Pit-falls, projects and laughs from our Permaculture journey
When Chris and I first got together, he used to wake up to his socks, t-shirts and towels carefully draped over his DJ equipment, where I’d laid them during the night to cover any glowing or flashing lights. A somewhat sensitive sleeper, trying to sleep in a discotech wasn’t my idea of a restful night’s sleep. So when we mention we’ve built a frog pond outside our bedroom window, more savvy and experienced Permaculturists respond with anything from a raised eyebrow to declaring we’re ‘very game.’ A polite way of saying ‘you guys have no idea what you’re doing, do you?’
“Honey, how are you going to get the frogs out of the frog pond?”
Jordie watches Chris place an upturned pot for the
lotus plant to sit on in the pond
We visited our local Yandia markets last weekend and chose several aquatic plants for the new pond. One Hydrocleys nymphoides, or ‘water poppy’, with pretty yellow flowers, a dwarf papyrus, an alocasia similar to my favourite ‘elephant ears’, phalaris arundinacea picta also called ‘gardener’s garters’, and, in pride of place, an exotic lotus complete with a tall bud just about to flower. Geoff said during the PDC if you learn a few Latin names you’ll be amazed how impressed people will be. I’ve cheated and copied them from the tags.
Unlike Jenny Allen’s wonderful Paradise in Your Garden: Smart Permaculture Design (a book we have a lot to learn from and I’d highly recommend), we’ve created a frogs’ paradise in our garden. One little guy moved into the new habitat in less than a week and today I spotted out first tadpole! (Which I think has turned out to be a toadpole, unfortunately. Apparently back tadpoles are actually cane toads). We have a variety of species around the house, providing gasps of delight with each new frog-spotting, suctioned on our windows, catching their supper of insects attracted to the lights. In the pond we can now detect a group of five individual calls.
In our area there’s a breed of frog known as the ‘dripping tap’ frog. It sounds exactly like that: a dripping tap. It differs from the constant humming of cicadas, which I’ve grown up with, or the cheerful buzz of crickets. These guys produce irregular beats. Nothing you could dance to, because there’s no rhythm or predicability. They remind me of those ‘clickers’ popular at children’s parties in the 80s. I’ve employed a pair of yellow builders’ ear-plugs to muffle their lively chorus and last night I only had to close the window. I’m hoping, like sensitivity to light which I’ve somewhat overcome, I’ll adjust to the new sounds. Chris doesn’t mind them at all. But he could sleep in a room that resembled the cockpit of a spaceship.
In Jenny Allen’s book, she explains how to make a pond and why it’s a good idea.
Just a little permanent water in the garden can attract pest predators, create beneficial micro-climates and cultivate relaxing thoughts. (1)
We’ve succeeded with the first two. In the past week I’ve seen more dragonflies, who have a taste for mosquitos and other flying insects, than in the five months we’ve been here. Willy Wagtails visit almost daily. They perch on the branches across the pond and catch a feed of insects, wagging their tails all the way. I’d never seen them in the garden before building our zone one. Plus at least three insect-hungry frogs have moved in. The new aquatic micro-climate means we can grow edible water-loving plants such as kangkong, Lebanese cress and water-chestnuts, but at this stage my relaxing thoughts are limited to the relative silence of daylight hours, before the reptillian partying begins.
The lotus flowered soon after placing it in the pond. Contrary to my belief it
only stayed in bloom for two days before the petals fell.
Two mornings ago Chris woke up to me crashing through the door.
“I almost grabbed a tree snake!”
“I was picking nectarines and less than a foot away there was a flurry and then this thing flipped off the branch and landed on the ground. It was a tree-snake! It slithered away, down the hill and into the neighbour’s long grass.”
“Well, what do you expect in Australia?”
Chris is a Kiwi and we have a running joke about the terrible, life-threatening animals, insects and reptiles he’s inherited with his trans-Tasman move.
“How big was it?”
“About this long,” I said, measuring around 70cm. “There’s nothing else in this world that has that kind of affect on me. Not spiders, rats, anything. Snakes freak me out,” I said.
“Really? Are you scared of snakes? I didn’t know that.”
