Vegies the roos and rabbits leave alone
Your local wildlife population sees your vegie garden as a lovely seasonal larder. ARNO KING explains how to outsmart the nibblers without doing them any harm
When it comes to pests in my vegetable garden, the biggest problem is the larger, warm-blooded kinds and, judging by the questions on gardening talkback radio programs across the country, I am not alone.
Some of the worst offenders in the city are cockatoos, blackbirds, possums and brush turkeys. In outer suburbs and rural areas, wallabies, kangaroos, deer, wombats, bandicoots, king parrots and rabbits can also be a problem.
I love wildlife, and want them to feel welcome, but I don’t like them eating my vegies. Thankfully, I have discovered a number of vegies that are disdained by wildlife but loved by humans. By recognising what my local critters do and don’t like, I can group and protect the more vulnerable vegies. I pay close attention to soil health, which provides protective benefits, and I have strategies to safeguard my crops. This makes vegetable gardening far more enjoyable.
Healthy plants are less prone to pests (including bigger ones) and diseases. You can address plant health by growing vegetables that are seasonally and climatically appropriate, by meeting the plant’s moisture and nutrient needs, and by ensuring soil is biologically active.
For optimum soil health, regularly apply compost to stimulate microbial activity, and minimise applications of chemicals. Vegetables also need consistent applications of a balanced organic or biological fertiliser. Look for products that contain humates, which help retain soil moisture and nutrients. I also recommend adding non-soluble minerals to your soil in the form of rock dusts (ground rock minerals).
Maintain good levels of calcium by regularly liming the vegetable garden, or add gypsum (if the pH is 7 or above). Apply diatomaceous earth as well to provide silica, as this strengthens the leaf’s epidermis and makes it less palatable to creatures. This improves our own calcium and silica uptake, too.
Despite your best efforts, if you live in a wildlife area, there are likely to be plants that certain animals can’t resist, particularly in times of drought when food sources in natural areas are scarce. Learn your local wildlife’s favourite food so you are well prepared. For example, possums love parsley, brush turkeys
enjoy sweet potato but ignore leafy vegetables, wallabies love bean and pea plants, and many birds are drawn to red or orange colours.
When growing the most vulnerable plants, exclusion is your safest bet. Choose a section of the vegie garden that you can permanently fence off or temporarily enclose. Permanent enclosures can extend above and below ground, and even overhead. They can be supported by metal or timber posts that are concreted into the ground and you can use chicken wire, chain link mesh or gauze mesh, depending on the animals in your area.
Temporary enclosures are often made of chicken wire, bird netting or shadecloth supported by posts, star pickets or tomato stakes. It is important to ensure that the materials are not harmful to wildlife, are clearly visible (not black), will not readily collapse and are stretched taut.