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!!! How to place habitat features for pest control

 
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Habitat features like log and rock piles can do a lot to attract beneficial critters that help keep pests under control. But part of making them successful is to place them correctly and have a diversity of sizes.

A single log is great but a stack of logs is even better. And multiple stacks of logs is much better than a single stack of logs.

This week’s blog post – Placing Habitat Features to Maximize Pest Control – dives into 3 general sizes of habitat features and how to place them to best create habitat for beneficial critters.

In the post habitat features are broken down into small, medium and large habitat features. Let’s look at an overview of these.

Sizing Habitat Features



Small habitat features are simple and quick to make and the main thing is to make sure they consist of more than a single layer. For example don’t just put 2 logs down on the ground next to each other but instead add another log or 2 on top of those first ones. The same could be done with rocks.

That way there are some hidden pockets for various animals to take shelter in.

Medium habitat features would be around knee high and 6 to 10 feet long. And at least a foot or 2 wide. These provide a lot more sheltered space than small features. Critters could overwinter in these.

Large habitat features are of course the hardest to build. These are generally 6 to 10 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide/long. Larger critters can use these and they can serve as great places for winter shelter.

Also, the larger the habitat features are the more wildlife can use them at the same time.

Placing These Habitat Features



My goal in breaking down these habitat features into 3 distinct sizes is to help you understand how many of each you need to make.

You only need 1-2 of the large habitat features per acre and these could be put into areas you don’t visit. This can even make it these features more effective.

I would then place 4-6 medium habitat features per acre and then scatter small habitat features all around.

A good strategy is to spread out your features so it’s fairly easy for wildlife to move from one to the next without being too exposed. And if you place some features near or even in your food growing areas then that will bring the beneficial critters right to those spots.

I got small habitat features right in my gardens and medium ones just outside them. The result is that I’m finding garter snakes all over now and right in my gardens!

What About You?



These are just some of the predators that are showing up on my wild homestead. While habitat features aren’t the only thing I’ve done to attract them I know they’re a big part of it.

If you want to learn more about how this all works please check out the blog post.

And I would love to hear from you about what predators you see on your wild homestead and what your doing to support them.

Leave a comment here and I would love it if you would leave a comment over on the blog post. If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.
 
pollinator
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Location: Lehigh Valley, PA zone 6b
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Nice post. I’m trying to figure out how to attract ground beetles to control my slugs. I’ve put out some broken pots in hopes of a toad or two, and I have plenty of stones around as my borders. I’ve seen no signs of snakes yet. Any idea what the minimum effective size for a beetle bank is? I’m thinking I could find room for a clump of Pennsylvania Sedge (a local native grass), but I don’t want to give up precious space. The garden is in the front, and we don’t have a ton of room to spare.

Thanks!
D
 
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To Daniel - I've lined most of my beds with a short stack of partially rotting/punky alder wood, and the ground beetles seem to love it. Not sure how successful they are at keeping the slugs in check though - as the slugs sure are plentiful.

I've recently added 2 ducks to our little homestead for eggs/slug control, and at ust 4 weeks old they're already slug-eating machines, though they're only outside for short periods of time. I'm looking forward to getting them into a mini duck tractor when they're older to clear patches around the gardens!
 
master steward
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In the department of small four legged pests (chipmunks, etc) how do you make large habitat features correctly?  I can see the benefits of snake habitat but I'm worried about accidentally creating better habitat for the nibblers than the nibbler eaters.  
 
Daron Williams
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Daniel – Thanks! I’ve found that the ground beetles like wood chips and they also seem to like my wood and rock piles. They need areas to lay their eggs and for their larvae to take shelter during the day. The adults also need to be able to hide during the day.

You might want to try to look for native edibles that you can add so you get a mix of benefits—food and habitat. But I’ve also found that perennial vegetables and flowers are all good at attracting beneficial critters too. You can focus on edible flowering plants too. That way you don’t lose space for your harvests but still provide habitat for beneficial critters.

Simon – I’ve found the beetles are best at controlling the smaller slugs and especially their eggs. Not much eat the big slugs—but garter snakes will. Depends on which type of garter snake. The western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans) seems to be the best slug eater out of the garter snakes here in western WA. From what I read slugs make up the majority of its diet.

Mike – Yeah, those guys will be there too. But in general I find that the pests tend to show up no mater what if there is a good food source for them. The predators tend to be the hard ones to support—the habitat features are focused on supporting them. But you may get an initial jump in chipmunks or mice right after building the habitat features until the predators start showing up.

Here on my wild homestead we spotted our first weasel this year. First time one has been here and it was hanging out along my largest habitat feature but also coming into other areas. Took a couple years for it to show up but even a single weasel can greatly reduce the rodent population in an area.

