Making A Steel Walk-in Fruit Cage
Walk-in fruit cages are permanent structures, designed to protect the fruit harvest, while making it easy for a gardener to move around in to care for the plants. If fruit bushes, canes, or small trees blossom, but when summer arrives are bare of fruit, it is likely that wildlife has enjoyed the crop. A walk in fruit cage solves this problem.
The video on this page shows my DIY solution to building a walk in fruit cage using galvanised steel tubes joined together using Kee clamps. The cage is covered by netting that is buried in the ground to stop animals burrowing into the cage at ground level. The fruit cage has proved to be successful at protecting my fruit from wildlife, is easy to walk around in, and hopefully will last for many years.
Step By Step Video
If fruit bushes never seem to produce fruit, or fruit buds form on them, but disappear before they ripen, the chances are that a fruit cage may come in useful.
In this video, I show my DIY solution to how to make a fruit cage. It is a durable walk in fruit cage, that hopefully will last for many years. For a more simple solution, you may like to see my other video on covering fruit bushes with netting, supported by a pole and wire frame, see the link below.
Walk-in fruit cages are permanent structures, designed to protect the fruit harvest, while making it easy for a gardener to move around in to care for the plants. They can be found in gardens or on allotment plots. Fruit cages can be expensive to buy as kits, especially when made to measure.
I wanted a walk-in steel fruit cage, made to the exact size for my plot, and at an affordable price. In this video I share the principals of how to create a fruit cage, and what to consider when making one. At the end of the video there is a summary of all the materials I sourced, and how I made the fruit cage step by step. What I really like about this approach, is that if in the future I want to expand the fruit cage, it will be easy to extend by changing the clamps used and buying more steel tubing.
The fruit cage I have is about seven metres long and two and a half metres wide, which is ample room to allow the fruit bushes to develop inside it. I have around five fruit bushes inside it.
Before I built the fruit cage every year the fruit bushes fed the wildlife, whether it was squirrels, or rats, or birds, I don't know exactly, maybe a combination of all of them. But this year, the first year of having the fruit cage, its made an amazing difference. So I'm not sure if it is possible to see from here, I'll just zoom in a little bit. But this first bush, is a gooseberry bush. It's a red gooseberry variety, and it is loaded with fruit. I've had the first gooseberries off it already, and they are deliciously sweet.
This is something that I just didn't see for the last couple of years, because wildlife had eaten everything. Now I don't know what exactly was eating it, but by the time it got to midsummer, there was virtually nothing left on the fruit bushes, to such an extent that I wondered if the fruit bushes were actually producing any fruit at all, that I thought maybe a hard frost in early spring had damaged the blossom, but no, the issue was clearly that wildlife was enjoying the fruit, and I wasn't.
So a brief overview in terms of how the fruit cage is constructed. All the supports on the fruit cage are made from one length of steel tube. So I used 2.5 metre lengths. These lengths were used to create the vertical up stands. The tubing was knocked into the ground to a depth of 50 centimetres, which is enough to really anchor the tubes into the ground so that even strong winds don't move them.
Then to span between the vertical tubes, I then used Kee clamps to run a beam, or a joist, across to create the roof structure.
I chose a length of tube of 2.5 metres because with 50 centimetres knocked into the ground they still provide 2 metres of height. Plenty of room to walk around in. And at 2.5 metres wide, it provides sufficient space all around the plants to enable me to walk around. And just as importantly, it prevents any of the branches of the fruit bushes touching the side of the fruit cage, which could potentially damage the netting, and allow wildlife to start eating the fruit through the netting.
To fix the net onto the steel tubes, I've just used cable ties. Now cable ties are extremely strong. I was quite careful when I put on the cable ties to make sure that I wrapped a few threads of netting around so that if any of the threads ripped it didn't immediately create a hole in the net.
