Attracting Wild Animals for the Good of the Garden: Which, Why, and How
A colony of bats in a mango tree
Permaculture designs, especially on a large-scale, incorporate domesticated animals. For organic gardening, it just makes life a lot easier. Manure is key in growing anything. A timed circulation of grazing means the land gets cleared, fertilized and tilled by the animals’ natural patterns as opposed to the farmer’s sweat. Then, at some point, animals equate to food. The efficiency and logic are there and simple, but domesticated animals aren’t always a possibility. There are housing restrictions, acreage issues, and even dietary choices to contend with; however, that doesn’t mean a garden should or needs to be without animals.
Wild animals are wildly beneficial for gardens, from pollination to bug control to guano — not to mention that free roaming animals are how nature and eco-systems work, so laying out the welcome mat for wild animals is part of any good permaculture design. While they often receive bad press — the leaf-eating insects, vegetable-robbing rodents, and so on — wild animals do have their gardening superstars as well, and creating habitats for them can be really fun and funky while providing your garden with a free workforce of thousands. It’s all about pinpointing just exactly who the good characters are and how to get them to hang around.
Project #1: The frog pond
Frog ponds can vary in size, from tiny tire designs with multiple depths to rangy sprawls that cover a few square meters. In general, you want to put it in an area that gets dappled sunlight and with plenty of nooks and crannies — aka rocks and rotting wood, in which little animals can nestle safely. The pond, or at least areas of it, should be shallow, less than ten centimeters, as this depth works well for these particular types of wildlife. Then, it’s a waiting game. Soon enough, the animals will start to appear.
A few other watery thoughts:
- Lots of people worry that the ponds will just become mosquito pits, but this shouldn’t be the case. Once the animals are in place, the mosquito population should actually decrease as a result of having the pond. A few small fish might also help with mosquitoes as well.
- Most designs I’ve looked at include using plastic lining — either thick sheets of plastic or old plastic tubs — to keep the water from soaking into the soil. I’m trying au naturel solutions in which the soil is conditioned so that it holds the water. It’s working, but not perfectly. I based the idea off of Sepp Holzer’s method for sealing off ponds with compostables.
- One sizeable pond is nice for adding atmosphere to the garden, but I also love hiding little ones around, that way the wildlife permeates throughout rather than centering around one spot.
Project #2: The insect hotel
More places to stay
- I love the idea of this centralized area for insect traffic, but I’m still a big believer in putting stones and stumps throughout the garden so that the less cosmopolitan insects have some housing options. Not as awe-inspiring as the hotels, having the occasional pile of stuff — rocks, wood, newspaper, mud, used tin, etc. — around would likely create a similar effect but, perhaps, in a less obviously purposeful or attractive way.
- Insect hotels are also good for attracting bees, which will help with pollination. Most native bees are not honeybees and don’t require a hive, but they still do their birds and bees thing with the flowers.
- In reading the comments at the end of Bor Borren’s article, I noticed someone mentioned several smaller insect B&Bs as opposed to one “Grand Hyatt”. The idea seems sound (like the hidden frog ponds), but why not have both?
Project #3: The bat house
Other homes for flyers
- Similarly, raised nesting boxes would be useful for keeping birds around. Not only would they be able to bathe in the frog pond, but they could enjoy a little privacy afterwards.
- Beehives are all the rage these days and with good reason. Honeybees are great pollinators and produce honey and beeswax, which are really useful. Here’s a great starter hive from the annals of Permaculture News.
- Guano, bat and bird droppings, is killer fertilizer, so it’s not a horrible idea to incorporate a little poop-catching device beneath the bat houses and/or nesting boxes.
While domesticated animals are integral to many farm designs, its good practice to incorporate wild animals as well. They often appear on their own, but these projects are a fun way to help the process along and provide some interesting features on the homestead.