We are also going to put up barn owl boxes to help with rodents and other nibblers. I’m hoping that helps a lot too.

But I’ve been adding habitat features for several years now and I’m steadily noticing less and less rodents around our core food growing areas. Each year things seem to be better despite me adding more of these habitat features.

And I’m adding even more than I recommended in the blog post 😊 I can’t guarantee that you would see the exact same results but I do believe that nature will find a balance if give a chance. But the predators have to be in the area—sometimes they just aren’t around and won’t be no mater what you do. But that has to be determined on a case by case bases.

------------

As far as slug control goes… garter snakes are a core focus for me but I’m also working on attracting frogs since they’re fairly rare up around my garden. The habitat features will provide them shelter but I’m also going to add more ponds. I’m hoping that these together will support a lot of frogs which will in turn hopefully help control the slugs.

Toads would be a good option too but they’re really not common here. So frogs and garter snakes are my focus. But the ground beetles and centipedes (they eat slug eggs) are also good to have around.
 
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Location: Pinelands of New Jersey
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Wow Daron great information. I don't know if we want weasels, because we plan to get chickens. It's such a balance. We are on 7 + shady Pinelands acres. NJ has a Woodlands Steward plan, for folks with at least  5 acres not including their home. The paperwork for our plan is due 8/1, and I was just  looking for wildlife habitat ideas  when I found you on the Permies dailyish. We need 2 habitats per acre (6 acres in the plan) Our property is mostly oak and pine, with a few maples hiding some place. Typical sandy loam. I have had to amend any where I have wanted to plant .
The ticks and chiggers are our biggest "pest" problem. We can't walk off our driveway with out being suited up with sprays and treated clothing. We will celebrate in October when we can visit the rest of our property. And install the wildlife habitats.
I have found a few small garter snakes, one in some leaf litter and one in our wood chip pile. I have come across a tree lizard and a few frogs in the front yard. Chipmunks have become scarce thanks to the raptors that cruise through our woods. There are squirrels ,but our dog chases them off. I have yet to see a rabbit. We do have wild turkey too.The deer pressure here is off the charts. We put up 7' deer fencing around the front yard in an effort to protect our raised vegetable beds, but something ate and or removed all the tomato, pepper and zucchini plants. I love shade, but most of the veggies we are trying to grow do not. The front yard is the sunniest area, so we  tried protecting that first.
Staff note (Daron Williams) :

Thank you for the comment on the blog post! You were the first so pie for you!

 
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I would like to attract frogs to my garden. I have a small place with a creek through it. A few years ago I had a small water feature and they populated it so I'm sure they'll return with a bit of effort. I will be putting in a pond next year but this year only a water feature.

Here's my question: how can I have a small water feature and not add to the mosquito population? If we don't keep the population down, the city comes around and sprays the entire neighborhood with insect (including bees) poison 🤪 So I can't have a breeding place for mosquitoes. I'm hoping there's a natural way to keep mosquitoes out of a small water feature.  If not, I'll need to wait until I can put in a pond with fish 😁 I have thought that maybe a small pump to keep the water moving would do the trick?

Also on the subject of attracting wildlife. I don't know exactly what they're called but we call them alligator lizards. I've found two of them this year so far. I'm sure they are good predators and my granddaughters love to see them.

 
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What about Mosquito Dunks in the pond? I use them in the containers of water we collect, and as long as I make sure there's some of the dunk in there, we don't get mosquitos breeding.
 
Samantha Hall
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Cara Campbell wrote:What about Mosquito Dunks in the pond? I use them in the containers of water we collect, and as long as I make sure there's some of the dunk in there, we don't get mosquitos breeding.



I have heard of those but don't know much about them. I guess I assumed they were toxic somehow but they must not be. I'll look into them,.as that's a great idea! Thank you so much!!!
 
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Thank you, the pictures are especially helpful. I have small areas on 3 sides of the house, and have created small habitat, I have snakes, lizards and toads. I had bees plenty this spring,, but since, gone..
plus, we  have chickens in the back, so probably cannot use the larger ones, besides not having space.. But I was just reading about getting lady bird beetles, and green lacewings for my daughter's food forest, and a bit for me. But the lady birds seem to have their own issues, so, does anyone have experience about this, please? It was too late to get any preying mantis, but again, they can  eat some of the other beneficials that I have been encouraging.
Appreciate the article, thank you.
 
pollinator
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Samantha Hall wrote:

Cara Campbell wrote:What about Mosquito Dunks in the pond? I use them in the containers of water we collect, and as long as I make sure there's some of the dunk in there, we don't get mosquitos breeding.



