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I recieved a couple of the Ready Steady Grow Your Own Growing Cages a couple of years ago, to use as protection for my then youngest two gooseberry bushes. I was quickly impressed by how useful they were, and I ordered another. They have since migrated from my soft fruit area to other parts of the allotment, and this is why..
WHAT THE GROW CAGE IS FOR
The grow cages that I have are model number GH160 and they are made by the well known garden supplies company, Proteam. This product was the first that I had used that had been made by them, but I have since gained various items and I have largely been impressed with the quality that they offer for the price. The cage measures 110cm high and it is the same in width and length. In other words, it's a square. It is formed of a tubular steel structure, with "walls" made from netting, which is supplied along with the ground pegs. It is placed over fruit and vegetable crops to provide protection from the attentions of birds and other animals. Proteam suggest using it with soft fruit, vegetable patches and raised beds in particular. It is supposed to be weather proof, easy to construct, strong and lightweight, as well as re-usable of course.
REALLY EASY TO CONSTRUCT?
Thankfully, yes. I am not blessed with construction skills, although I am learning more every day. Having had some horrendous struggles with flat pack furniture, I thought that any claims that the frame would be easy to construct would be optimistic in my case. I was completely wrong and I had the first frame up in about 20 minutes, minus the netting. I have now taken them down and re-erected them several times and I don't need to refer to the instructions any more which speeds things up further. Having just put a brand new cage together for my mum, I can confirm that the method is still the same. The cage comes in a worryingly flat, if tall box. Inside you will find two bags of tubular steel poles, plus two smaller bags containing the corner pieces, netting and pegs, and the instructions which are chiefly pictorial. Thankfullly the last are actually clear and a doddle to follow even for me. The poles are individually labelled as either type A or B so there is no danger of getting into a muddle half way through construction because you can't remember which bag your pole came out of! These poles simply slot together and into the corner brackets with no tools required. After having the cages for a year, I noticed that the corner brackets had the letter "D" on one of the arms which I suppose was intended to signify that it had to be positioned in a particular way, but having only noticed that after constructing three cages without difficulty, I can't say it makes much difference if you ignore that! Once the frame is up, all you need to do is attach the netting which comes in two pieces, one for the top, and the remainder wraps around the sides. The ties to fix it in place are included, plus the metal ground pegs to help secure the frame into the soil. These are good quality pieces too, and they keep both the netting and frame in place securely.
HOW I HAVE USED THE FRAMES
As mentioned above I positioned the frames over young gooseberry bushes at first, and the third over a young whitecurrant. The frames feel sturdy considering the fact they are also lightweight. [I can easily move one on my own without a struggle although I would do so without the netting so it is easier to get a grip that way.] They provided excellent protection from birds eating the fruit or damaging the buds. There is no chance of the little darlings getting anywhere near them providing your bushes are small enough to safely sit within the cage. The netting is taut so it is kept clear of the stems that way and the birds can't simply sit on it and poke their beaks through to enjoy their feast. The reason that I later removed the frames from the soft fruit is the bushes out grew the cage width wise and so it did not provide the same level of protection. Whether the same would happen to you sooner rather than later depends on the variety of fruit you have and how you have it pruned. The two gooseberries I had under the frame are treated to a minimum amount of pruning now their basic framework is established, as part of an experiment in following a "treat them mean" care plan, which is working well!
Those frames were moved last year to provide anti pigeon protection to overwintering brassicas. They were a good height to protect the taller growing kales, and I intend to use them this year to provide the same protection for Brussel sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli, although the latter may outgrow the frames in height judging by this years crop. Heightwise, the headroom may be a bit excessive for the lower growing veg such as cabbages but it does gives them versality as it is relatively easy to find netting tunnels for those low growers.
The netting is intended to provide protection against birds and animals. It is too open a mesh to prevent butterflies accessing your plants though, as well as other insects. There is nothing to stop you replacing it with something finer, and indeed I did so last year for a while to beat the "cabbage whites". Secondly, the netting works best when covering something that you don't need to access very often. This is because the frame doesn't come with a "door". You have either to reach under the netting to do any weeding, or you have untie a section, which is moderately fiddly. I solved this by cutting the netting into lengths that correspond to one side only, and fixing it in place with velcro to make my own entrance either side.
I put two cages at either end of a narrow brassica bed and strung more netting in the gap between the two so it covered the whole row. In this way the frames were outside and up for an entire year, and they show no signs of warping or weathering. In fact, the netting stayed firm under a considerable amount of snow last year. They also get exposed to a fair amount of wind but they haven't budged despite their lightness. The poles are dark green [although they look black in the picture on the box] and still look smart after all this time. I am also still using the original netting and ground pegs.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE CAGE?
I recieved my first two cages as a gift, and I bought the third for £10. The price is now just under £15 on Amazon per cage, with free delivery available. Considering the price you can pay for such items, this is a bargain as they do their job perfectly. However, if you were considering one yourself, I would say think carefully about the eventual size of whatever you wish to protect so you can calculate whether it will provide long lasting protection or not. To use them to cover beds only makes sense if you need the 110cm of height, and many veg don't need that much protection. You also need to consider the width of the bed and especially the planting rows to make sure it fits in. You can also make your own frames quite easily and cheaply using wood, sturdy canes etc, and that is how the majority of the fruit is covered at my allotment. Other than that, I would definitely recommend this versatile product, as it has the advantage of durability and convenience.
[This review is also published on Ciao under the same user name.]