June's brows like bended bows do stand, Threatening with piercing frowns to kill All that attempt with beak or claw Those sacred berries to come nigh, Till "Berry-ripe" themselves do cry.
(Apologies to Thomas Campion for bastardising his ‘Cherry-Ripe’ poem. Feel free to reclaim the poem by deleting: June, beak, claw, berries, berry-ripe, and inserting: her, eye, hand, cherries and cherry-ripe.)
The bird netting that we cover the bushes with before the berries start to ripen – all that stands between the fruit and Little Owl Gully’s blackbirds and thrushes.
Who doesn’t like berries? I’m a believer in the hype that markets them as ‘Superfoods’. Most days we chomp down on a generous serve – raw in season and either frozen or bottled the rest of the year.
We’ve never done a bird count but get the impression that our blackbirds outnumber thrushes three to one. A plague of blackbirds and a sea of plastic to keep them out. Suck it up! The price of self-sufficiency in the berry department.
And what a price! The most extensive stretch of netting covers the triangular top half of the raspberry enclosure. Six seasons back we redeployed the old raspberry netting to cover the gooseberries and bought a length that on the roll measured 10 metres by 4 metres, as a replacemnent cover for the raspberries. Cost over a hundred dollars – and that was six years ago.
Despite such expenses and labours, we never question whether growing our own berries is worth it; we leave it to the naysayers to go down the “Is it worth it?” rabbit hole.
Not that covering the bushes totally solves the blackbird scourge. From our kitchen window you get a view of blackcurrant bushes, a solitary red currant, five large blueberry bushes and the extensive raspberry enclosure. You can imagine how “threatening with piercing frowns” June’s brow gets when she spots a wily blackbird flitting about inside one of the netted enclosures.
I’d say ninety-five percent of the input into the berry department comes from June. Left long enough, one or two birds can sorely diminish the fruits of her labour – all that hard work that goes into pruning, weeding, mulching, fertilizing and covering them.
Our small cherry tree was covered “cherry ripe” by early summer. Not strictly a berry – handy rhyme though! A male, black as its name, got under the netting and took half the cherries. June shooed it out and sealed off a small gap that had appeared. Five days later we returned from a Lake Dunstan cycle trail jaunt to find it stripped of the remaining cherries.
The other major irritant – rats! If netting at ground level happens to thwart a rat’s habitual track, it’ll chew a hole that’s big enough for a thrush or blackbird as well as a rat to get through. Some of our older netting is severely scarred with tear repairs.
The rats are the black or roof rat, ( see Rat Retreat), but we regularly have some that are attracted to our septic tank, just like the larger, brown and dreaded Norwegian sewer rat would be. The septic tank’s buried under lawn near the blueberry enclosure. Go figure. I marvel that June hasn’t torn all her hair out!
When it comes to noticing net incursions by birds and rats, June doesn’t miss a beat. The day after she covered the blueberries, she noticed a small bird disappearing under the netting. A dunnock (commonly called a hedge sparrow though not classified in the same family as the house sparrow), had found a tiny gap at ground level – unbeknown to us, its nest must have been somewhere in the dense thicket. June left the wee opening, and we continued to be entertained as it bobbed about before vanishing into the depths.
I’m regularly entertained, (not that entertained would be the word June would use) – while staring out the kitchen window as I wash dishes – by one or another blackbird precariously clinging with its claws to the outside of the blueberry netting and poking their beak through to pluck off a berry. They can only sustain a claw hold for a few seconds, and some have learnt that it’s a more efficient use of time and energy to pull off and drop three or four berries at a time and then hop down and feast on them on firm ground.
Over three or four weeks, all the gooseberries, and black and red currants, will ripen, whereas you’ll be picking blueberries as they come ready over four or five months. One season, late in covering them, we wondered why the blueberries weren’t ripening. Then we observed near-ripe clumps that were there one day, gone the next – blackbirds and thrushes had eaten them all!
Yesterday, June picked a kilogram of raspberries, but that wasn’t what she wanted to tell me. “Two blackbirds had got in and eaten and slashed so many raspberries!” she said.
And as the poet didn’t say: Those blasted birds will evermore attempt with beak and claw, those sacred berries to come nigh!