I'm just going to do a tour now around the edge of the fruit cage. So on this side of the fruit cage I've used butterfly netting, which is quite a fine mesh. Probably less than 1 centimetre square, but it does stop pollinating insects entering, so on the rest of the fruit cage I've used a net with a mesh about 2 centimetres square, so this allows pollinating insects to enter the fruit cage in the spring, do their pollination work, which will hopefully lead to a big fruit harvest.
This side of the fruit cage is quite close to my hybrid berries, but because the fruit cage does not really stop any light passing through the netting it hasn't affected in any way the amount of berries that is forming on my hybrid berry bushes.
So just walking down here, oh, I've got myself tangled on a hybrid berry cane, that's actually a tayberry cane. So around the edge of the fruit cage I've put down ground cover fabric and I've covered the ground cover fabric with wood chip, so this is to prevent any weeds growing at the foot of the fruit cage. It makes maintenance much easier.
The other thing I've done is I created a trench around the entire perimeter of the fruit cage, and I did that before I secured the netting. So the netting of the fruit cage actually goes one foot down below ground level. I then secured the netting to the supports of the fruit cage using cable ties, replaced the earth, and then laid the ground cover fabric and the wood chipping.
The result of which means that no animal can enter the fruit cage from below, which is just as important as preventing birds entering the fruit cage from above.
This side of the fruit cage would have been better if there was more room between the end of the fruit cage and the fruit bush. This is something I'll have to take care of over the winter, to prune back the branches of the gooseberry bush to make sure they're not touching the net.
The netting on the fruit cage will stay on it all year round. So, it is worth investing in a netting that has got good UV stabilisation or in other words is not damaged by sunlight. In general, the more expensive netting is also far easier to use, so you do not have to stretch it, it naturally has its dimensions making it easy to secure to the frame of the fruit cage.
I did have to change plan with the door to enter the fruit cage, because I originally I had planned to use a swing door. Now the swing door I had created using lengths of vertical tube that were hinged to the vertical supports on the fruit cage, but unfortunately what I found is my design of door didn't prevent the door sagging from the side of the hinge to the other side of the door, and I think that was because of the weight of the tubing.
So to solve that problem I'm now using a flap of netting, which I secured to the top of the fruit cage using cable ties. And importantly, the flap of netting is considerably wider that the width of the door frame. So the width of the door frame, if I stand back here, is about 1 metre wide, and the netting, the flap, the width of the flap, is probably 1 metre 50, so it's a good 30 or 40 centimetres wider that the width of the door.
So the flap is secured all along the roof of the fruit cage, and at the bottom of the flap I use bricks, which effectively stretches the netting, stretches the flap, so that nothing can enter through the doorway, and especially along its sides. So it's almost actually impossible to see, but the flap is here.
To enter the fruit cage I simply move aside the bricks which are securing the net covering the doorway at the bottom. So I'll just show how to do that now.
That's one brick removed. And the second brick removed. And then what I'm able to do, is just to peel back, peel back the netting. Now, I actually left some netting standing at the base there, to make it harder for ground based animals to get inside, but then I can simply step through the netting and I'm inside the fruit cage. So a very simple way of creating an entrance to the fruit cage.
The horizontal beams that go across to make the roof for the fruit cage have one disadvantage. They make a really good spot for birds to perch upon, and if they perch upon something invariably they relieve themselves, and if where they relieve themselves is on top of a fruit bush, the fruit bush and all the fruit on it, will get dirty.
So to prevent that happening, I've tied canes, I've secured those on the vertical supports of the fruit cage. And I simply ran a length of bird scare tape from one side of the fruit cage to the other. And I've done this on all the joists. If I just lift this up, on all the joists of the fruit cage, and that's proved very effective.
When I was knocking in the steel poles, rather than knocking on the top of the pole directly with a hammer or mallet, I used a wooden plank. So the hammer hit the plank, and the plank hit the pole, and that way the end of the pole remained undamaged.
Each tube goes into a joint, and the Kee clamp, clamps onto the tube, to hold them rigidly in place.
Kee clamps are very easy to use. All clamps work in a similar way, irrespective of whether they are two way, three way, corner clamps, and so on.
