Being literally 3 days before the Christmas weekend, I did not have the luxury of being able to order steel pipes and durable nets from my trusted suppliers. The pipes may still have been delivered before the weekend, but there was no way the nets themselves were going to reach us in time all the way from New South Wales. Besides, how do I construct net frames over the Christmas weekend with the house flooded with guests? An empty steel frame without a net is as good protection as an old scarecrow – the birds will just land on it on their way to and from the fruit!
I have for a long while played with the idea to create big but sturdy collapsible frames that I can assemble to form a portable net over a selected tree at Dreamland. I can then move the net on to the next tree once the first one had fruited, and so on, using a follow-the-fruit path through the garden. Starting off with plums, then peaches and then finally doing the apples and pears. And I can take it away completely during the non-fruiting seasons. So now I had the requirement to start creating them. But I had two challenges to overcome:
- Firstly, I wanted to construct them with the stronger permanent nets, not with the flimsy white nets, but the urgency and the upcoming holidays ruled out that option.
- I had to figure out a way to make the frames and nets collapsible and moveable (preferably by me alone), without using double the amount of metal frame to create separate frames. So I started playing with the idea of separate “whole” sides of frames and incomplete “connector frames” which are then screwed together using brackets and wingnuts. But how do I manage tying the nets over the loose connector frames?
Alas, as with previous designs, it was during the “components acquisition” stage that the design had to adapt and change. Some connectors didn’t work with the pipe I eventually got, and the pipe required different and stronger brackets than what I initially envisaged. And boy, did I underestimate the number of bolts required!
So after a couple of redraws, the drilling and prepping started in the shed. I wanted to have everything prepped (as far as possible) before moving it all over to Dreamland. At least at Homeland I can work in the shade in the shed, with all the tools and battery chargers at hand. The “full” front and back panels were easy, and the roof was relatively straightforward, as it aligns directly on top of the front and back panels. However, the “partial” side panels were hard to get right on paper, never mind pre-drill it all correctly. My initial design didn’t include a centre post between the four trees, but in order to make installation easier and the end result a bit stronger, I added this at the last minute.
A day and a half of measuring, drilling and bolting later and the show was ready to hit the road – the long way round to Dreamland. Off-load, assemble and bolt – it should be easy hey? Great was my dismay when I started bolting and standing up the parts of the frames! The square angle brackets were so weak, they bent whenever any uneven pressure was applied. And the slip-over brackets had to fit so exactly before they slipped over, and one also broke under pressure when one of the panels collapsed. So back to the drawing board…
I ended up cementing short (100cm) tubes into the ground, to which I then bolted the uprights. This was much stronger, and I could still unbolt and remove the whole frame. Besides, this saved me a ton of tubing, as I could now remove all the lengths of tubing forming the base. With the uprights cemented in firmly, it was also much easier to bolt the whole frame together once the uprights were bolted on.
Next were the nets, zips and clasps, pretty much as with the previous nets, except the light flimsy white net was a bit harder to work with at that scale than the stronger permanent nets – that is, without tearing it. Anyway, the nets are up and we’re enjoying the fast ripening plums, but the lorikeets have gotten us back by moving onto a nearby apple tree and demolishing half of the half-ripe apples. (Read: more nets required….)
- In the hurry to get the nets up over the fast-ripening fruit before Christmas, I used 3m lengths, which I could transport myself. Never again will I construct 6m long frames using 3m long pieces – getting the long lengths straight and strong through the joins was a nightmare! With the redesign and holidays in between, I could just as well have waited for the delivery of the 6m lengths. As it was, I only finally got the nets on a few days before New Year.
- The frames are extremely heavy. If I want to make removable frames that I can fit and move myself, I definitely need something way lighter than 40mm square steel tubing. But it needs to be strong enough to stand our harsh winds.
In fact, I’m wondering with all the work lined up, whether we would ever take down the frames in the off season…