over for a barbeque on Memorial Day and one of them urged me to cover a robust crop of strawberries that had popped up in a bed clear across the driveway from the original bed. How that happened is anyone’s guess, because I didn’t plant them there. After the ripest, juiciest strawberry had a bite taken out of it 2 days ago, I remembered her words and declared war. I hauled a 4×4 foot wire cage that sits on top of one of my raised beds in the backyard to the front yard to cover the strawberries. However, these plants are right smack in the middle of landscaping, surrounded by a few rows of young heirloom sunflowers and native big bluestem and little bluestem. That made it hard to find the right angle for positioning the cage and the uneven, mulched surface further complicated matters. I repositioned it a few times, finally satisfied that I’d done a reasonable job of protecting my precious crop.
The next day the ripest, juiciest strawberries also had bites taken out of them. Rats! I needed those strawberries for a lunch on Thursday. Time to bring in the reinforcements. I went in the backyard and hauled leftover pavers from our patio that were stored under to the porch to the front yard to line the perimeter of the cage. Proud of thoroughly animal-proofing the crop, I brought my youngest outside to show him my handwork that evening. But another strawberry had been bitten into. Ugh! What was wrong? “How are the critters getting in” I asked him? “Mom, there’s a huge hole in the cage” he said. Sure enough, the ties we had used to secure the corners of the chicken wire stapled to the wooden frame had come apart on one end, leaving a gaping hole large enough for a small varmint to enter. We got a pair of pliers and twisted the wire ends around one another to seal up the gap, then went in for dinner.
What will I find tomorrow morning? Will my strawberries, certain to be perfectly ripe and ready for the luncheon, be intact? Will I have to tell the other guests this maddening story of man vs. nature as the excuse for my empty hands? Or will I be victorious and harvest dessert with gusto knowing all my labors were not in vain? The moral of the story is, don’t plant edibles in the landscape unless you’re ready to give up a large portion of the crop or have devised a means to keep them safe from animals. I think I’m finally moving the strawberries to a raised bed this year and giving my youngest the job of inspecting the cage.
Do you plant edibles in the landscape? if so, how do you protect them from predators?