Show Me Oz – Although ‘official’ spring has yet to arrive in Oz, the weather outside my door tells me it’s already here. As always, Dean and I are at it early and have already cultivated most of our garden and planted the first round of cold-hardy seeds. But while we’re hard at work cleaning up and organizing the yard and garden for the season to come, we are constantly on the lookout for sleepy, still-hibernating and just-hatching garden allies like frogs, toads, turtles, spiders, and all manner of beneficial insects and creatures that help us control insect pests in our organic garden!
Among my favorite garden allies are toads and frogs, which eat bad bugs and annoying insects by the ton. Tree frogs are lovely creatures that have a very loud call that sounds a lot like a trilling bird. Although they are called ‘grey’ tree frogs, they can change their color to match their surroundings; from almost white to almost all grey, and from mottled grey and white to bright leaf-green and everything in between.
Plus, they have a beguiling way of sneaking up on you when least expected – like this grey tree frog sheltering from the early morning cold in the gap between two pots. Or this little toad who found the soft moist soil in the catmint pot, perfect for nestling into during the evening chill.
When turning the soil for the first time in spring, watch carefully for hibernating toads that have burrowed down into the warm earth to sleep the winter away. Protect and care for them and they will reward you by scarfing down slugs, bugs and snails for you all summer long!
Toads and frogs aren’t the only garden allies that lie dormant during the winter months. Many insects hibernate and some lay their eggs in protective casings or snug shelters in the fall for emergence in the spring. This foamy blob is the egg case of a female praying mantis.
The praying mantis’s egg case is delicate-looking but tough and water resistant, which allows the eggs to survive winter. They are typically found on sturdy stems, sticks, twigs, branches and trunks of trees. If protected, a horde of young praying mantises will emerge just as their favorite insect pests get going in the spring.
Some insect allies aren’t always appreciated by gardeners, but they should be.
This egg case belongs to the yellow garden spider. These egg cases are most often found in mid-summer to late fall, but you might spy one early in the gardening season if you’re lucky.
Yellow garden spider adults are gentle and incredibly beautiful. Their webs are quite large and always marked with a zigzag pattern that confuses flying prey. These spiders eat a lot of large insects such as grasshoppers, beetles and other prey too big for smaller spiders and should always be welcomed in the garden.
Here’s another little insect that you may not have noticed before because it is so incredibly small and looks like a spec of moss or organic debris. This little guy is sitting on the porch steps next to a crack between boards less than 1/4” wide.
Wrapped in an armor of native lichen scales help camouflage this lacewing larvae against predators. When it matures, it will morph into a winged beneficial insect that gobbles up bad bugs day in and day out.
Look for these small leaf-like gems when cleaning up debris around the spring garden. If you think you’ve spotted one, all you have to do to confirm your suspicion is to give them a very (very) gentle poke. They’ll either move or fall, or curl up like the one in my hand. Go ahead and move them to a safe place so they can continue their metamorphosis into bad bug eating allies.
So, as you are preparing for the spring gardening season, just remember to keep an eye out for your future garden allies. Learn to recognize them and do whatever you can to protect them as they slowly wake from their long winter’s nap and they will reward you by eating bad bugs and making your garden a more diverse and healthy ecosystem!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.