Birds go wild for blueberries! Robins, starlings and other wild birds can decimate an unprotected blueberry crop. In my experience, a home gardener has about one week in which to pick blueberries. Then the feathered foes realize the feast is on and they selfishly snatch every fruit as soon as it's half ripe. I couldn't put my faith in scare tactics; bird netting seemed a surer solution. I decided to design a PVC frame to hold a standard 14-foot-square bird netting over my blueberry bushes. PVC pipe is widely and cheaply available, and easy to work with. For less than $10, you can quickly build this frame to hold bird netting over your own two or three lowbush or half-high blueberries, or other plantings you want to protect from wild birds. Here's how.
Evaluating the jobsite
My mature blueberry bushes are about four feet tall and I have planted them three feet apart for a hedgerow effect to fit them into my suburban landscape. They are about three feet wide.Therefore, my blueberry planting is roughly seven feet long and three feet wide. That area fits nicely under a standard bird net.
Bird netting is widely available as a 14-foot-square, black mesh sheet. I designed a frame to suspend this size netting. A frame makes the netting easier to work with while harvesting, and less likely to snag on the bushes. My frame gives room for bushes that mature up to four or five feet, but could be used on shorter bushes just as well, and the nearly five foot height of the frame will keep the top section out of your way while you pick berries.
Materials and tools
4 each 10-foot lengths of 1/2-inch PVC pipe
4 each 1/2-inch slip elbows
4 each 1/2-inch slip tees
(Total cost for pipes and fittings was less than $7.)
1 each 14 by 14 foot bird netting
(The price of this net ranges from $6 locally to $14 online)
20 string or wire ties, each 4 inches long
Tools and supplies: hacksaw, tape measure, marker
Four to six loose bricks or rocks, or large wire pins or pegs, to hold the edges of the netting down once the assembly is finished.
1. Measure and cut the pipe
Measure, mark and cut each ten foot length of pipe into one five foot, one three foot and one two foot section. You now have four of each length: five feet, three feet and two feet.
2. Place the uprights
The five foot pieces are the uprights legs of the structure. Imagine a three foot square box in the middle of your planting and put these poles on the corners of it. For three bushes like mine, you'll nsert the legs into the soil at a spot halfway between two bushes and 18 inches away from the center line of the row. Sticking these lightweight pipes about six inches into the dirt was enough to keep them standing while assembly progressed.
3. Assemble the frame top
You're going to put together a large rectangle which will sit on top of your uprights. For each long side, take a three foot piece and put a tee on each end, then put a two foot piece on each tee. You should now have two seven foot long, straight assemblies with the tees open on one side. Now take the remaining three foot pieces and put the slip elbows on each end. Attach these to make the ends of your three foot by seven foot rectangle. Press all connections together tightly and make sure remaining tee openings all face straight up. Optional: You may wish to glue some or all of the joints for stability. I did not, and found that they mostly stayed stuck; a few slipped during assembly but all stayed together once the structure was complete. Leaving at least some joints unglued will give you the option of taking this frame apart for storage for the fall and winter.
4. Attach the netting
Lay the rectangle on the ground with tee openings facing down. Open up the netting and center it on the frame. Attach it to the frame in a few places on each side using the ties. Then gather the loose netting back on top of the rectangle.
5. Place frame on uprights
Carry your rectangle with the netting on top to the bushes. A helper might be handy at this point, holding the frame while you insert each upright into one of the tees. I did it alone by laying the lightweight frame and net right on my bushes and lifting up one side at a time.
6. Drape and tie the netting
Drape the netting down on the sides and ends of the frame. Tie the netting to the uprights near ground level to keep birds from slipping underneath. On the ends, use several ties to tack the netting together near the ground. Note that there will be excess netting hanging from the top, so you don't have to sew up the whole end of the netting. Just get it closed enough to exclude the birds. You may prefer to use a few spring type clothespins to gather and clip the loose netting. The netting should go all the way to the ground on all sides. Add rocks, bricks or large pins to hold the netting down.
Your netting frame is finished. To harvest, remove bricks or pins on one or both long sides of the area and lift the netting, draping it on the top while you work.
If you are not stopping to take notes and pictures and refine the design, as I did to write about my project, you have probably finished within an hour. I'd rate the project "easy," even as I figured things out in the process. You could change this design to suit your own needs; for example, you can add more uprights and side sections to make a longer frame for a onger row of bushes. The net is also available in a 7 by 100 foot piece which you could cut in half and lace together on two long edges to make a 14 by 50 foot piece of netting. Or modify the top rectangle into a big square to accommodate the 30 foot square net. Design is only limited by what you can do with tees and elbows, while leaving enough net to drape down from the sides. Good luck!