As that great saying goes ‘Nothing worth having comes easy!’
Since moving in to our new house, I have wanted to turn the back garden into my own allotment. I thought (even though experience has taught me otherwise) this would be quite simple!
So far it has been anything but easy – large trees to get rid of, tree surgeons who don’t turn up, fences to be replaced, Covid-19!
However, slowly but surely we are getting there… and then we tried to build a fruit cage.
I bought, from Harrod Horticultural, a 3.5m by 4.5m steel fruit cage back at the end of April. Obviously, due to our current covid situation, the delivery of this fruit cage was understandably delayed. Not a problem.
We patiently waited and were finally told it would be delivered on the 12th June. It was delivered but it was missing two of the bars that hold the cage up! Great start!
However, Harrod Horticultural did immediately dispatch two new upright bars which arrived a few days later. Despite not having any open customer service lines, they did have excellent customer service via email.
Fast forward to the following weekend, where we finally have all the parts, we start to dig over the space where the fruit cage will go. We removed all the weeds and any big stones. We dug up a forest’s worth of tree roots and an un-measurable amount of ivy roots. We raked the soil over, levelled it off, tamped it down and were ready to erect the fruit cage.
I would like to say that we then opened up the instructions but we didn’t.
We started by determining where the top left corner was going to go, and using a hole former, put in a pilot hole for the ground socket. Considering the difficulty we have had previously trying to put posts into the ground, this was easily done. We then put the ground socket in, hammering it flush with ground level. Going well so far!
At this point, we decided to check the instructions, which when we realised you are supposed to build the roof first!. However, at this point we had only put one ground socket into the ground and this was a good marker for making sure the fruit cage was in the right place. No harm, no foul…yet.
So then we built the roof. The fruit cage was supplied with 3.5m widths and the length were supplied as 2m and 2.5 m bars. Connectors were used to connect all the pieces together and they were easily tapped in with a soft mallet. We had a roof – easy peasy!
Next step was to align the top left corner with the top left socket and square off the frame. We pushed the connectors into the ground to mark where the other ground sockets should go. Carefully moving the roof of the fruit cage to one side, we then started to put the ground sockets in.
Starting at the top right, we took the hole former and started to make a pilot hole for the ground socket. This time, it was a little more difficult. We found we were meeting resistance. Hoping to punch through it, we used a slight larger mallet, and we did indeed punch through whatever was causing the resistance….
Turned out to be a gas line…
3 hours later…
1 day later…
Although, historically there had been a gas line down our property boundary, before erecting our new fence last summer, I checked with a guy from the gas network to determine if that line was still there and where it was. I was told that their plans did not show a live gas line down our property.
There is one…and it feeds our house
Even though there is a gas main less than 20ft from the front of our house, it apparently seemed like a good idea to someone to send a 200ft gas line down to the back of the property! We had a total of 5 different gas men on the property during the time this was being fixed and every single one of them said ‘why did they do it like that?’
For those of you who don’t know – that saying has become the bane of my life. Ever since moving into my house, it seems nothing has been done properly and we have had to spend far too much money correcting everything! I now need to move the gas connection to the front otherwise I won’t be able to put in any hard landscaping such as patios etc. (I am also going to build an extension so it would have had to be moved anyway – I just will now be doing it sooner). But I am digressing!
Gas pipe fixed, so 2 weeks later we are able to finally get round to putting up the fruit cage. We had to move the cage so the upright poles were not over the gas pipe and that required digging up the socket that we already had sunk into the ground (without damaging it).
So as before, we moved the roof into place, and marked where the uprights would go. This time we used spray paint to mark the positions which was a lot better. Then we started to put the ground sockets in. Top left socket first – went in no problem. Top right socket – not so much!
The ground sockets come with a steel driving cap. You put this in the socket so that the top of the socket doesn’t get damage when you bash them into the ground. This steel driving cap, that according to Harrod Horticultural is ‘pretty tough’, broke! That’s right – we managed to break steel. The top of the driving cap sheared off!