Simply push the tube into the key clamp, and use an Allen key to tighten and fix into position. The clamps can be loosened and repositioned if needed.
The clamps create a very strong connection. This system is often used to create safety rails on staircases, or safety barriers around machinery.
I used a variety of different Kee clamps to make this structure work. So, this Kee clamp here enables the steel tubes to pass though, and is a T shape which enables another steel tube to go downwards and be buried into the ground.
Another style of Kee clamp I used was at the corners. This is a three way corner Kee clamp. So, it enables a ninety degree turn, which is obviously ideal for the corner of the fruit cage, with one pointing downwards which, again, is knocked into the ground.
I didn't use one big net for the fruit cage. Instead my approach was to fasten the net using panels. So effectively did one panel at a time, which enabled me to use smaller sized nets. So, along this side here, you can see that I actually used two different styles of netting. A wider gauge net at the top to allow pollinating insects to enter, and then the butterfly netting at the base. I actually knocked into the netting with my lawnmover when I was cutting the grass on the edge of this side of the fruit cage, but it's quite easy to fix that kind of problem, you just get more netting and then secure it with cable ties to cover the hole. So, if a net is damaged for any reason, whether it's strong wind, an animal entering, or what I did by accidentally knocking it with machinery, it's easy to fix.
To make my fruit cage, I did the following steps. I started by creating the design for my fruit cage on paper, including measuring exactly what dimensions I needed. For my plot, the dimensions were 7.5 metres long, and 2.5 metres wide, with a roof height of 2 metres.
By drawing out the design, this made it easy to count all the steel tubes I needed, and just as important, all the different types of Kee clamp I needed to get. On my design, I have removed the swing door, as my flap of netting has proved to be a better solution.
Galvanised steel tubes are durable and resist weathering. They are similar to scaffold poles, but my tubes were thinner and lighter and therefore easier to work with. They were approximately 27mm wide, and with a metal thickness of about 3mm. This is strong enough for a fruit cage. My simple design used steel tubes all of the same length, meaning that none of them needed to be cut, and also that there was no hunting around for tubes of different lengths when I was assembling it.
The clamps to join them together are specific to the diameter of the tube. It’s important to get the rights ones. I needed three way elbow clamps for the corners, three way outlet tees for the roof joists along the sides, and a short tee to make an additional upright for the door frame.
To make the fruit cage, I started at one corner by hammering in one tube into the ground. Wrapping coloured tape around the pole can help indicate it has been knocked down to the right depth. A spirit level is essential to make sure it is vertical and true.
I then worked along the edge, laying a tube on the ground to mark out the distance to the next pole. When this was knocked into the ground, I then joined the two tubes together with a roof joist. Again, a spirit level is essential to ensure the roof joist is horizontal and true. If not, adjust the height of the vertical poles. Continue working this way until all the poles and roof joists are in place.
Before fixing the net, dig a shallow trench around the perimeter of the poles. This is to allow the net to be buried by soil, stopping any animals from being able to enter the fruit cage from underneath.
When fixing the net, I found it easiest to put on the side panels first, before positioning the net for the roof. For my fruit cage, I used the leftover netting I had around, but if buying netting, I would have gone for black heavy duty bird netting, as this is easier to work with. Ensure the netting is firmly tied onto the poles with cable ties, and there are no holes for wildlife to get through. I also positioned a net a foot high at ground level across the door frame.
The final steps are to replace the soil in the trench at the perimeter of the fruit cage, and to fix the netting flap to cover the door frame.
For easy maintenance, I placed ground cover fabric all around the perimeter and inside the fruit cage too. Covering this with wood chipping will significantly extend the life of the fabric, and suppress any weeds growing through.
This approach to creating a fruit cage has worked for me, and has meant that I am now harvesting the fruit, instead of feeding the wildlife that live around my allotment. I hope the principals are helpful to you too when creating your own solution, whether buying from a store or creating your own design.
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