Winter nights are silent. You can go to bed, pull up a warm comforter and fall into blissful sleep. All is quiet until the alarm goes off.

Then along comes noisy spring. If you live near the edge of town or close to the river you don’t need an alarm clock. At the first breaking of dawn the ducks quack, geese start honking and every bird from blocks around cheerfully greets the day. If your window is a tad bit open as mine usually is, there is fat chance you’ll catch another 40 winks.

Then just about the time everyone settles down, the frogs and toads start in. I’m really not complaining. It is comforting to realize that the spring cycle of life has returned to be appreciated.

Nesting ritual

The goose and the gander returned and spent days house hunting throughout my property. In the end, they settled on returning to their old neighborhood of the raised beds atop the above-ground cistern.

There are seven wood planting boxes, and every fall I attempt to create obstacles in the boxes to discourage them from using a box as a maternity ward. I don’t want to totally cover the boxes with plastic, as I want the winter moisture.

Mama goose gets pretty cranky if I come into her line of sight, which puts the damper on spring cleanup in that area and puts me behind schedule. I do appreciate the attention papa gives to the nest, but I would really appreciate his attention to cleaning up his mate’s mess. She’s done all the work. It seems he could do some tidying up and leave the box as they found it. Granted, it’s not a perfect world, so guess I should get over it.

I usually hear from the toad that always shares the greenhouse with me toward the end of April. I have no idea where he spends the winter months, but when the greenhouse comes alive he is there to help out. It is always a good giggle when I’m watering to have him look up at me with the expression of “excuse me, you just got me all wet.” Lesson for me is to look before I start watering.

I called my greenhouse helper a frog until I read an article that explained the difference. Frogs have long hind legs while a toad’s legs are shorter. The skin of a frog is moist and smooth. A toad’s skin has a warty appearance and is usually dry to the touch.

Frogs

Here are some fun frog facts. The number of mosquitoes a dwarf puddle frog can eat in one night: 100

Number of times a year a frog sheds its skin: 52

Number of eggs a frog can lay at one frog spawn: 4,000

A group of frogs is called an army. A group of toads is called a knot.

Frogs are part of many cultures’ mythologies. In ancient Egypt, the frog appears as a symbol of fertility and renewal.

In her book “Trowel & Error,” Sharon Lovejoy quotes a British newspaper from 1890: “In such favor do toads stand with English market gardeners that they readily command a shilling apiece … and as toads possess no bad habits, every owner of a garden should treat him with the utmost hospitality.” Lovejoy prefaces the quotation with “When ‘Toad’ Meant Respect.” Toads and frogs consume slugs, grubs, insects and larvae. Refrain from applying herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers near water, Lovejoy advises.

Lovejoy also suggests creating a toad abode by setting a pot half buried on its side in a shady area among plants troubled by loopers, earwigs and slugs. Or, chip a toad-sized hole along the rim of a pot for a door and set a pot upside down in your garden. Apply a thick layer of mulch to the surrounding ground for a hideout and supply of insects.

I do use the toad abode idea in the greenhouse and several areas of the landscape. Lovejoy wrote of another method of attracting allies to gardens. Dragonflies can consume 300 insects a day. The author suggests luring them to your yard with an old tub, trough or small pool filled with water. Stick tall bamboo stakes into submerged, soil-filled pots, making sure the twigs protrude above the water. Dragonflies like to perch on these stakes.

Maybe if we take advantage of some of the hints that others have tried we can create a habitat that relies more on nature and less on chemicals.

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