Birds are a beautiful and integral part of a healthy garden, though they can sometimes pose a problem for your berry harvest. To protect your precious crops, try building a teepee-style frame for bird nets. Many indigenous peoples lived in these structures because of their flexibility and durability, and we can apply these principles to the garden.
Teepee bird nets consist of three or more poles lashed together at the top that can be stood over your plants and wrapped in a bird netting. They are simple, fast, portable, cheap, and can be quickly put up after pollination and taken down once the crops are harvested.
Why a Teepee Bird Net
Our bushes are situated around the garden to enhance biodiversity and beautify the space, so building a large cage over them was impossible (not to mention unsightly and expensive). We wanted a cage over each bush that was practical while still adding to the overall aesthetics.
Here are the advantages of a teepee bird net:
- Flexibility: Teepee bird nets allow for great flexibility in how you plan your garden. You can position your bushes and other threatened plants wherever you like and put a teepee around each one. Rather than large planting altogether with a large cage/net. Better flexibility in the garden. More aesthetics, more diversity.
- Biodiversity: Being able to plant your perennials wherever you want avoids monocropping and adds diversity to your garden, creating a healthier growing space.
- Cost Effective: Teepees can be built for a relatively low cost or even free, depending on what materials you have available. We built ours out of culled pine trees (that were growing too close tother had to be thinned), old portable electric wire, and elk fence that had been broken into short pieces. But you can use whatever you have lying around. If you are going to buy anything for your teepees, put most of your money into a good, solid net that is also safe for the birds.
- Easy to Build: Teepees are very simple, ingenious, and sturdy. They are quick to build and even faster to put up.
- Easy to Take Down: Teepees are as easy to take down as they are to put up. They are lightweight and easily portable, and they will last for years with proper care.
- Looks: Your garden will look very nice and unique with teepees dotted around, and can be made to fit into any garden design. When built from organic materials, they add a rustic look that blends into a natural garden, or they can be made from plastic or metal to fit with an avant-garde design.
You Will Need
- 3-6 poles
- Rope (about 4m feet is enough for most teepees)
- Wildlife-friendly bird netting
You can use anything you want for your teepee poles. Make sure they are long enough to stand over your plants (see below to figure out the size of your teepee), and stiff enough so they will not bend while supporting the net.
You don’t want the posts to be too heavy or they will be difficult (and dangerous) to manage, but the teepee is more likely to blow over if they are too light.
We made ours from pine trees about 3m (10 feet) long and 5cm to 7cm (2-3 inches) thick at the bottom.
How Many Poles: You will probably need between three and six poles for the teepee. We used three for the original structure, but you can always add more once it is standing if you need more stability. It is especially important to use more poles if the teepee is larger and could cause injury or property damage if it fell. Also, extra poles will keep it standing in a strong wind.
You will use the rope to tie the poles together, lash on extra poles if needed for support, and tie the top of the netting onto the frame. Natural ropes, such as manilla or hemp often grip the poles better than artificial ropes, but man-made materials (such as nylon or polyester) will often work just fine. Make sure that the rope has enough strength so that it will not snap, especially if the poles are heavy.
We used old portable electric fence wire (polywire), which worked very well.
Most bird netting that is available is not appropriate to use in the garden or anywhere else. The holes are too large, and the birds will easily get tangled in the flimsy fabric. Tangled birds will quickly die or become too injured to recover.
If you can put your finger through the holes in the net, DO NOT use it.
Here are a few suggestions for bird-friendly netting to use on your teepees:
- Wildlife-friendly netting: This type of netting has small holes that are safe for birds. To be safe for birds, the netting must pass the “finger test”. As a general rule, if you can stick your finger through the holes in the net, do not use it.
- Heavy duty safety fence: This is a sturdy plastic fence that is sometimes called snow fence or elk fence (though some flimsy fence also goes by this name). The holes are usually around 2cm to 3cm (1 inch) or slightly bigger, but birds will not get tangled because the plastic is so stiff.
- Poultry netting: Also called chicken wire, this type of fence is readily available at lumber yards, farm supply stores, or garden centres. It is fairly easy to work with, and the flexible metal wire comes in a variety of lengths and widths, with various size holes.
- Insect netting: This is used to keep insects from infecting crops, but it also makes an effective bird-proof netting. This netting will interfere with pollination, so you have to be careful with timing when putting it up.
- Hail protection netting: This is a more specialized type of netting but can also effectively keep out birds.
