Here in Fallbrook, CA, in San Diego’s north county, we’ve had 3 1/2 inches of rain in the past eleven months, and that came overnight several weeks ago. Last year we had a historic 20+ inches of rain which no one was prepared for, as our average is now about eight to ten inches. This year, the plants and animals are in trouble already. The days are hot and dry, with no rain in the forecast for our three rainiest months. I’ve heard people say that they never recommend a pond in a drought, but they can’t be more wrong ecologically speaking. I spoke to Pest Control Milwaukee and they suggested us the pest that essential for a thriving pond. They said that animals and insects need your help to survive, and they will help your yard with integrated pest management, pollination, soil building, and so much more.
Many years ago my daughter and I tore out this big juniper in front of our dining room window and dug a pond. I received a used pond liner, flagstone and some rocks for free from a source that didn’t want them. For years I had a lined pond, and I reconfigured it and the flagstones three times over the years. I’ve built new muscles lifting and hauling large, thick pieces of flagstones. With the success of our large unlined pond (blessed with thick clay at the bottom of the property) I wanted to make this little one unlined as well. The benefits would be that I could grow water plants in-ground, and better aquatic creatures could thrive in it. The problem was that up top by the house there is a lot of decomposed granite, which is porous. So I spent many a day digging up clay from various areas on the property, pushing the buckets or wheelbarrow uphill through mulch, lugging it over and lining the pond with it. Miranda hauled clay as well. Six inches of clay still didn’t seal it. I’d been refilling the pond every few days with well water, but the level would change dramatically and the Pacific Chorus Frogs that used to come to the pond in great numbers, sing deafeningly in January and February, lay eggs and then go off to eat more bugs in the yard, weren’t coming anymore. The low pond water allowed watercress and other plants to fill it up as well. Now it is frog breeding time, and there is little habitat for them.
So a few weeks ago I purchased new pond liner. My daughter and I pulled the pond apart, fed the watercress to the hens,
dug up clay and hauled it back down the hill (used it in raised beds) (best traveled clay anywhere),reshaped and enlarged the pond giving it plenty of edges, cushioned it with newspaper,
relined it, moved around the flagstones yet again, transplanted a water lily from the big pond below into a sunken pot, transplanted creeping red fescue and a few green lilies around the edges, and installed a circulation pump which allows water to flow through a bird bath. We were finishing the work today, on this balmy, dry, 85F February 1, when Miranda noticed frog spawn attached to floating pine needles.
Over the last week while the pond had been full, the magic had already worked! So she corralled the pine needles – fallen from a newly deceased huge beautiful pine in our driveway that died because the neighbor randomly cut its roots in the heat of summer – into the shallow end to keep the spawn safe. Miranda cut some floppy dwarf cattail stems and stuck them into the submerged water lily pot so the frogs could attach their spawn to something stationery. We’d overlapped the edges with flagstone so there were plenty of sneaky places for frogs to hide out. We also have edges of different depths, for different sized birds such as the white crown sparrow below to bathe in, and they have been enjoying these areas immensely. We should charge a dirty bird spa fee!
Within half an hour of us finishing outside, while we ate a very late lunch, we had many diverse avian visitors coming in for a drink. The sound of water carries very far and will attract birds better than food sources. Even a female phainopepla, one of our few crested birds, enjoyed the new running water source.
Followed by a mockingbird,
this wonderful thrush
a scrub jay
and more. Pond visitors today were also house finches, bushtits, a pair of mourning doves, bluebirds, crows, Western bluebirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, a tanager, Lincoln sparrow, and more.
Then when the sun was about to set, the male Pacific chorus frogs gave out a practice singing session, just to see who was in the game for after it got dark.
Pacific Chorus Frogs sounding each other out around the upper pond before dark. Its breeding season!
You can make a small pond in a cattle waterer or other metal container, or suspend a big soda bottle over a concave dish and pierce a small hole in the bottom so that it very slowly drips. Provide some shelter for the animals around your watering hole, and you’ll be helping the wildlife get through these extremely dry days. They will respond by eating your bad bugs, building soil, pollinating and so much more. Be sure to watch the action, through a window or via a wildlife camera! Its better than TV, and no commercials.
