We had an opportunity to share an allotment with our friends and I thought it would be a good idea to build a fruit cage to protect any potential fruity booty we might be able to grow.
Being a man with zero construction or carpentry skills I thought it would be a good idea to create it in a rustic style; out of coppiced Hazel. This was mainly because it would be more difficult to criticise the inevitable wonkiness. I also thought the natural look would be a more appealing design.
I wanted to spend very little, we had a young family and the idea of having an allotment space was great for them but we needed to keep everything as cheap as possible. Fortunately, most allotment sites are simply crammed with delightfully Heath Robinson constructions, so nothing would look even remotely out of place.
In the end, all I required was the following...
Rope for lashing
Step 1: Rustic Fruit Cage - Preparation and Equipment
Initially I cut turf from a suitable area and I prepped the soil with some manure. Then I planted some soft fruit bushes, I used Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries and a Tayberry. Then I decided to lay a weed suppressing membrane, to make general maintenance more simple. Normally this membrane should be done before planting the fruit canes and frames but being an incompetent buffoon I forgot this and had to fumble my way through the wrong way about. Eventually I managed to cut, wiggle and yank the sheet down over the plants; it was a process not dissimilar to, attempting to put on a pair of trousers, via your head.
I then calculated how many Hazel poles I was likely to require, based on the size of the plot. I coppiced some of these poles form a woodland patch near where I worked. I cut the straighter, more stout upright poles to points at one end and painted the parts that would be in the ground with preserver. A good friend donated some further Hazel sticks, which also proved handy.
If I had made any plans, I would/should have purchased the netting at this point but I was working on a completely ad hoc basis.
Step 2: Rustic Fruit Cage - Building the Frame
I hammered the strongest poles in as uprights for the frame, this was precarious work up a step ladder with a lump hammer, eventually it turned into a 3 x 2 rectangle.
I then lashed the thinner poles around the top edges of this rectangle, including a brace across the middle.
I was positively delighted with my initial surge of construction; I had the basic cube shape secured and it all seemed reasonably straight (apart from one corner), considering it had been built entirely by eye and out of sticks.
Next I realised that I would probably need a door, so I cut a couple of extra poles and hammered/lashed them in to form a doorway.
Now I needed to make a door!
Step 3: Rustic Fruit Cage - Making and Fitting a Door
There was no need for hasty decisions. Lack of planning has been the downfall of my whimsical schemes, just as often as lack of knowledge or ability, but the netting wouldn't be needed until the fruit ripened. So, instead of rushing off to purchase inappropriate hinges at the local hardware shop, I paused, pondered the possibilities and then - I looked at my own garden gate for inspiration.
After measuring the door frame I cut a few, more slender, hazel poles and found another old piece of balustrade in my shed. I then copied the frame of my garden gate, including diagonals to stop the structure from sagging when hung.
It was never going to be exact, so I left all fixing and the opening edge until it was in place. I laid it all up on some decking at home, chopped out where all the joints would go and bought some gate hinges. These were cheap enough for me to bend by hand and I actually wrapped them around the balustrade once it was on site.
Fitting the door did require a fair bit of innovation (bodging), inspiration (swearing), improvisation (hewing with a penknife) and making it up as I went along; some of the joints were temporarily held in place with garden wire for instance but I was pleasantly surprised by the end result and I do believe that Heath Robinson would have been suitably impressed.
Step 4: Rustic Fruit Cage - Netting and Completion
Finally the Rustic Fruit Cage was ready to be covered in netting and I was secretly dreading this part because I knew that the poles were rough wood and would snag the nets.
In the end I decided to simply things by staple-gunning the netting to the poles and then stretching it over a given square, stapling it again and then on to the next area. This was difficult work - I discovered that cheap plastic garden netting is the devils material and I ended up buying some better quality knotted netting, which was far easier to work with. Really you need at least two adults (as opposed to enthusiastic children) and a day with zero wind to manage this part of the instructable.
Eventually the cage was completed. I could have made it easier by planning in advance but I am happy to report that the fruit bushes did all that was asked of them. The strawberries grew wild, all over the floor of the cage and created what I like to think of as the Rustic Fruit Cage microclimate.
The kids loved the cage, especially once the fruit ripened and I discovered that I could get them to do some weeding before allowing them into the cage to eat fruit as a reward ;-)
Step 5: Rustic Fruit Cage - Postscript
Sadly, our friends eventually decided that they could not commit the time and effort required to maintain this allotment and it was not close enough to our house for us to take it over.
Fortunately, we eventually got our own plot, in walking distance from our home, so I dismantled the Rustic Fruit Cage and dug up the plants. I the rebuilt a similar, larger creation on our new site, using recycled equipment and very similar techniques. I'm happy to report that some of the same fruit bushes still provide us with our Summertime Fruity Booty.
For more information and photos of the Rustic Fruit Cage visit http://theurbaneforager.blogspot.co.uk/