We tried lightly hitting the ground socket to get it into the ground without damaging the top but more force is required to get the sockets into the ground. We then tried taping the broken cap to the socket to see if that would work. It didn’t and just messed up the top of the ground socket. Sam tried to file the top so that the upright would still fit in the socket but then the file broke!
I mean you couldn’t make this stuff up!
I am going to be honest, at this point there were tears. I was was beyond fed up and I just wanted a fruit cage – why did it need to be so hard!
So after sitting down. taking several deep breathes, and doing some googling, we decided to dispense with the ground sockets and just stick the uprights directly in the ground, with some metal footplates for added stability.
This time erecting the fruit cage was much easier! The uprights went in really easily and we had all six in within 30 minutes (why didn’t we do this in the first place!) and the roof went on easily after that. All in all, erecting the fruit cage took 45-50 minutes! It slots together really well. The door was a little trickier as we had to make sure it was the right length away from an upright, the hinges were in the right place and facing the right way but otherwise still quite simple. The instructions could have been a little clearer when it came to putting the door together but otherwise we got there in the end, although the lock is the wrong way round – but it still does the job!
Before putting the netting on, I put a layer of weed control fabric around the base of the cage where the netting would attach. To make my life easier in the long run, I don’t want weeds and grass growing up the sides of the netting as I won’t be able to mow or strim the grass without shredding the netting. So instead I have put some fabric down to prevent that as much as possible.
Once this fabric was down, we then started putting the netting on. Again, a relatively simple task. We started at one upright, and then rolled the netting round the cage (it comes in one long piece) and tied it with releasable cable ties at the top. I am grateful for the cable ties being releasable because there were numerous occasions where we had to re-tie the netting. We attached the netting to the uprights and then pegged the netting down at the bottom. We attached netting to the door having to cut it in places to get round the hinges and lock.
Next was the roof netting. We were provided with a lot of roof netting – 5m x 6m. We putting it on the cage and pulled it taught but it mostly looked untidy around the sides. What you can’t see in the picture is that I had to roll large pieces of netting up and cable tie it together. It did not look pretty!
By this point we were getting towards the end of the day and it was starting to rain so we decided to call it a day and I had the night to ruminate on how I could making the roof netting look better!
The next day was still very grey and drizzly but we carried on regardless! To improve the look of the roof netting, I moved the netting so one end was aligned with the back and left side of the fruit cage. The cable ties really came in handy here as I was able to hook the roof netting over the cable tie ends to stop it from moving and to help me pull it taught. I secured the roof netting round these two sides with the clips provided and the set about tightening the netting on the other two sides.
Generally it is advised to remove the roof netting in the winter to prevent snow from laying over the roof and breaking the fruit cage. I assume this is why we were supplied with too much netting – too make it easier to remove and put back on. We do not normally have snow in large quantities where I am located so I made the executive decision to cut the netting so it would look tidier and more aesthetically pleasing. Knowing my luck, we will have the worst snow storms in the UK since records began next winter!
However, I cut the netting and secured it around the top with the clips provided and I have to say it looks much better!
So we have a fruit cage!!!
Inside the fruit cage we have put in raised beds. We built these ourselves. Getting the materials was also more difficult than it should have been but that is a story for another time. Round the outside where the fabric is, we have put in some fixed wooden edging. More weed control fabric has been put over the paths in the fruit cage and shingle has been laid on top. Previously I have used bark chip but I found that as it rots down, it provides a good growing medium for weeds so can cause more problems than I would like. Shingle won’t completely stop the weeds but at least it doesn’t rot down
Here is the finished fruit cage!
So if you are thinking of buying a steel fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural I will say the following – only get ground sockets if you have a really exposed site. The footplates will provide enough stability. If you do buy the ground sockets get 2 driving caps just in case the first one breaks. They are only £6 each so it wont break the bank!
Now all that is left to do is buy me some fruit bushes!