(Photos Diane and Miranda Kennedy)
Every year our two wild mallards linger in our chemical-free pond. They mate, Mrs. Mallard disappears for awhile, returns with very small ducklings and… they all die within days. Why? She hasn’t been a great mama. She runs them around too much, doesn’t preen them or give them time to eat. So this year when she showed up with four ducklings I didn’t even want to take photos of them. Who knows how many she began with? But these ducklings were a little older and larger than other batches had been. And they survived. They weren’t eaten by the bullfrogs in the pond, or snatched by birds, or neglected by mama. We put out wild game bird food to help them along, but Mrs. Mallard has taught them how to dabble for vegetation (they eat mostly greens).The ducklings make a ‘weep-weep’ sound when they are asking for food. One day she repeatedly dove and came up under them, and then swam underwater to the other side of the pond and back: she was teaching them how to swim underwater! Now these babies have lost their downy feathers and are growing in their primaries. They’ll be off soon, hopefully to return. Mr. Mallard has been keeping an eye on Mrs. Mallard; he sometimes pushes the babies out of the way of the food, for which we chastise him greatly. His breeding plumage is holding so if the young fly off soon, he might try for a second mating this season. Meanwhile, Mama Mallard looks pretty smug.
Over 97% of California’s wetlands are completely gone, and what’s left is compromised by roads, pollution and management. Those billions of animals and trillions of insects which depended upon those wetlands have mostly died off, or make do with chlorinated water from the billions of swimming pools and bird baths they can find. The wildlife you see is a tiny remnant of what should be here.
To have a pond with rain water or well water in it, cleaned by fish and plants rather than chemicals, is to have a haven for wildlife. Good water is diverse with life, just as good soil is, and instead of drinking wet chemicals animals can drink water that is imbued with nutrients. The thousands of insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, marsupials and birds that use our pond are healthy because the water is not chlorinated. If you can put any size of pond – even in barrels – using rainwater and cleaned by plants and fish, you’ll be doing wildlife and yourself a service.
And here’s our ducklings dabbling for greens this morning:
Older ducklings dabbling in Finch Frolic Garden pond, May 1, 2017.
Mrs. and Mr. Mallard really love our pond, and have adopted us for several years. She had tried to nest on land here, even up by our garage which is a long walk from the pond, but the eggs were always destroyed in the night. Last year she returned with four young, which all disappeared quickly. They were probably food to bullfrogs, birds, rats or other creatures. It was very sad.
This year Mrs. Mallard went through her usual breeding time with Mr. Mallard, then disappeared, and then reappeared without ducklings. We figured that her brood hadn’t been successful and that was that for this year. Mr. Mallard has been losing his mating plumage, and she hadn’t been visiting. Miranda and I figured that she was enjoying herself elsewhere. Today as I worked outdoors I passed by the pond and to my astonishment there was Mrs. Mallard and seven adorable ducklings! These babes are only a few days old. She would have had to lead them walking from wherever her nest was, and somehow navigate a chain-link fence! At first she was cautious because I was talking to her excitedly and taking photos.
I calmed myself down and went about my work, and on one of my trips past the pond she gave me a decided look and then quickly led her brood out of the big pond just in front of me and paraded them across to the little pond. The babies had their first sample of duckweed.
Mrs. Mallard decides I’m still a friend and leads her ducklings from the big pond to the small pond at Finch Frolic Garden. I think she was showing her firs…
As these ponds have no chemical treatments, are topped off with rain and well water and cleaned by the plants and fish, the water is wonderful for wildlife. They can bathe, eat and drink without ingesting or absorbing chemicals. Good water is as microbially diverse as good soil, and all those microscopic critters are food, protection and healthy flora for all the creatures that flock to these ponds.