I have heard of those but don't know much about them. I guess I assumed they were toxic somehow but they must not be. I'll look into them,.as that's a great idea! Thank you so much!!!



https://www.arbico-organics.com/product/mosquito-beater-wsp/bti-bacillus-thurengiensis-israelensis

Its bacteria that affects the larva stage guts.
 
master pollinator
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Yes. Bt will affect larvae of mosquitoes, as well as some other larvae and caterpillars. Nothing else.

They work quite well in standing water.
 
Posts: 32
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Want snakes? Put opaque plastic sheets on the ground--not clear translucent--even white can work. As you fry whatever plants are underneath so that you can plant your preferences subsequently, you'll create a snake magnet. When you plant the area, shift the plastic to somewhere nearby so that the snakes still have a home. I'm designing long-term repurposed old metal panels as garden bed edging. It'll keep out weeds and be raised slightly off the ground--just enough for snakes to slither under. Win-win-win.
 
pollinator
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Thanks for another great article Daron!  

I've built a few toad houses out of rock and placed them near the foundation of the house in the backyard as there's at least three hanging out there.  Also building a few for the garden area as well in hopes that a few will linger down from the small preformed pond.  Also I recently had the crap scared out of me by a lizard in the garden last week.  He ran under the edge of the cold frame and since I'm planning to move that cold frame this fall, he'll need a new place to hide as well.

I was in the backyard at dawn yesterday and noticed wrens, I believe, diving from the eaves and catching insects.  That reminded me of the year I planted pole beans near a raspberry patch.  I had an infestation of bean beetles and figured my crop was toast.  To my surprise the birds would fly from the raspberry patch and feast on the immature beetles.  I had beans all summer.  I'm going to add a few shallow dishes of water to the garden as well for the birds.

 
Daron Williams
gardener
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Rita – Thank you! Yeah, I had to put up deer fence too because there was no way they would ever be in balance due to the lack of predators in this area.

As far as weasels go… it really depends on how you manage the chickens. I’m getting chickens next year and I’ve been reading a lot about this issue because I really want weasels to be here too.

According to some sites on backyard chickens it seems like weasels show up mainly due to rats or mice hanging around the coop. The weasel comes in and overtime eats all the rats and mice. Then they run out of food and go after the chickens—often using the rat and mice tunnels to get into the chicken coop.

So is the weasel the issue or is it the rodents that hang around? This can be hard to deal with but the solution I like best is to use a mobile coop. By moving it around I’m hoping to avoid any rodent issues and in turn I’m hoping weasels won’t be very interested in the chicken area.

But I’m still going to lock the coop up each night and it will be setup to be fully secure against weasels and other predators.

All that being said I’m brand new to having chickens so I’m relying on what others have reported. I will make sure to share what happens once I get chickens and if I have any issues with weasels.

Samantha – If you can keep the water moving a bit that can help by increasing oxygen levels which will in turn make it more attractive to other aquatic life. A healthy pond filled with lots of life shouldn’t have a major mosquito issue. I’m going to build 2 small wildlife ponds—both will have small simple waterfalls to help oxygenate the water. Plus there will be aquatic plants that will help shade the water and keep it from getting too hot.

Cara – Looks like those use bacillus thuringiensis – anyone know if BT affects other insects or just mosquitos?

Beth – Happy to help! 😊 Great to hear about the snakes, lizards and toads! That’s too bad about the bees… any idea what happened?

I’ve found that habitat features, mulch, native plants, and flowers have all created great habitat for lady bugs. There are tons around this year.

But I also don’t do anything to deal with aphids other than let the predators do their thing. This way the population of the predators like lady bugs can increase. Seems to be working because I’m dealing with a lot less aphids this year than last.

Harry – thanks for sharing!

Anne – Interesting—I like the idea of keeping water moving more but I can see why BT could be useful in certain situations. Especially if it keeps people from spraying toxic chemicals that kill all insects!

Peter – Yeah, that can work great. I wouldn’t buy plastic sheets just for this reason but if as you mentioned your using it to prepare an area for planting helping snakes is a great bonus. And I like your garden bed design! Good luck with it!

Michelle – Thank you! 😊 Those all sound great! Lol, do you know what type of lizard it was? There is only 1 type of lizard here and I’m hoping some show up but so far I haven’t see any yet.

Great to hear that the birds are helping with the beetles! I’ve been watching sparrows visit my tree collards and leave with caterpillars in their beaks. Got to love seeing what predators can do! 😊
 
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This is great information! We don't get snakes here (well, they're very very rare anyways), but I'm doing my best to attract frogs (just built a tiny pond for my croaker friends). We have hedgehogs living in the giant pile of brush, and this years' aphid explosion was followed by a lady bug explosion - I have never ever seen this many lady bugs in all stages of their development in my life! Generally I've been trying to improve biodiversity by planting more species of plants and flowers, and it seems to be working. Never have there been more bees, beetles, birds and amphibians in the garden. I really hope dragonflies will come so that their larvae will take care of mosquito larvae in the pond and the rain barrels. Although the mosquitos themselves seem to attract the birds - oh, and bats!

