One of my favorite things about the garden is all of the “critters” that live there. And the major thing we humans can do to encourage their presence is to avoid the use of chemicals. They disrupt the soil flora and faua, and they decrease the availability of nutrients to the plants and ultimately, further along the chain, to the animals. The bug killers often remove food for birds and kill beneficial insect like bees – they are endangered across the country and, and as a result our food supply is threatened. In my mind, chemicals render the environment sterile.
In the absence of chemicals, the critters will show up. Toads will come and eat many insects, including the bad ones. Snakes will come and, though I do not like them much, I welcome them as long as they keep their place. Frogs will come if you have a pond and many wonderful, in the true sense, insects, like lady bugs, praying mantis, walking sticks and butterflies. If you are on their path, turtles will come.
But my favorite critters above all others are the birds. I love their song and have spent many hours in the garden delighted by the cacophony of many birds singing in the trees and the bamboo. Many of them are insect eaters and can deplete the hordes of mosquitos in your yard more than any mechanical mosquito killer, as well as curtail the presence of other insects.
We have bird feeders in the garden for the birds year round and they are visited by many different kinds of birds, some of them coming seasonally. Orioles build their hanging pouch nests on the tips of oak branches when the oaks are producing their catkins. In the winter, we see grosbeaks among the regulars. The small flocks of cardinals are a sight! Noisy blue jays are welcome (as are squirrels that try to get at the feeder and cannot – they seem to find food elsewhere). Turkeys, often with their chicks, come by to clean up the fallen sunflower seeds under the feeders and eat various insects (I hope some ticks) in the lawn. Yes, they leave deposits in their wake but their presence is valuable enough to balance that aspect.
To encourage birds, we not only keep the feeders supplied throughout the year and avoid chemicals, but I have planted plants that they can use. There are plenty of evergreens in the border for resting, hiding and nests. There are shrubs that produce berries for them to eat. And at nesting time we put out nest material like yarn, pieces of jute or even fur from the neighbor’s dogs! I leave leaves in the beds and shrub borders providing places for worms and insects. And there are three bird baths in the yard as well as a small pool.
No chemicals in the lawn provides places for insects and a biosystem that encourages worms, which are good for the soil and for the robins. How do they know that a worm is in that particular spot? Of course, a lawn care program must be developed that can flourish in the absence of chemicals. This program will be beneficial, however, for the lawn and the people that use it.
These things are very easy to maintain and provide conditions favorable to many birds for our enjoyment. Watching birds take a bath has to be one of the best things in life! And watching their behavior and interchanges at the feeder is equally delightful.
At one point years ago, a pair of barn swallows started building a nest up close to the eves by our back door. We were thrilled and took great interest in watching them daily, as they enlarged the nest with additions of many mouthfuls of mud. Finally the nest was finished. The activity at the nest became just the comings and goings of the birds to and from the nest. Then one day, we saw three gaping mouths peeking out of the nest and the mother and father, with great perseverance, sticking insects into these mouths. The chicks grew and soon were real birds not just mouths. Then one day they were dead. One of the neighbors had sprayed his trees.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant, for gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.