Later I noticed her crouched in the bog by the big pond, with all of her young out of sight underneath her. I looked around for a predator, but saw that Mr. Mallard was on the duck island and she was uncertain of him. I stood watching them, ready to protect her. Finally he noticed her, and all went well. A little later they were sitting together, still with no babes in sight.
I heard him fly off, probably to join some other males for some companionship.
Mrs. Mallard led her young across the pond and right to the floating duck island that is anchored in the middle of the pond.
This island has a board down the middle and loose plants stuck in without soil. It is a remediation float as well, cleaning the water as it floats.
Miranda and I were worried that the little ducklings wouldn’t be able to get aboard the raft, but they had no trouble.
After exploring a little, falling off a few times and grooming themselves, they tucked under their very good mama for a warm and safe sleep. Squeee!
October is one of my favorite months, even when we’re on fire here in Southern California. This year we’ve been saved, and October is moderate in temperature and lovely.
Summer has lost her vicious grip and we have time until the holiday rush and winter cold. Finch Frolic Garden has withstood the heat, the dry, the inundations, the snow and the changes, all without chemicals or much human intervention.
We’ve lost some trees and shrubs this year, but that is mostly due to the faulty irrigation system which delivers too much or too little, and is out of sight underground.
Permaculture methods in sheet mulching, plant guilds, swales, rain catchment basins, and the use of canopy have pulled this garden through.
The birds, butterflies and other insects and reptiles are out in full force enjoying a safety zone. A few days ago on an overcast morning, Miranda identified birds that were around us: nuthatches, crows, song sparrows, a Lincoln sparrow, spotted towhees, California towhees, a kingfisher, a pair of mallards, a raven, white crowned sparrows, a thrush, lesser goldfinches, house finches, waxwings, robin, scrub jays, mockingbird, house wren, yellow rumped warbler, ruby crowned kinglet, and more that I can’t remember or didn’t see.
Birds have identified our property as a migratory safe zone. No poisons, no traps. Clean chemical-free pond water to drink. Safety.
You can provide this, too, even in just a portion of your property. The permaculture Zone 5.
I’m indulging in showing you photos from that overcast October morning, and I hope that you enjoy them.
I should have more accurately called this post, Saving All the Insects, or even Saving the Wildlife, because the answer to saving one is the answer to saving them all. We’ve been inundated for years – my whole lifetime, in fact, – with pleas to save our environment, stop whale slaughter, stop polluting, etc. I remember winning a poster contest in fifth grade on the subject of curtailing littering. Since Rachel Carson’s books woke people up to the hazards of DDT and how chemicals have many deadly side effects there has been a grassroots effort to stop the pollution. Since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the push for environmentally friendly lights, cars, LEED-certified buildings and many more positive anti-climate-change actions have grown furiously. Too bad no one listened to him decades before. A drop in the economy and the radical change in weather patterns have people exploring organics, making their own clothes and foods, changing their shopping habits and thinking about what they are bringing into their homes. However, this week the World Wildlife Fund released the staggering results of a study that states that between the years 1970 and 2010, 52% of the world’s animal populations are gone. Over half. Gone. On our watch. In my lifetime. I am stunned with shame. So what about the next 40 years? Over 97% of California wetlands are already gone. There are only 3% left in Los Angeles. The Colorado River hasn’t met the ocean for decades, except briefly last year due to major earthworks. We are pumping all that water overland, open to the sun for evaporation, to treatment plants that fill it with chlorine and other chemicals, then sell it to us to spray over lawns and flush down the toilet or let run down the drain while the water heats up. It is madness. All the wildlife that depended upon the Colorado River along that stretch are gone. All the insects, the frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, etc. that need a clean drink of water no longer have access to it. The only water they can drink is usually chlorinated domestic water in ponds and bird baths. Too often this water is treated with algaecide, which claims it doesn’t hurt frogs but it does kill what the frogs feed upon. We are killing our animals with poisoned domestic water.
