18. SNAKES AND TOADS: BRINGING BENEFICIALS TO YOUR GARDEN

Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more snakes and toads in my community garden. They are great at providing pest control. In fact, snakes, consume more garden pests than beneficial species.

If you encourage these herpetological visitors, you’ll be less likely to share your garden with ravenous bugs. The common garter snake is the one I find most in my garden. They sun themselves on the top and in my compost piles and the places where I mulch my vegetables. They love to digest slugs, caterpillars, sow bugs, and other garden pests. Larger garter snakes can also eat voles, which love the chew on the roots of carrots and beets in late fall. You call also attract snakes to your garden by providing a habitat of brush piles, stacks of wood, loose rock piles and old tree stumps.

Unfortunately, larger snakes consume do prey on the American toad, even though most of the snakes in my garden are not that long. I’ll have to have a conversation with the snakes on this one.
Toads can eat 50 to 100 insects and other prey each night, or 10,000 during the growing season, including earwigs, Japanese beetles, cutworms, grasshoppers, sow bugs, snails, cucumber beetles, grubs, and tent caterpillars. More than 80 percent of their diet consists of harmful garden pests.

All toads require is a cool, moist environment. They are most active in the evening. If they like their habitat, they’ll remain for a year or more and dig a deeper burrow to overwinter. You can construct a Toad Hall with terra cotta pot upside down in a shady corner of the garden with a thin layer of leaves for bedding. Dig a tunnel about three inches wide and deep to they can crawl underneath the rim of the pot. The clay pot will absorb rain water which evaporates and cools the interior. Since toads are drawn to water, you may want to build a small pond to complement the toad home – like with a birdbath set into the earth a little below ground level. You may want to place some gravel and mud on one part of the birdbath where dragonflies and damselflies can lay their eggs; the nymphs will hatch into adults and eat lots of garden pests. Even the “Chuckster” finds nature interesting.
Source: Michael J. Caduto is an author, ecologist, and storyteller who lives in Reading, Vermont. Northern Woodlands Magazine.