Sharing with Wildlife: The Best Way to Enjoy More Food
“Cherries here are just for the birds.” Or at least that’s what you hear when you talk about growing cherries in western Washington. But is that really true? It turns out that the problem of birds eating your cherries or other produce is actually a symptom of a larger problem—one that is created when you plant only for human use rather than sharing with wildlife. Let’s look at this problem and how to solve it, so you can cultivate true abundance for people, plants and wildlife.
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When my wife and I bought our property, there was a single large pie cherry tree and not much else. Even that cherry tree was just surrounded by a grass lawn, with just a few grass-choked old-fashioned roses growing nearby.
Honestly, when we first moved in, we weren’t sure if the tree would produce. We had visited the property in July and didn’t see any signs of cherries.
We were thrilled to see that it did, in fact, produce cherries—lots of them! But we had to be quick to harvest, or the birds would eat them all.
I remember that first summer after buying the place, we could tell that the cherries were almost ripe. But we went on a camping trip for just a couple days, and we came back to find that all the cherries had been eaten.
Today things are different.
Sure, the birds still eat some of the cherries. But the difference is that it takes them weeks to eat what they used to eat in just a few days.
Now it’s easy to harvest cherries for our own use.
So what changed?
We planted hedgerows filled with native plants, we put in a bird feeder and planted a wide range of trees, shrubs and other plants.
And there are more birds now than ever before. Our neighbors have often told me how amazed they are at how many birds now visit our property.
But despite the increase in birds, we’re getting to enjoy far more cherries than ever before.
How is this possible?
We didn’t just plant for ourselves. We also planted for the wildlife. The result is a thriving landscape where we get to enjoy abundant harvests and the birds also get the food they need—along with many more types of wildlife.
What changed is that we’ve created abundance for people, plants and wildlife.
Let’s look at some specific strategies you can use to do the same on your property. But before you jump on down, make sure to grab your free guide on how to work with wildlife. That guide will introduce you to a wide range of methods you can use to work with wildlife on your property.
Share with Wildlife—From an “Oasis of Food” to Abundance for All
When we moved to our property, there was very little for wildlife to eat. That large, established pie cherry was one of the few sources of food.
And if I had done what many people do, and immediately planted a vegetable garden, berries, and fruit trees, I would have constantly been frustrated by the birds and other critters eating these plants.
But could you really blame them?
Those veggies, fruit trees, and berries would have been the only real source of food on the whole property.
All those veggies, fruit trees and berries would have been a small little oasis of food surrounded by old, degraded pasture and lawn.
Of course the birds and other wildlife would be drawn to those delectable treats—just like you would be.
But what if you started by planting hedgerows filled with native plants along your fence line?
The berries from our red flowering currants and osoberries are a fantastic food source for the birds in our area, just when the cherries are beginning to ripen. Plus, the early-spring blooms from these plants are absolutely stunning.
Planting plants like these are a great way to share with wildlife.
When your hedgerows are young, you can plant classic garden veggies like lettuce, chard, tomatoes, broccoli, etc. between your shrubs and trees. It will take a couple years for the hedgerow to fill in, giving you space to grow veggies.
And then, when you do start creating growing areas for fruit trees, berries and vegetables, make sure to add in native plants in those places, too.
A great way to do this is to create mini-meadows scattered around your property, along with habitat features such as log and rock piles.
All those flowers and habitat features will support a wide range of insects and other critters which in turn will provide food for birds and other wildlife.
Many of these critters are also predators that help keep other (so-called) pests in balance.
Try to connect your hedgerows, gardens, fruit trees (and food forests), and other growing areas so there are corridors for wildlife to easily and safely move from one area to the next.
When you do this, your core food producing plants will no longer stand out as an oasis of food, but will instead disappear in a landscape of abundance.
And you can get harvests from the native plants you plant. There are lots of native vegetables that you can try. Rose and Henderson checkermallows are 2 great choices for western Washington and Oregon.
Birds and other critters may still nibble from them, but they won’t stay and eat everything. There will be plenty for your family and community, too.
Your property really will be filled with abundance for people, plants and wildlife when you take this approach.
Plant for the Wildlife When You Plant for Yourself
Every time I plant a new area, I always plant for the wildlife in addition to planting for my family and community.
What does that mean?
Mostly, it means planting native plants.
There are native plants in every growing area on my property. Native plants are crucial because they support a wide range of picky insects that other wildlife depend on. Especially birds.
Some research even shows that birds prefer native berries to the invasive or non-native varieties. The native berries give the birds exactly the nutrients they’ve coevolved to depend on.
And often I’ve also added a pile of logs, rocks, and a snag within 10 feet (3 meters), too.
I never just plant food-producing plants without also giving back to the land and to the wildlife that share it with us.
I always make sure to share with wildlife.
The result is that, while every year we get more and more food, we also have less issues with so-called “pests.”
It takes time for this approach to work. You can’t just plant a native plant and expect pest problems to disappear overnight.
But if share with wildlife by creating habitat for them every time you plant for yourself, your property will be more in balance with the wildlife that call it home.
The result will be abundance for people, plants and wildlife.
It sure has worked on my own property. Despite having more wildlife than ever before, we get more harvests every year.
Now we can harvest cherries without worrying about the birds getting them all.
You can do the same on your property.
What’s Fair? Rethinking What it Means to Share with Wildlife
One key ethic of permaculture is “fair share.” Fair share in terms of other people, and also for the living world that sustains us.
But what does it actually mean to share with wildlife?
A lot of times I hear about “sharing with wildlife” in terms of allowing birds and other critters to make off with some of your harvests without shaking your fist at them.
And that’s great!
But the truth is, the food we grow for ourselves isn’t always the best food for wildlife. And it’s often not the first thing they’ll go for if there is anything else on the menu.
As more and more wild acres are torn down, our landscapes are increasingly built by and for people—from the ground up—making it very difficult for wildlife to find the food and shelter they need to live.
Loss of wildlife is reaching catastrophic levels in nearly every corner of the globe. So it’s more important than ever that we find meaningful ways to give back to the living world that sustains us, to create true abundance for people, plants, and wildlife.
But it also comes full circle.
Because when we share with wildlife—when we really share with wildlife—there’s more abundance for our families and communities, as well.
And when it comes down to it, the only convincing I need are the cherries.
Do you use any of these practices on your property? Leave a comment to let us know what works for you.
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