One of the largest reasons we have extinctions in North America is mismanagement of rainwater in drylands (other than polluting the waters. Poaching, over-fishing, destruction of habitat and climate change are the main reasons). We have cleared and flattened the ground, and channel rainwater off into the ocean. Look around at your streets and houses. Are they harvesting water or channeling it? Any property that is slanted is channeling water away. Any property that is level – like the bottom of swales – is harvesting water. So many properties are inundated with annual rains because there is no water harvesting above them. When you harvest water, it runs into rain catchment basins and swales instead of roaring down the hillside taking all the topsoil with it. Water becomes passive and percolates down deeply into the soil. That deep saturation draws tree roots down into the ground. The roots break up hardpan, make oxygen and nutrient channels into the dirt and produce exudates (sugars, carbohydrates and starches) through their roots to attract and feed the billions of microbes that turn your dirt into rain-holding soil. That underground plume of rainwater then slowly passes through your soil, re-enervating subterranean waterways, refilling your wells and bringing long-dry streambeds back to life. We must harvest rainwater to save our animals and plants, and consequently ourselves. We must reestablish sources of clean, unpolluted chemical-free water for animals to eat and from which to drink.
Healthy pond water is off-color due to tannins, and is filled with tiny creatures. Some such as daphnia are visible, but just like soil microbes, many aquatic creatures are microscopic. Fish and frogs feast from this level of the food chain, and these creatures make the water balanced. They eat mosquito eggs. They clean up algae. They are as vitally important as soil microbes. Oh, and 83% of the frogs are gone.
I spoke with Quentin Alexander from HiveSavers today; he performs humane bee rescue around the San Diego area and has been trying to re-queen Africanized hives with calmer European queens which will breed nicer behavior back into the bees rather than having to kill the entire hive. He has had no luck in the past two years with European queens, even those bred in California. With very little wetlands left, and those often sprayed with DEET by Vector Control, or polluted with chemical fertilizers and oils washed out of front yards, streets and driveways, these insects must resort to drinking from swimming pools and bird baths. Again, these contain highly chlorinated water. Animals are being forced to drink poison, or not drink at all.
We MUST stop using chemicals on our properties, and we MUST harvest rainwater. We MUST stop spraying well water into the air but irrigate with it in dripper form under mulch so that it is cycled back into the ground rather than evaporated. One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water! It is so easy to harvest rainwater – dig level-bottomed swales! Dig small ones with a trowel. Fire up the tractor and turn road ways into swales, or cross-cut vertical paths with swales that have dedicated overflows. Dig rain catchment basins to catch a flow of water. Catch water as high up on your property as you can. If you have level soil, fantastic! You have it so easy! Make gentle swales, rain gardens, rain catchment areas and sunken gardens to catch and percolate the water. Bury old wood perpendicular to water flow – its called hugelkultur.
Please watch this six-minute video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Design Institute of Australia. You need to type in your name and email, but they don’t sell your information nor do they bug you with lots of emails. Here is the link. The title is Finding An Oasis in the American Desert, and it is about the Roosevelt swales dug during the dust bowl in the desert. If nothing that I say, nor anyone else says can convince you, then please watch this and see the effectiveness of rain harvesting. We MUST do this, and now before the rains come is the time. Catch all the water that falls on your property in the soil, and try to catch the water that runs into it. If there are flood waters channeled through your property, see if you can talk to the people who own land above you about harvesting water up there. It will reduce the flooding, save topsoil and benefit everyone’s property. Work towards keeping rainwater in your soil, reducing your domestic water, and making what streambeds are left come back to life. Keep our old trees from dying by watering deeply through rain catchment. If you have a pond or swimming pool and treat it with harsh chemicals and algaecides, seek out a natural pond professional. In the San Diego – Los Angeles region there is Bob Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics, or Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics. Jacob builds natural ponds and maintains large natural waterways. Bob maintains chemical-free backyard and display ponds that are full of wildlife. He can convert your pool into a clean swimming pond where the water is filtered by plants and thus is lovely year-round, provides abundant habitat and doesn’t need chemical treatments. No chlorine to burn your skin and eyes. How great is that? He can also create a constructed wetland that cleans your greywater with plants.
