Book SectionsTable of Contents
The Problem Puddle Power Frog-Friendly Backyard Why are we concerned about amphibians?
Wetlands - function/type Wetland issues
How to help amphibians
Community Green Plans
The Mitchell Pond
The following letter is from Ron Mitchell. His pond, pictured on the back cover of this book, is the smallest one recorded to attract breeding toads. Ron's garden is beautiful indeed! We asked Ron to share some of his garden insights with you.
For some time my wife and I had wanted to add a water feature to our backyard. We had put in various vegetable and flower beds needed to attract birds, bees and butterflies during the last eight years. The trees and shrubs were also planted to attract wildlife as well as for their landscape value. Now we wanted to attract other forms of wildlife. What better way then to add a pond.
Fortunately, the centre of our backyard had been left untouched - just that green stuff which has to be cut every week. It received full sun and was visible from our back window.
In late April of 1989 I laid out the pond shape with our garden hose and removed the sod to the compost pile behind our shed. The pond was a good excuse to add another flower garden so I removed more sod until I had the area I wanted properly shaped and dug.
The pond itself was 11' X 5'. The depth varied. At one end it dropped to 3' deep. The other end had a 18" trench and a 5" shallow area. Various potted pants would fit in the shallower end while overwintering goldfish would stay in the deeper end. I had no interest in trying to catch and bring the goldfish in for the winter.
There is a common adage that when putting in a garden you start small and let it grow bigger as your skills and abilities get better. Well, in water gardening it should be, "build it as big as possible the first time." I wish now that my pond was 10'X15'. To change it would not only be too expensive (new liner) but a lot of extra work, especially as a flower garden now surrounds it. However, I know that one day I will. Whatever you do though, don't put in a section shallow enough for birds to bathe in. The droppings a flock of starlings can leave behind is incredible. Just look at your bird bath.
After the pond was dug to the shape and depth I wanted, I put an old carpet down to prevent any sharp stones from puncturing the 40 mil liner. The water was added until the pond was completely full. I cut the liner's surplus edging off and laid flagstone over the edges. The flagstone overlapped the water's surface hiding most of the liner. A problem with this set -up arose. If someone walked to the pond edge of the flagstone, it would flip up and both could end up in the water. Cement was not an option as winter heaving would quickly crack any cemented joints. Instead, round stones were placed on the very edges of the flagstones to stop anyone from walking out too far. It look's alright but could have been done better. What I should have done was place a second layer of flagstone on top of the first with some sand between the two to limit any shifting. The top layer would not overlap the water at all stopping any tendency to walk right up the the edge. Less entertaining but much safer.
All of this was completed over the weekend. Our soil is on the sandy side, so it made digging much easier.
Once the pond was filled, we waited a few days to put the water plants in their proper locations. This was to allow the chlorine time to dissipate. We added two water lilies, pickerel weed, miniature cattails and elodea. The water lilies provide shade starving the algae of sunlight, and also cooling the water for the goldfish. Elodea competes for the same mineral salts that algae needs, and also provide oxygen for the fish. After two weeks the six goldfish were introduced.
At this point in time, my wife Barb and I had only ever found one toad on our property. We had no idea if any other toads in the area would find our pond to breed in. This meant I had to stock the pond with tadpoles. A nearby pond solved the problem. One worry was that the goldfish would treat the tadpoles as fast food, but over the years this has never happened.
In 1990, during the breeding season of April, four local male toads showed up but no females. At least we now knew that some toads did live in the area. More tadpoles from a different pond were collected and brought back. That summer I helped 242 baby toads leave. Many more left on their own. Now grass cutting became much slower. They seemed to gather along the edges of where the gardens meet the lawn.
In 1991 we had several males and at least four females come to breed. So now we know that there were toads in the area just looking for a place to lay their eggs. Our next door neighbour used his pond skimmer to collect toads off of his pool liner. He then would plunk them over our fence. For about two weeks we left our bedroom windows open at night just to hear their night-long trilling.
A very odd thing happened on July 26, 1993. The year was a funny one weather-wise. There was more rain than usual and cooler than normal temperatures. On this particular night there was more rain. And more toads in our pond breeding! Who knows the reason? Was it weather related or perhaps toads breeding for the first time? I'll probably speculate on this for the rest of my life and never know the real reason.
In 1994 three toads were found dead on the pond's bottom. I believe it is a design flaw in my placement of the flagstone. The overlap kept these three toads in our pond until they drowned. Along the water's edge were some potted plants the other toads would climb up on in order to leave. From now on I'll put in some stones and rocks in the shallow end for the toads to climb out on. A few pieces of floating wood in the deep end should also help.
