Yikes! I've just spent a hundred dollars on vegetable seed. And I've still got my sugar snaps to part out for! Admittedly, I won't use all the seed, and if I store it carefully (wrapped in tin-foil and placed in an airtight container), a lot of what's left over will do next season, but still ... a hundred dollars! It wouldn't be so bad but, the thing is, my family and I aren't the only ones who wants to eat my edibles. It's a jungle out there, and slugs, caterpillars, birds, possums, and rabbits all have an eye on the garden goodies. That's why I have a raft of techniques up my sleeve to protect my produce.
Starting from day one, my little treasures are assured of personal safety. As soon as the seeds are in the ground (even before they've germinated) it's on with a sprinkling of slug bait. I use the animal and child friendly variety. It's more expensive but at least it's safe and, with careful sprinkling, as little as possible is used to get the job done (if you live in a dry-ish area, you may even be able to grind up your bait so make it go further – if you do decide to do this, make sure you don't inhale the dust).
Slugs and snails are always in the garden, even if you can't spot them. Often they're lying just under the surface of the soil, waiting to attack as soon as the sun goes down. Germinating seeds are a delicacy, and where you find patchy (or no signs of germination), slugs and snails are often to blame. When transplanting seedlings into the garden, I lay slug bait both below and above the mulch which I immediately place around the plants. Slugs will attack from either direction and those hiding beneath moist mulch are much more dangerous as they can go about their chomping even during daylight hours.
Having saved the garden from slugs and snails (and don't forget that bait needs to be renewed from time to time), I then turn my attention to birds (which includes my fleet of chooks), white butterflies, possums, and rabbits, hitting them in one foul swoop with a covering of strawberry netting. Much more robust than bird netting (and less likely to entangle wild birds), strawberry netting also keeps white butterflies at bay and can be guaranteed to last 4-5 seasons, especially if, as I do, you mend any holes which develop with plastic string. No, strawberry netting is not cheap but, as we've already established, neither are seeds or seedlings!
Hoops of polythene pipe bent over and with their ends slipped onto stakes of bamboo, sections of old tent poles, or narrow metal pipe rammed into the ground, form the framework for the netting. Because I have raised beds, the edges of the netting can be attached to tacks nailed into the boards that surround the gardens. If you don't have raised beds, anchor you netting with boards, bricks, or rocks (remember that birds have very beady eyes and will spot the tiniest entrance through the covering). Raised beds don't come cheap but they do make life in the garden so much easier so, if you don't already have them in place, give serious thought to establishing even one or two each season, as you can afford it.
If you're stretched for cash, and possums, and rabbits aren't a great problem (lucky you!) you may be able to get away with simply covering your germinating seeds and small seedlings with plastic until they are old enough to hold their own against a blackbird intent on digging them up. Source free plastic from skips (furniture shops bins are the ones to go for) and dump shops – but get in early because, in spring, everyone is after it! Another option is the well-known technique of removing the caps from soda bottles, cutting off the bases of the bottles, and forcing the mini-greenhouse into the ground around your seedlings. Unfortunately, if the days are very warm, the seedlings may "cook" inside their protective shelters.
If all this seems like a lot of work, it's nothing compared to the disappointment and expense of sowing, re-sowing, and sowing seed again. Tedious though it may seem, protecting your precious seeds and seedlings from the word "go", means your garden has the very best start in life. And, in the end, it will save you both time and money.