Pollinator Meadow vs Garden

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The ancestors made their gardens only in the rich damp soils of the bottom lands around rivers and creeks.

My yard is mostly clay and sand and is well up the hill from a creek.

Growing most vegetables would require unsustainable and wasteful irrigation using water from the municipal water supply which is taken from the Chattahoochie River.

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20220625-bumblebee-passion-flower

It doesn’t make sense to do that if the goal is to maximize biodiversity and habitat overall.

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Digging the Second Pond

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In 2020, I dealt with the stress of running my business during the pandemic by digging a second tadpole pond.

Why a Second Pond?

For the first ten years I owned the property, my back yard was an ordinary lawn of St. Augustine with fairly low ecological value.

The first pond was small, but it turned its corner of the back yard into a Grand Central Station of biodiversity in its first year of existence.

By the end of the summer, there were hummingbirds and blue dragonflies chasing each other overhead and everything from owls to possums coming for a drink.

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20190515-frog-eggs-4. Eggs of Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans). A population of clamitans was established in the First Pond by the end of the first summer and has increased each year.

So far, the pond has remained healthy year after year, with clear water and populations of freshwater shrimp, clams, mosquitofish, water weeds, and multiple species of tadpoles.

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Tadpoles Swimming 2018

tadpole-video-photo May 2018

Here is a video of tadpoles swimming in the first pond in its third month of existence.

I incorrectly identified these as tree frog tadpoles, which I now know to be smaller.

Based on countless observations over the past four years, I am fairly certain that the tadpoles in this video are those of the common Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans), the dominate amphibian species of most freshwater biomes in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis) mating calls June 2022

2022-06-09 Second Pond at Yalobusha Farms

Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis) mating calls June 2022 in the second pond at Yalobusha Farms.

This is the third year for the second pond, and the katniss and pennywort and pickerelweed are well established.

Last year I let the second pond be overwhelmed with water hyacinth because it allows tree frogs to enter and exit the pond safely and avoid the larger green frogs.

This year I limited the water hyacinth to the experiment tanks and let katniss and pickerelweed assume that role in the ponds.

Tadpoles Swimming in Tank 6

2022-06-23 tadpoles Lithobates clamitans

The tadpoles shown here are Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) in tank 6. As of tonight, all eight experiment tanks have many tadpoles and eggs, with the past week seeing many clutches of eggs being laid by Cope’s Gray Tree Frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis).

Mosquitofish Ponds

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The ponds at Yalobusha farms produce many tadpoles, especially Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) and Cope’s Gray Tree Frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis) and the Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis).

The ponds are also host to many larvae of the blue dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis), which swarm over the katniss and chase each other around the ponds.

BUT, the creature in the ponds that seem to have the most intense ecological impact are the Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), which are voracious eaters of mosquito larvae.

In fact, there aren’t any mosquito larvae found in the ponds because Mosquitofish reproduce to fill all available space and consume the floating egg cases as soon as they are laid, often while they are being laid, along with the female mosquito.

For ten years before the ponds were dug, the back yard was plain St. Augustine grass and swarmed with Asian tiger mosquitoes no matter how dry or how rainy the year had been.

Now that the ponds are there, mosquitos are sparse.

Here is a video of fish swimming in the first pond:

Tree Frogs Mating On Warm May Night 2019

Tadpole Pond, May 2, 2019

Down below is some audio of tree frogs singing intensely at Yalobusha Farms in Decatur, Georgia on a warm May night in 2019.

The picture above is from the daytime a few days ago, and it shows the irises blooming at the far left and all the vegetation surging back.

The tadpole pond at is about 10 feet away from the back screen porch of my house, just down past a low retaining wall swallowed in plants.

The audio was recorded on my screen porch at night, and it is mostly the sounds of the male’s chirpy croaking, but there are a few female calls answering back. Those are the occasional yipping sounds that are higher in pitch and more urgent and shorter.

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The First Harvest 2018

Heirloom tomatoes

Going into this, I explained to my son that we had several challenges and unknowns and that the goal for the first year might be merely to raise enough seed for next year, preferably enough seed that we could sow it in a thick tangle with enough left over in case a late freeze killed the first round of seedlings.

We did much better than that, at least for most things.

We had a gallon of tiny tomatoes about every 2 to 3 days and a good supply of peppers too, more than we could eat and dehydrate easily.

We managed to get about two quarts of black beans for seeds, and the Chinese brown cotton made enough for seeds too.

On the other hand, the rabbits killed the squash plants by chewing the bases of the plants, and so we only got a few scalloped squash and zucchini.

The corn was a complete loss in spite of growing very well. The squirrels ate it all.

Tomatoes of different heirloom varieties.
Tomatoes of different heirloom varieties.
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The Pond in High Summer

The pond in high summer-20180807_195824

The pond’s first summer was 2018, just a few months after it was dug, but the sprigs of plants we put in it grew explosively, and the frogs and insects colonized it immediately.

It was surreal how quickly the pond established itself because I didn’t use fertilizers or tend the plants or do anything that might put appearance or speed ahead of letting it happen on its own with minimal input.

But, by the time August rolled around, the pond looked and functioned like it had been in place for years. Hummingbirds and dragonflies and bees flew in and out constantly.

The pond in high summer was filled with in aquatic plants and surrounded by flowers for pollinator insects.
The photo above is from late June, and the vegetation is already thick, but not as thick at it would get by August. Less than three months before, this was a hole being dug in the ground in a small patch of lawn beneath a retaining wall.

Bird Watching Blind

My bathroom window is now the best bird-watching blind for hummingbirds.
My bathroom window is now the best bird-watching blind for hummingbirds. The summer before it was just a patch of St. Augustine grass, and insects were fairly minimal, mainly wasps.

My bathroom window is now a great bird-watching blind, especially for hummingbirds and dragonflies and bees of many types. There are lots of songbirds and butterflies and the rabbits that eat the sweet potatoes I have growing around the pond mixed in with the milkweed.

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Building the Tree House

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I put off building a tree house for my son because I didn’t want to damage the  beautiful maple tree in the backyard by hammering nails. (Nails in trees are an entry point for fungi and other diseases.) Then it occurred to me that I could support the framing for the deck in the Y of the tree and not put any nails into the tree itself.

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Building the Tree House. Photo 2.

I wanted to build the tree house with my son and not for him so that I could teach him about basic construction. Growing up, I was always working with my father on carpentry or shop projects or gardening with my mother because like most children up until a generation or two ago, I was expected to be productive from an early age and to learn useful skills all the time. Continue reading “Building the Tree House”