Many years ago I tried draping deer netting over my blueberry bushes. It was a complete failure. I didn’t secure the netting at ground level so the birds got up under the net, it was a pain to crawl under there to pick, and the birds could sit on the outside and pick berries through the net.
In the years that passed after I gave up on the net, my default strategy has been to get out there early in the morning and try to pick as many berries as I could before the birds got to them. I’d pick them a little underripe, too, greedily snatching them up before someone else could greedily snatch them up. Contrary to much popular advice, blueberries do sweeten up a bit after picking. Still, if I had my druthers, I’d rather pick completely ripe berries.
This strategy was partially effective, especially in years where the berries were abundant. Meaning, I felt I was getting enough to pacify myself although the birds were getting A LOT of berries, too. Still, it’s aggravating to watch birds fly off with ripe berries. Even more aggravating is seeing partially-eaten berries on the ground, berries with beak-marks, and perhaps most goading of all, watching birds snatch berries right in front of me WHILE I was picking. Cheeky!
I read up on various caging methods and decided on one of my own. It’s extremely basic, easy to remove and store in the off-season, and relatively inexpensive. It uses PVC pipes so the netting slides easily on them (unlike wood which snags the netting like a beast), a little bit of rebar, and of course netting.
This method works easiest if your blueberry bushes are in a row, although it can be done with individual or widely-spaced plants, just use a couple of pipe hoops and separate sheets of netting for each blueberry bush.
Judge the length of pipe you need based on the height of your plants. Measure your blueberry plants, high and wide, and take these measurements to the store. Get a partner at the store to hold one end of the pipe while you gently bend it into a hoop and measure to see if it will clear your plants with several inches to spare; leave some growing room all around.
The pipes I bought were “bell-end” which means one end is shaped to fit over another length of pipe. As it happened, I needed to cut off about a foot of my 12′ pipe. I cut off the bell-end, flipped it bell-end up, pounded it into the ground (using a piece of wood to cushion the hammer blows), and used it to mount one end of the hoop.
I bent the other side around and fit it over a 1′ piece of re-bar pounded into the ground on the opposite side of the blueberry.
I spaced more hoops about 3 feet apart over the plants, locating the end hoops a bit outside the edge of the canopy to give me some picking room under the netting.
For the netting, I used standard deer-proof netting, cut to size and pieced together with zip ties.
It’s awkward to do this by yourself; get a helper or two. It you plan on snipping your ties apart when you fold and store after harvest is over, leave a little space in the tie to get your scissor in (thanks for the tip, Sallie).
Mine is small enough that I plan to leave it intact to store it, but if you’re netting a larger area, you may want to do this.
Leave enough extra netting all around so you can weight it down at ground level to keep birds from sneaking underneath.
So far the birds are unable to get in and we’ve had the first summer without having to rush out and beat the birds to the berries. Yes!