Measuring a Teepee
When building your teepee, you first need to determine how big it has to be to sufficiently cover your plants. Some factors to consider when planning the size of your teepee are:
- Netting size: What size of netting are you using? Most netting comes in 2ft, 3ft, or 4ft tall though some can be 6ft or 8ft. Matching your teepee size to the height of your netting will make it much easier to build.
- How tall is too tall?: How high can you manage? The taller you get, the heavier it will be and the more difficult to erect. Also, it will become increasingly difficult to wrap the netting around the taller you go.
- Wider rather than tall: Even though your bushes are short, you might still need long poles. The wider the bush is, the farther you will have to spread out the poles which will make the teepee shorter.
Below are some tips on how to figure out what size your teepee needs to be.
As an example, we will pretend we are covering an average-sized currant bush that is 1m to 2m (3–6ft) tall and wide.
The length of the poles will depend on the size of the plants you need to cover. In our example of the currant bush, the tip of the teepee needs to be at least 6 feet high, and the legs spread so the base of the teepee is 10 feet across to accommodate the branches. In this case, you will need poles that are roughly 8 feet long.
For all the math nerds out there in the garden (myself included), you would use the equation:
Slant height (length of poles from the ground to where they converge) =
√ (radius² + height²)
Make the poles slightly longer than they need to be so there will be some pole above where they are tied for extra stability. If the poles need to be 8 feet to make the right size teepee, cut the poles at 10 feet and lash them together two feet from the tip.
Measuring the Rope
For most teepees, such as the one in our example with the currant bush, you will need about 4m (13 feet). This will probably be more than you need, but having extra rope is better than running out. When you have tied the poles together and stood up the teepee, you want to have enough rope left that it hangs down to the ground.
Measuring the Net
The net needs to wrap around the entire teepee, plus a little bit extra so the sides overlap, and there are no gaps for birds to slip through. This means the netting needs to be the length of the entire distance around the base of all the poles. In our example above, the base of the teepee is about 10 feet across, so you will need a roughly 30 feet (10m) long net.
Since the base of the teepee is a lot bigger than the top, there will be a lot of extra netting. This excess can be bundled together and tied tightly at the top. This keeps the net in good shape so it can be used somewhere else when it is not needed around the teepee.
If you wish to calculate this distance, it will be:
Circumference (distance around the base of teepee) = 2 x π x radius of circle
If you want the net to fit snugly, cut it into a half circle. The curved edge will go around the base, and the straight edges will be tied together where they meet on the side of the teepee. In this case, the radius of the half-circle needs to equal the length of the poles (from the ground to where they are tied), and the distance along the curved edge will have to be as long as the distance around the base.
5 Steps to Building a Teepee-Style Bird Net
Once you have gathered the supplies, it is time to put up your teepee with these simple steps.
TIP: Here is a great video from National Geographic that shows how to build a real teepee.
Step 1: Tie the Poles
Lay out three poles side by side. Lash them together with a shear lash knot. When you are done, the poles will look something like this:
Step 2: Stand Up the Teepee
Stand up your teepee by spreading the three poles equidistance around your bush. Make sure each leg is sitting securely and that your teepee feels solid. You might have to move the poles around a bit if the ground is uneven.
If your teepee is large, be safe and work with a partner.
Step 3: Add More Poles (if Necessary)
If you want to make your teepee more stable, you can add more poles. Lean the new poles against the top of the teepee in between the other poles.
Now tie the new poles on. Take the extra rope left from tying the original pole and wrap it around the top of the teepee several times, lashing all the poles together.
Step 4: Put on the Netting
Wrap the netting around the frame and tie it securely together at the bottom. Gather the rest of the net together at the top and tie it tightly to the frame (if you cut the net in a half circle, you can skip this part).
Opening at the top: It is very sad when birds get stuck inside cages and panic trying to get out. Our nets were not perfectly sealed and had a slight opening at the top. Occasionally, a bird would slip in, but they were never stressed and always found their way out again.
Step 5: Stake the Bottom of the Net
To keep the bottom of the net snug on the ground, put a few stakes in to keep the netting down.
Enjoy the Birds and the Berries
We have toyed with many different ways to protect the berries in our garden over the years. Unfortunately, many of them didn’t work, were too expensive, or were too labour intensive to maintain, and we went many years where he had lots of birds but not many berries. Teepee-style bird frames have been the answer to many of our problems, and we hope they will work in your garden as well as they work in ours.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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