There are so many simple and inexpensive ways to harvest rainwater rather than allow it to flow into the salty ocean without penetrating the soil. Please, please, please do them, and if you already have THANK YOU and gently encourage your neighbors to do the same. We must stop the habitat destruction and start to rebuild what is gone.
Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays. Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours. By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September. They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25. Tours begin promptly at 10 am. The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest. I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through email@example.com. Children under 10 are free; please, no pets. Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit! Diane and Miranda
Permaculture Lectures in the Garden!
Learn how to work with nature and save money too
Finch Frolic Garden and Hatch Aquatics will present four fantastic, information-filled lectures in June. Join us at beautiful Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook, 4 pm to 6 pm, for refreshments and talks on…
Saturday, June 7: Introduction to Permaculture and Finch Frolic Tour: We’ll take you through the main precepts of permaculture and how it can be applied not only to your garden, but to yourself and your community. Then we’ll tour Finch Frolic Garden and show rain catchments, swales, plant guilds, polyculture, living buildings and so much more.
Saturday, June 14: Your Workers in the Soil and Earthworks: Learn the best methods for storing water in the soil and how to replace all your chemicals with actively aerated compost tea and compost.
Saturday, June 21: Aquaculture: You can have a natural pond – even in a tub! How natural ponds work, which plants clean water and which are good to eat. Even if you don’t want a pond, you’ll learn exciting information about bioremediation and riparian habitat.
Saturday, June 28: Wildlife in your Garden: What are all those bugs and critters and what they are doing in your yard? We’ll discuss how to live with wildlife and the best ways to attract beneficial species.
Your hosts and lecturers will be
Jacob Hatch Owner of Hatch Aquatics. With years of installing and maintaining natural ponds and waterways, and a Permaculture Design Course graduate, Jacob has installed earthworks with some of the biggest names in permaculture.
Miranda Kennedy OSU graduate of Wildlife Conservation and wildlife consultant, Miranda photographs and identifies flora and fauna and maps their roles in backyard ecosystems.
Diane Kennedy Owner of Finch Frolic Garden, lecturer, consultant, Permaculture Design Course graduate, former SDC Senior Park Ranger, Diane educates homeowners on how to save money and the environment while building their dream gardens.
Each class limit is 50 attendees, so please make pre-paid reservations soon before they fill up. Fee for set of four lectures and tour is $45 per person. Single session fee is $20 per person. Contact Diane Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations and directions.
You will not want to miss this fascinating and useful information!
There is a fantastic, information-packed permaculture convergence coming up at the beautiful Sky Mountain Institute in Escondido. It will be two days packed with great information for a very reasonable price; in fact, scholarships are available. Check out the website at email@example.com. On that Sunday I’ll be teaching a workshop about why its so important to plant native plants, how to plant them in guilds using fishscale swales and mini-hugelkulturs. Come to the convergence and be inspired!
Last week a new bog area was added to the main pond. The first bog area was dug by hand, created so that there would be a shallow, flat habitat for wading birds and tadpoles.
This is called adding edge, which is an important component of any permaculture design. The first bog is connected to the series of rain catchment basins and now is the link between rain overflow system and the large pond. This year no rainwater left the property; it was all captured. Edge areas in both water and plant design provide more sun and growth areas than a round or straight design. More interesting things happen on the edge.
This bog area was dug up by a tractor bought from a farm auction that I’d shared rental with a friend. It took a large mound of dirt and filled in some dips, leveling a walking and working area.
Steve, who among his many talents is also a heavy equipment operator, did a terrific job grading and then expanding the pond. A small problem is that he found some more porous soil with the clay, so the water level on the pond dropped.
We’re seeing how far it goes down to tell if the seepage is occurring on the edge or on the bottom of the new area. Once found, we’ll move extra clay over and tamp it all in.
Plants Jacob has put into the first bog include graceful cattails, which are a dwarf cattail that isn’t so invasive, iris, rushes, watercress, and some Mexican waterlily.
Very soon the plants will cover the bog areas providing excellent cover for many animal species which… wait for it… live on the edge.