I thought he was joking. How could he not know that? When we lived at Peregian Beach I was making lunch one day when a snake slithered by, not more than two feet away. Before thinking, I’d hauled myself onto the kitchen bench, scaring the life out of the poor snake who until then had been quite comfortable with my presence. I sat on the counter for an hour waiting for a snake catcher to remove the (harmless) reptile for me.
“I wonder what it was doing in the nectarine tree?”
“A tree snake, in the nectarine tree? Fancy that,” said Chris.
“Ha. But I didn’t know they liked nectarines…”
And all this after I’d been pondering why we’d chosen Dee’s design with fruit trees planted on swales, instead of making a food forest. Simply, it was due to my fear of snakes. I figured if I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet, I wouldn’t go into our zone two, no matter how much food was dropping from the branches, or how similar to Eden it might be. After all, Eden hosted a snake that altered the earth’s destiny.
Before convincing similarly-timid folks not to grow their own fruit, I remembered the kitchen incident nestled safely in the fringes of suburbia. Food forest, orchard rows or kitchen bench — it might be a case of learning about types of snakes, as local Permie Liz Hansen suggests, thus arming ourselves with knowledge of their range of harmlessness to deadliness so we can live together, not necessarily in harmony in my case, but less fearfully. We’ll still be mowing between the orchard rows, however, so we can see where we put our feet.
Jenny Allen says of snakes:
We respect our snakes and in return they help keep mice and rat populations down; so there is less damage to the corn and pumpkin. Most snakes die if they eat a cane toad, which indirectly leads to more mice and rats being around, so we kill our cane toads. (2)
With so much rain lately, we’re averaging one cane toad per square meter. In my studio downstairs there were five hopping around. One sat staring at the wall, not moving, just staring at the wall, like he was contemplating my latest painting. It cracked me up. I know they are pests. I know they wreak havoc in our crops and the environment. And now I know they kill snakes. I’ve decapitated a few toads with the shovel and we put bricks on their holes in the no-dig beds, thinking if they died they’d become extra fertilizer. But after a practice run last night, we’re going to catch a bag full and put them in the freezer where they can gently drift off to sleep then die. We’ve been told dead toads make great compost activator and to think of them as a resource waiting to be used.
In keeping with the reptile theme this week, I haven’t found a beautiful, squishy, green tree-frog in my gum-boot again, as I did a month ago (basically because I’ve been too afraid to put them on, opting for flip-flops instead). But I have seen her on our front deck when there’s a downpour. With each encounter I remind myself it’s all part of the diversity we want: they control pests free of charge, without the need for sprays, poisons or traps.
We are lucky to have you, dear reptiles. Stay and play in your paradise. Can you please just keep the noise down after 10pm?
This lovely lady gave me a fright when I nearly squished her inside my gumboot.
I turned it upside-down and she fell out. I don’t know who was more surprised.
It’s now 11:55pm. Let’s say the ‘dripping tap’ frogs where like a Mozart symphony compared to the bass call of ‘Jeramiah.’ Not even ear-plugs drown him out. He likes listening to his call reverberate in our drain-pipe, opting to move back there after we tried relocating him to the pond. He sounds like a demon loose in the wall, according to my mum. It’s laughable how noisy our country abode can be. I was thinking it may have been more peaceful in down-town Brisbane. If it’s not our neighbour’s rooster believing a full-moon is equivalent to day-break, crowing his exuberance from 2am onwards, it’s Jeremiah, loose in his very own theme-park. At least I can lie in bed and reflect on the clever swales we saw today at Dee’s friends, Tracy and Phil’s, place. I’ll write about that later. Now I’m going to try to get some sleep. Wish me luck.
Jeremiah in full swing. He loves sitting on our back porch or bellowing in the drain pipe. When he turns on the tunes, we put the volume on the TV as loud as it goes, just to hear over the top of him!
PPS. The frogs haven’t been so noisy since the rain eased. I’ve slept well, without earplugs (!) for a week. So we may not need to fill the pond back in after all. Chris will be pleased.
What’s that song about the frog who didn’t want to get wet in the rain,
so he jumped back in the pond again?
- Allen, J 2002, Paradise in Your Garden: Smart Permaculture Design, Frenchs Forest, N.S.W. : New Holland