Big pests

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Brush turkey

I usually think of pests in the garden as being tiny (even microscopic), determined and destructive insects. However, in recent years our garden has been under siege from much larger pests, in the form of brush turkeys. The numbers of these native birds have burgeoned in many suburbs of Sydney, perhaps due to a decline in the prevalence of foxes, one of their main predators. Seeing these hefty turkeys strolling down suburban streets has become commonplace. Their main goal in life appears to be to rake up all the vegetation and mulch in the garden to form a tall mound in which to lay their eggs. When not doing this, they also enjoy scratching around in garden beds and compost heaps for insects to eat, creating a huge mess. Small and newly planted specimens can simply disappear under the workings of their enormous feet. At one stage, we had three generations of turkeys living in the vicinity of our garden. They seem to have no innate fear of humans, and simply fly (in an ungainly fashion) to the nearest tree branch if you run screaming in their direction.

This wire cage provides protection for a new plant from brush turkeys in the garden of Barbara Walker in Sydney

I have heard of many solutions to the brush turkey problem. In our own garden, we put netting over our compost heaps to deter them (they seemed to regard this heap as a ready-made mound for their use and showed every sign of laying their eggs in it), and I obtained a collection of metal obelisks, which I placed over newly planted specimens so they wouldn't be dug up before they had established. We also chased the turkeys away every time we saw them, and at the moment, we are turkey-free! When I recently visited the garden of Barbara Walker in Sydney, I saw a variety of turkey deterrents, including the laying of large old palm fronds on the ground between plants, affixed to the earth with wire hoops; the turkeys apparently don't like walking on this surface and avoid these areas. Pieces of wire netting pegged over the ground can also work in the same way. Barbara also uses decorative wire cages (illustrated above) popped over the tops of new plantings to protect them.

Brushtail possum

Other big pests in many Sydney gardens include possums, and I have friends, especially those who grow roses and magnolias, who have been driven to utter despair by these cute-looking creatures. I have heard of many methods over the years of trying to deter them, including sprays made of quassia chips, chilli, garlic or Lapsang Souchong tea; mothballs or real camphor balls enclosed in little organza bags and tied in trees; or devices emitting ultrasonic sounds that the possums dislike and/or flashing strobe lights. Some people scatter blood and bone around plants as the possums are said to hate the smell. The strategies need to be persevered with and possibly varied from time to time as none seems to deter them permanently and they seem to get used to a lot of the substances after a while! We had success on a pistachio tree for a while by affixing a large piece of flexible metal right around the middle of the trunk, to stop them from being able to climb up. They eventually found another way to get to the tree! One friend decided to feed the little fiends in order to distract them from her magnolias, and ended up setting out plates of cut-up apples and sweet potatoes (peeled, as they didn't like the skin!) every night. Apparently, this did work to some extent, and the possums would wait at the door demanding their treats, but it has to be kept up, which may mean you'll be buying sackloads of apples in perpetuity!

Enclosed potager, photo by Alain Colfs

Other foes include bandicoots, rats, rabbits, kangaroos and goannas. These can be especially trying for those gardeners trying to grow vegetables, and I recently received some photos from a reader, Alain Colfs, who has built what he described as 'Fort Knox' to keep out an assortment of pests from his vegetable and fruit gardens. They are basically cages to keep animals out rather than in! One impressive structure, for the potager (illustrated above), looking rather like an elegant tent, is made from steel posts with netting tied over the top (upturned stainless steel salad bowls on each corner post prevent the netting from tearing). Vegetables are grown in raised beds inside the structure.

Enclosed fruit trees, photo by Alain Colfs

The second structure (illustrated at left), for fruit trees, is made from eight star pickets with 40mm diameter poly pipe threaded over the ends of the pickets to make a support for mesh placed over the top. The structures have been a complete success in keeping an assortment of animals at bay and allowing Alain to grow his crops without them being attacked.

I'd be interested in hearing your experiences with 'big pests'!