Native Bulbs in a Chickenwire Ravioli, Anyone?

I grew some pretty Triteleia laxa "Queen Fabiola," AKA Ithuriel's Spear, in pots last year (see above) . They were leftovers from a CNPS propagation session. The plants bloomed wonderfully - these are about the easiest bulbs you can grow. Then they obligingly made a lot of little baby bulbs for me to plant this year.

Thanks to the propagation group, I learned that you have to keep the bulbs dry all summer, so I put aside the pots containing this treasure in a safe dry spot.

Recently the propagation group planted their triteleia bulbs, and so did I. They are actually corms, but I'm not going to belabor the point.

Hairy little beasts, aren't they? Maybe I didn't keep them quite dry enough.

Bulbs (and corms and tubers and rhizomes- oh my!) are generally yummy food for wildlife. We want to support wildlife, but we also want to grow plants. The wildlife can have the seeds and the nectar, a few leaves, and the insects that live on the plants.

Like this bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus), one of a flock that recently descended on the (non-native) cape honeysuckle blossom (Tecomaria capensis) that's right behind the bulb planting area. They gleaned insects for a happy few minutes, while I watched:

I'm too prone to chocolate box plantings, one of this and one of that. This year I'm trying to make bolder mistakes! groups and drifts of them! So I want to try a drift of Ithuriel's spears on the mound (an old lawn heaped up and decomposing for over a year now).

I contemplated making many tiny chickenwire cups for each tiny corm, because despite Duncan's best efforts we do have gophers in the pool garden.

And then I had another idea. Will it work out? I don't know, but this entire project only took me an hour and that ain't bad. Here are the easy to follow steps:

1. Dig out the planting area four inches deep and lay gopher wire. I figured the bulbs are about an inch tall max, and the general rule seems to be to bury bulbs three times the height of the bulb [update: I've since read that 4 inches is recommended!], so I first laid my strip of gopher wire diagonally on the mound to get the dimensions, and dug out three inches deep or so, to that shape. Then I pinned the gopher wire in the space, using a few of those longish u-shaped staples that are cheap.

2. Put the soil back, leaving the edges of wire sticking up, and plant the bulbs.
I planted them pretty close, about 4 inches or so, and tried to be random. I'm not sure I quite got the random thing down.

2b. Optional - Add rock phosphate.
It's good for bulbs because it's low in nitrogen. I don't understand these requirements but I did read them, and moreover I believed them. Unfortunately I forgot to put a little in with each bulb so I just sprinkled some on after. I'm not sure how much, I just boldly sprinkled where nobody has ever sprinkled before.

3. Roll out chicken wire to cover the same area and cut to fit.
I forget now where I read that it's a good idea to cover the planting area with one-inch mesh chicken wire, but it makes sense: keeps things from scrabbling the bulbs out from the top, and the mesh is wide enough they can grow up through it.

4. Crimp the two halves together, and staple.

Doesn't it look good enough to eat?

5. Add a bit more soil and mulch and you're done! With nothing to show for it!

BTW Cutting gopher or chicken wire is not an easy task. It has always been something I dreaded actually because it hurts my delicate little hands. Well - the little part is true. Tools are generally made for large hands, and especially with wire cutting devices this is an issue.

But I have found a tool that not only cuts the wire efficiently - it doesn't cause pain !

It's a Midwest Upright Snip (I'm sure other fine brands are available). And even though I still have to use two hands, I don't need a third or fourth hand to hold the chicken or gopher wire in place while I cut, because the handles stick up, out of the way of the wire. I'm in heaven!

Now, look who was watching me while I worked - I don't know what kind of spider it is - a crab spider? a jumping spider? It was about three-quarters of an inch in size including legs, more or less. This page has a lot of good spider photos for visual ID, but I didn't quite see this guy. If anyone knows, can you please leave a comment?


Carol said…
Wonderful informative post. Great idea to do the chicken wire mesh. I cannot help you with the spider name . . . all I can say is Yikes! ;>)
I like your bulb ravioli, very clever. We've used a lot of wire here, around fruit trees, and under veggie boxes. I've found the chicken wire only lasts 1 or 2 years though. If you have to lift the bulbs out each season, chicken wire is fine. If they stay in the ground season over season though, I've found the thicker gauge gopher (on a roll, not those overpriced baskets) lasts quite a bit longer. I love those upright snips. My wire cutters wreak havoc with my carpal tunnel! Might have to try those! :)
Eliza said…
Your "good enough to eat" makes me giggle! I don't have much issue with gophers here but sometimes plain old squirrels will dig up bulbs and eat them. Your method looks a lot simpler than making little cages for each planting!
Barbara E said…
Nicely done. Can't wait to hear how it works.
Christine said…
Mmmmm, chicken wire ravioli with rock phosphate sauce! You had me giggling throughout the whole adventure. I'm so excited to see your "bold mistakes"! It's going to look so great! (may I suggest throwing some Clarkia or other annual seeds on top, too?- that would look really neat!)
Noel Morata said…

its amazing how much effort it is to sometimes protect the new starts and gardens, but then its okay afterwards to let nature take its course, i commend your working diligently to showing us your efforts to support both.
Town Mouse said…
What a fun post! Of course I hope I solved that problem for me by planting mostly Allium (2 different native species). We shall see...
Great post! In the four years we've lived on our property, we've never had a gopher problem until this year. I used to think gophers were kinda cute until they invaded my gardens, and my veggies and even small shrubs were getting mowed down from below overnight. As for bulbs, I've recently planted some native brodiaeas, dichelostemmas, and calochortus, but will replant them using your suggested techniques to thwart any potential gopher predation. Thanks much!
Diana Studer said…
The Cape honeysuckle has nectar, which our sunbirds enjoy. But the birds with shorter beaks just chomp a hole at the base, or rip the flower out altogether. Does your bushtit steal the nectar too?
Country Mouse said…
Elephant Eye: To the extent I've researched, it seems the bushtits are eating only insects. When the coyote brush is covered in fluffy seeds, they are all over it and I thought they were seed eaters, but it seems they are eating the insects - same here. But I don't know for sure. Where is wildlife expert Jeffrey Caldwell when I need him!!

Christine - I love the idea of planting other flowering annuals and I do have some clarkia seeds. I'm going to try sowing seeds of annuals in February this year, as a local gardener recommended.

Camissonia - I heard yesterday of a person whose gophers destroyed their apple trees by eating the roots! A tree just listed over one day! I don't know the answer for me because I really don't like killing animals and I don't think you can catch and release gophers - they would just burrow back in. I don't have a below-ground barrier around the fenced-in garden.

All - thanks so much for dropping by and I wish you luck in your plant protection programs, and happy outcomes in burgeoning beds of botanical beauty!