Thursday, June 4, 2015

Gardening with deer, groundhogs and other critters; Part 2: Cage in the plants to keep the pests out!

A few years ago, I'd had enough with trying to use flimsy netting and popups to keep pests from eating my strawberries.  The pest-protection set-ups I tried usually failed to protect the berries, or if they did work, did not last more than one season.   

So, I decided to instead look for cages meant to keep rodents in!  I figured anything strong enough to keep pet rodents from escaping would certainly be strong enough to keep critters (such as chipmunks, squirrels, birds, rabbits, groundhogs and deer) from eating my strawberries before I did.   

My search led me to rat playpens.  I found they were wonderful at keeping deer, groundhogs, rabbits and even birds, chipmunks and squirrels out!  The playpens provided protection against fruit-eating birds but allowed insect pollinators to come and go. The photo below shows a raised bed of strawberries protected by a rat playpen.

A cage of strawberries!

Several years later, the strawberry beds in rat playpens are still going strong.  The playpens remain pest-proof and sturdy, and not a single strawberry got away!  

Strawberries growing in the playpen.

As an added bonus, the hinged roof on the playpen makes harvesting a cinch!   

The hinged roof folds upon itself, making a convenient shelf while harvesting.

Last August, my family decided to set up some more raised beds surrounded with playpens. 

For complete pest-proofing, place a piece of hardwire cloth underneath the raised bed.  We skipped over this step and placed  empty 3' x 3' raised beds right on top of the lawn.  We did not weed or remove the grass; we just surrounded the empty raised bed with black weed-block fabric to eliminate the adjacent grass.  

Then we placed corrugated cardboard on top of the grass inside the raised beds.  The cardboard will serve as a weed/grass block for now, and over time will decompose and become part of the soil.  

We added a few wheelbarrow's full of almost-finished compost to fill in the raised beds and topped them off with finished compost.  (If we had more finished compost, we would have filled the whole raised bed with it.)  

We surrounded the raised beds with 42” x 42” playpens. (We used the large size rat playpen from Martin’s cages).  

Playpen-enclosed raised beds are ideal for low-growing edibles.  We planted a mixture of lettuce, kale, beets and chard in this August planting for a fall harvest.  

Beets and chard seedlings in the cage.

Close-up view of the seedlings growing in the cage.
 This is what they looked like in November:

Beets and chard in the cage, a couple of months later...

A basketful of Red Russian kale and rainbow chard from our playpen-protected raised beds picked in November.

We have found these playpens perfect for growing strawberries, lettuce, kale, chard, beets and spinach and keeping them safe from nibblers of all sorts.  We are even considering growing lowbush blueberries in one in the future!

Anything that can keep a rat in can keep a chipmunk out!

This post is the second in a series about gardening with deer and other wildlife.  
Read the other posts in this series:
Gardening with deer, groundhogs and other critters; Part 1: Location, location, location

(This post was shared on Green Thumb Thursdays and Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.)


  1. thanks for sharing these tips! Do you think caging would work for me if I do container gardening? I live in an apartment...

    1. Absolutely! Depending on the size of your containers, you could fit one or more of them inside a cage.

  2. Rat pens! What a great idea! I would have never thought of that.

    Thanks again for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope to see you back this week!


  3. These are great green, healthy and humane tips! I am delighted that you shared your informative and valuable insights on caging in the plants to keep the pests out of your garden on the Healthy Happy Green and Natural Party Blog Hop. I'm pinning and sharing.


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