The pond has become my favorite part of the yard. There is always some sort of activity going on. Dragonflies cruise the yard while others lay their eggs here. A few well placed stones allow birds to drink but not bathe. Squirrels and other mam mals stop by for a drink. One year during winter, a kestrel swooped in on a drinking starling. Both fell in the pond and then flew off in different directions. The flower garden around the pond continues to attract its share of birds, bees and butter flies.
During the winter I use a floating heater to keep the ice from completely covering the surface. If it was completely frozen over for any length of time, the fish would perish. Poisonous gases in the water need to escape.
One last word of caution. If you use a recirculating pump for a water fall, the pump will draw in tadpoles and kill them. I tried tying a nylon stocking over the pump but pond debris clogged it. This year I'm going to try to use a wood box with screening around the frame.
Whatever you do, try adding a pond to your backyard. Nature always responds to a new environment. By putting in a pond you will allow nature to stop by and visit and perhaps stay awhile. We've taken a lot and it's about time we give something back.
Ron Mitchell Mississauga, Ontario. OHA Member
Editors Note: We do not generally recommend taking amphibian eggs, tadpoles or adults from the wild. Although there are always success stories, amphibian species are in decline in a number of areas and we do not fully understand the causes and the impact that we might have on these populations.
One of our OHA reviewers, Gwyn Brundrett, also forwarded comments that we wanted to share with you.
I have been helping Stratford Horticulture Association build a wild area and pond over the last 2 years. One of our local schools has a wild wood that the children planted. I feel that we are very slowly turning around to cooperate with nature instead of controlling her. Your efforts will help immmensely.
It is difficult to make a beautiful, practical edge that covers all the construction details and is safe.
Our first lily pond was a converted swimming pool set in a pine deck with the commercial edging strip to hold the liner.
When this liner went of old age (12 years), we made the commercial pool into two lily ponds. The deep end becoming a lower pool and the shallow end becoming an upper pool with a rock garden in between with a waterfall (if we wanted to install a pump and fountain). We covered our pool liner edge with flagstone, and as with the Mitchell Pond, we had to warn all adults to stay away from the edge and to fish out the active two year olds that got flipped in. Over the years we had to rescue three of them as their fascination with the frogs overcame all concern about getting wet (by the way the second ponds were made of U.V. stabilized greenhouse grade plastic and lasted 5 years).
Then we went to the expense of real pool liners installed by a commercial company on the stipulation that the flagstone had to be safe. The solution was to line the excavation edge with concrete blocks stabilized with reinforcing concrete rods driven through the blocks 4' into our sand. The lining was put over the blocks 2 layers thick (the under layer was the waste pieces cut off) and the whole topped with our limestone slabs. They are installed with a tiny slant away from the pool which helps keep run off from entering the water. This helps control excess algae build-up. Our limestone slabs are fairly large (average 3' X 2') and soon the spaces fill with grass, weeds, and flowers to make them even safer.
We have excavated pockets and lined them with plastic and then returned the soil and planted big plants. The frogs and toads love to hide here.
To solve the overflow problems we have made 3 bogs.
I notice the toadlets and froglets know enough to wait until night to migrate from the water so that they do not bake on the stone. They exit in the cracks between the stones. In the past they were so numerous that the cracks would be solid with them waiting for the cool dark.
A Personal Note:
Again this year, so far the spring chorus has been mainly
silent (it has been rather cold). The toads and frogs have not
come to breed and even the natural ponds in the woods 1000'
away reflect no activity. I wish we knew what was wrong so we
could do something. Last year my grandmother toad of great
age and size did not even bother to leave her home under the
door stone to go and breed in the pond 30' away. For the first
time in many years we had no toad tadpoles, only the green
frogs and tree frogs came to breed and the tree froglets were very
few. All the past years it was very difficult to not step on the
toadlets they were so numerous in my acre garden in the woods.
The snakes of course always had a feed as well. The good news
this year is that there are likely 100 green frog (a guess) tadpoles
eating happily on the algae and hastily beating a retreat ahead of
me when I walk around the edges of the ponds. They are 3"
long and this summer they will all turn to more green frogs that
sit on the lily leaves and that help me control the insects in my
organic vegetable garden. At our place only the Colorado potato
beetle and the cabbage butterfly are out of control.
...One final point which is difficult for me to express clearly. I would like to see a move away from words like "pest" & "control". We humans always want to control our environment and I think we have to return to harmony and balance. So-called "pests" are part of the natural system and we must learn how to create balanced systems without killing certain species....
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