Saturday, February 6, 2016

Isolation Cages

Now that I'm growing seed, I'll be growing some of it from time to time on the homestead farm. When that's the case, I'll sometimes need to cage the plants in order to keep them from cross pollinating. Of course, that depends upon which veggies I'm growing for seed. Some cross pollinate, some don't. Plus, there are other ways to prevent cross pollination. 

Isolation cages. I'm making a few cages for beans. I have a few bean varieties that do exceptionally well on my farm. So I might as well take advantage of that and grow them here. This I'm experimenting with isolation cages so that the bees don't cause cross pollination. Beans are primarily self pollinating. But foraging bees have been known to transport pollen from one bean variety to another. Therefore my isolation cages are being designed to exclude my honeybees. 

I'm figuring in making the cages 3' by 3' square, and 2' in height. I want them easy to put up, take down, and store away. Plus I want them made as inexpensively as feasible, recycling materials when possible. So my first step was to gather up assorted used lumber, cut it down into 1/2" by 1/2" widths, 3' and 2' lengths. To stabilize the frames, I used a 45° brace in each corner. 

Once the frames were made, I decided to cover them with clear lightweight plastic. I have a roll of plastic sheeting that had been given to me. Perfect for the job. 

I attached the plastic to the wood frame using a staple gun and home scrounged material in place of batten tape. I could have purchased a roll of batten tape, but hey.....I already had some bands that came off hay bales and some lengths of discarded electric fence tape. 

Here's a closer look-see on how I stapled the plastic on by running the "batten tape" over the plastic sheeting, then stapling it to the wood. This method prevents the plastic from pulling through the staple. 

How to quickly erect the cage? first thought was to tap a nail in at the corners, then tie the frames together with a bit of string. I'm not entirely happy with this arrangement, but it will do for now. 

At the bottom of the frames, instead of tying them together, a well placed rock or stake does the trick. 

So now I have a cage with four sides. So far, so good. But now it needs a top. A plastic top will not work. The cage would get too hot inside. So I'm opting for screening which will let the heat out and the rain in. I have been collecting and saving old discarded screening for some time now, so I have a good supply. So I cut a few pieces into 3'6" squares. 

Now how to attach the screening? Remember, I want easy on/easy off, so staple gunning it to the frames won't do. I came up with the idea of using clothes pins. Quick and easy. 

Ta-da! Completed isolation cages. Very quick to erect and take down. Let sun in, rain in, heat out, and keep bees out. 

This is my first test run using these cages. So we shall see how they work. Will they prove effective in keeping bees out? I'm predicting that they will. Will they get too hot inside? If so, I could always use screening on one or more sides. Will they fall down if it gets breezy? Perhaps. Then I'd need to make them fit together in a sturdier fashion. 

I'm still not thrilled about those nails. I need to think of a better, simple solution. 


  1. I hope your cages hold up better than mine, when I was raising generations of M. domestica for an ecology project...but they were all-screen boxes, using 1/2x1 lath strips of wood, stapled snugly to contain those flies as they were hatched. Long boring story, but I got my A in that class. Those frames demonstrated the inherent instability of rectangles compared to triangles, trying to flop and flex apart. I tried shoelaces to hold the access sides together (ha ha - but it did work). The screens had to be slightly baggy, or the tension would warp those frames, allowing those F1 flies to escape.
    Maybe try some Reemay "pup-tents" over half-hoops?

  2. I'd drill a hole straight trough the wood frames and then slide a bolt through and tighten them down with a wingnut. You should be able to tighten them down to add some stability. If the frames seem like they're warping you could always add another bolt in the middle to help keep them together. Should be easy enough to tear them down at the end of the season this way as well.

    BTW thanks for a great blog. I moved to SE AK a few years ago and am still trying to figure out how to garden in this climate. Your blog has been a wealth on info.