Issue: May 23
You can keep birds from eating your seedlings
Q. I have a problem each spring with my very small home garden. Evidently the birds like green beans as much as I do. They steal the plants as soon as the seeds sprout.
What can I use to protect the new plants? If netting is the answer, does it matter which color or fabric, the size of the openings, etc.? What would you suggest?
A. You are on the right track thinking of something to keep the birds away from your plants. The size of the opening in the netting depends on which birds are doing the damage, but it is probable that chicken wire has openings that are too large. Bird netting sold at garden centers to protect fruit crops may do the job. They come in several colors, black, dark green, etc., that should do the job well. However, the birds can probably reach through the netting to pluck your bean seedlings unless you support the netting on hoops or some other structure to keep the birds at beaks-length from the seedlings until the plants are fairly well established. These hoops to support the netting can be made of flexible wire or irrigation pipe. This material should be well anchored to the ground so that the New Mexico spring winds do not blow the structure over. The netting can then be draped over the hoops and pinned to the ground with pins that are usually sold with the netting. You do not want birds sneaking under the netting and having access to all your seedlings.
Another option is row cover material. This is also available at many garden centers. The best color for this purpose is white. While concealing the bean seedlings from the birds and keeping them from the seedlings, it will also provide some frost protection and wind protection. This material may be placed loosely over the row (the edges covered with soil, boards, or rocks. As the seedlings grow, they will lift the loosely placed row cover (that is why it is often called floating row cover). When the seedlings are larger the row cover may be removed and the beans will probably be safe.
Wind may cause the row cover material to abrade the seedlings, so you may want to build hoops as described above for the row cover material. In this case, the row cover fabric may be left in place even longer. If you are growing bush beans that do not grow tall, the cover may be left on all season. Beans are self-pollinating, so they will set a crop even if the bees cannot get to them. This technique will work with other crops as well, but most of them will need to be uncovered as the plants establish so they can be pollinated by bees. Be aware, the protection provided the plants by the row cover fabric also creates a pleasant environment for some crop pests such as aphids, so be alert and prepared to treat for pests that do become established under the row cover.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.
Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031
Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.