Your garden can be a safe haven for wildlife while still growing food in a sustainable way. There are benefits to encouraging wildlife, such as birds, frogs, lizards, bandicoots and many types of insects to your productive food garden. They provide natural pest control and increase pollination leading to better fruit/flower set and production.
Many people grow their own food in a sustainable way. There is a great sense of achievement in growing your own produce, sharing it with others and the taste - nothing beats home grown.
But what about wildlife - especially those that like you, may find your plants tasty? It is possible to have a productive food garden and still share your garden with wildlife. There are many ways you can protect your food garden from possums or wallabies without having elaborate or costly structures. You can use recycled materials from tip shops, friends, demolition sites or second-hand stores.
Your productive food garden may be plants in containers, raised beds or a much larger plot.
Here are some tips from people who have productive food gardens and still welcome wildlife.
Two inch semi-flexible pipe (e.g. ‘Ag pipe') makes great framing for an enclosure, either as a stand alone one, or along side a house/deck. The pipe is sleeved over 120 cm star pickets to form the frame.
If you choose to do this, make sure the pipe can fit over the star pickets you wish to use, occasionally it won't fit. Brackets secure the pipe to the deck beam. Fence wire is strung across the pipe frame to support the mesh netting.
Tent pegs anchor the mesh to the ground and strips of old carpet are used to reduce weeds growing in the mesh.
Wallabies and possums have been successfully kept out of this enclosure.
When the garden is being rested (fallowed), the flyscreen door is left open to allow birds in to feed on insects and help with pest control.
Some pipe frame enclosures can be quite large and tall enough to move about without bending.
You can devote as much of your garden space as you would like for your productive food garden.
Larger enclosures can be constructed using timber with a number of doorways for easy access.
Mesh wire has been used on the sides of this enclosure to allow small birds and beneficial insects into the garden.
A hot house enables year round propagation of vegetable seedlings.
Metal strips prevent bluetongue lizards, or other wildlife, becoming entangled in mesh at ground level.
Metal strips also make it easier to keep the grass down using a whipper snipper.
Rainwater is collected from the house roof into a large tank for use in the food garden.
If space is a problem, then fruit trees or vines can be grown along fences or walls and trained to grow along horizontal wires, this is known as espalier.
There are many varieties of fruit trees and vines you can grow to provide fresh fruit most of the year round.
Another advantage with growing fruit trees in this way is that you can grow them to a height which you can pick without having to use a ladder.
Effective use of a long internal driveway can still provide valuable space to grow food productively.
Larger open, non-enclosed gardens can be achieved using mesh fencing, such as chicken wire, with an electric fence unit to provide ‘hot wires', i.e. wires which will give wildlife, and any one who touches them, an electric shock.
This can be quite effective so long as there are no overhanging branches or posts which possums can climb and by-pass the ‘hot wires'.
Having hens is great for your own egg production.
Food scraps can be fed to them, which in turn will make valuable fertiliser for the garden. To learn more about which breed to choose, feeding and looking after your hens look at the factsheet 'Backyard poultry'.
Maximise the use of space by growing fruit trees in the hen yard.
Hens are excellent at clearing weeds, controlling insect pests and fertilising the soil.
These lucky girls are rescued battery hens which were past their ‘lay-by-date' - now they have space to move and are doing an excellent job in the garden.
Keeping long grass and not weeding has proved a successful way of reducing possum attack on fruit trees, particularly when they have ripening fruit. Possums have been observed to dislike walking through long grass.
This has proved more effective than setting mesh nets over the fruit trees.
Weed species should be removed before they set seed heads.
Pathways can be mown to allow easy movement through the garden for regular tracks.
- Mesh netting used to cover fruit trees or enclosures often is only available in white. Many would prefer to use black mesh as it is less visible, but concerns about bird entanglement have meant that many outlets will only sell white mesh.
- Mesh netting prevents birds and larger beneficial insects from getting into the garden - frogs and lizards may also find it a bit hard to get in as well.
- Used fish farm nets are great for protecting enclosures.
- Old flyscreen doors are great to use, but think about using chicken wire to allow beneficial birds and insects in to your garden.
- Grow an assortment of vegetables mixed into the one garden bed rather than having rows or blocks of the one vegetable. This has been found to reduce pests and diseases.
- Allow some vegetables to go to seed allowing natural production of new seedlings.
- Boundary fences facilitate possum movement through gardens as they make good 'pathways'. They are a safe height and easy to walk along.
- Boundary fences can be removed to share a greater garden area with a sympathetic like-minded neighbour. This can also give a greater sense of community integration and sharing.
- Espalier fruit trees are productive and take up little space, but are not as productive per unit area as standard fruit trees.
- Leave gates open to allow wildlife to move through your property and return to the bush safely without getting trapped.
Can you think of any other ways to have a productive food garden or how to share it with wildlife?