Garden Friends, TOADS

"Garden Friends"

    It has been a long, cold, wet Spring, still having frosts into June! The cold weather crops have been in the ground for 3 months but have grown but little and the green house has potted, blooming tomatoes as well as many other plants that are too big for their pots. Bluebirds and Swallows have visited houses and are getting down to nesting.  And to my greatest delight I have had two toads show up to find "lodging" in the houses I put out last Autumn by the pond. 

I had also set into the ground large pot dishes with water in them, creating a shallow "soaking" pond for them.  Toads do not drink through their mouths, but must absorb their water requirements through their skin by sitting in water and soaking for sometime each day.  Toads spend most of their time out of the water, unlike their frog cousins that live mostly in the water.  Toads have a thicker skin than frogs and different habits. They usually live under a log or in hole in the ground, or maybe under a large flat rock.  They also will live in a house you make for them, a clay pot turned upside down with a chink out of the rim, or any other cook dark house you might fashion. There are many kinds of toads, but the native toads of which I have experience with are called "western toads" and have a nice cream colored stripe that goes down their back. Their colors are mottled brownish greens , depending on their environment.  Toads are long lived, documented living over 40 yrs( a pet toad in a UK university garden named Georgie) And over their long lives, they stay in the same habitat as long  as it provides for their needs. 

 Most toads hibernate in Winter and come out in the Spring, find a body of water such as a pond, for breeding then go to the place they have always called "home" and stay there the rest of the year. Many people have stories of "the same toad" coming year after year to some part of their yard or garden.  This behavior is what allows us to get to know these little creatures better.  Years ago I had read that  toads responded to human kindness, that you could call them and feed them and they would learn to come to you.....and that they differentiate between human voices!  I thought this all very charming, but was not sure if it could really be true. I went ahead and made a nice toad habitat , with a shallow pond, a house under a small pepper tree for shade and amongst ample vegetation, at the north end of my first organic garden. Three toads came to live there. 

  As I traveled down my life's path, I became a maker of birdhouses and whimsical fairy & gnome homes. This endeavor proved rewarding and successful and one Spring I decided to add Toad Houses to my repertoire, always having fond memories of my  original helpers in the garden. At that time I used clay pots turned upside down. My interpretations of a home looked more like a cottage, with a gabled roof and round windows. People really liked the Toad Homes and rewarded me with many personal stories about their experiences with toads as I traveled from show to show.  What came to pass in these stories people would relate, were real proof of the things I had read many years prior. There was the man that had grown up with a toad that would come out each Spring, that was missing a couple toes, this was how he knew it was the same toad. He saw this toad for all the years of his growing up, showing me that not only were they long lived, but that they did stay in the same place during that time.  In another story a woman told me how she in fact had befriended a garden toad and had started feeding it and eventually it would come out when she called, but that it only did this for her.  And in another story, a family related a tale where they were sitting at the dinner table eating when they heard a "plop" on the porch, went to look, and found a big old toad in the dogs water bowl, just sitting their. They all marveled but left it alone.  As it turned out, the toad came every evening at the same time and sat in the water. It was a year of great drought and usual areas of moisture were dried up. This feat also including climbing a  steps. Over all I was touched to hear all the stories and found that I was not alone in my fondness for toads.
  Toads eat thousands of bugs a month, I have read it's 3,000, but have also read 10,000!  They eat earwigs, slugs, snails, squash & rose beetles,  cut worms, flies, ants and many more. They are harmless and extremely helpful.  They do not cause warts! Their bodies have a toxic effect if eaten, which is their only defense. For this reason cats and dogs will generally leave them alone. Toads do have predators though, sometimes dogs and cats will injure them and bull frogs eat them as well as racoons, herons, crows and other animals.  If you find a bull frog in the yard, it is best to remove them as soon as you can. They will eat all the toads, the small frogs and small birds that come around the pond.  They are a non-native and very invasive species.
 Before the invention of toxic chemicals used for pesticides and herbicides, horticulturists used toads to their great advantage and were appreciated and respected, as were birds , whom also consume large amounts of insects when raising their young.
environment. These frogs were carriers of this fungus, but were themselves immune, as are Bull frogs, which are an invasive non-native species  that have become wide spread across the land.  Bull frogs grow very large and should not be confused with toads.  In respect to these things, I would encourage making a toad friendly habitat and waiting for a toad to use it. Toads in many regions have become scarce. However, everywhere I have lived I have eventually had at least one toad come to the garden with its little pond and houses. A good way to find out about toads in your area is by contacting college or universities biology dept. or the park or Forest Service biologists. And of course there is the Internet!
   It is always rewarding to work in the yard and to support and encourage the natural balance of things, to avoid using harmful chemicals for the environment  and learn from the way Nature would have it.