Speaking of bats - they really are amazing predators too. Hollow trees, or old crooked sheds are their favorite hangouts (pun intended), but there are bat houses (like nesting houses for birds) available to buy too.

Our garden is quite messy but I think I am going to pay more attention to where the potential predator habitats are and how big they are. Plenty of stones and logs lying around but I might be able to optimize :-) I'm also considering a nest box for owls to help with the gophers.
 
pollinator
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Our biggest two pests are rabbits and pigeons, either of which can strip a crop to the ground in days. My experience of habitat feature here is that the rabbits use them as protection for their burrows, or shelter when they are above ground.
 
Anne Pratt
master pollinator
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So, driven by the discussion in this thread, I did a tiny bit of research on Bt.

It kills the larvae of mosquitoes yay!

Also cabbage worms and tomato hornworms yay!  yay!

But also larvae of various butterflies and moths.  uh-oh

But moving water prevents the mosquitoes from successfully using it to reproduce.  yay!
 
Michael Cox
pollinator
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Anne - best control for mosquito larvae seems to be fish. We introduced goldfish into our ornamental pond, having spotted a population explosion a few months after installing it. Within 48 hours they had eaten them all.

If you want to avoid goldfish you can find some locally appropriate small fish.
 
Daron Williams
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Sanna – Glad you’re finding it helpful! 😊 Great to hear about the hedgehogs and what you’re doing to attract frogs. I wish we had hedgehogs here—I really enjoyed seeing them in England. Sounds like you’re really doing a lot of great things to promote biodiversity.

I agree about bats—they really are great. I’m considering adding some bat boxes in the future but I need to do more research to figure out the best type to put up.

Thanks for sharing!

Michael – Not that long ago I watched a nature program all about weasels and stoats. A lot of it took place in the UK at a place where this guy has created tons of habitat using specially designed stone walls and other features on his property to attract weasels and stoats. They seemed to be doing a great job going after rabbits around his place.

As far as fish in the pond. Just need to be careful about excess nutrients and keeping the fish from eating the tadpoles if you want to attract frogs. But fish can also be harvested and are good at eating mosquito larvae but there are other critters that can do this too. Often it will take a little time for them to show up.

Anne – Thanks for sharing! 😊 I’m going to try to rely on moving water and hopefully attracting beneficial critters that will help keep the mosquitoes under control.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here are some additional resources for you all! (not my content but content that I found useful)

How to Build a Simple Wildlife Pond

Big or Small - Ponds for All - This is a companion pdf from the last link.

Another look at log shelters (log surrogates)

How to Create a Mini-Pond
 
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Good stuff, Daron.  Going to put a hedgerow along north side of my garden, already started dumping some slash pines along the area, but maybe I will plan to pile up more and make it more "sheltery."

My only concern is snakes... rattlers.  But think I can live with it.
 
pollinator
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Regarding mosquito larvae and small ponds:
I really wouldn't put in goldfish or any other fish at all. They unbalance any natural habitat and that's exactly what you want to create: a natural habitat.

I can't speak for all climate zones, but in my garden (Germany) when we installed our little pond three years ago it took some weeks to have the first mosquito larvae. But in the same period the first predators came and I would say today that the pond itself hardly allows to hatch any mosquito larvae. If we have any, they come from the rain water barrels and similar.

Our predators for larvae are mostly dragonfly larvae (the dragonflies came really quickly) and backswimmers (Notonectidae). I once spotted newts in the pond and had a short visit from frogs, but unfortunately our garden is a bit off from natural occurrences of amphibes and so I am still waiting patiently for more to arrive.
ETA: Coming from the garden I remembered that another way of controlling mosquitos are Gerridae - english names I have found are water striders, water skeeters, water scooters, water bugs, pond skaters, water skippers, Jesus bugs, or water skimmers.
They take care of all critters on the surface of the water.

If your pond is the only natural water in the surroundings, you could inoculate your new pond with water from an existing pond to get the aquatic life going.

Apart from the little pond, I have lots of flowers and wild flowers, spots in the garden that are totally overgrown with weeds and piles of branches. We do have several hedgehogs (they are in mating mood right now), and some bats hang around behind our window shutters.
There are loads of solitary bees, wasps and hoverflies and similar in the garden and I could spend hours watching the wildlife - it is amazing what you can do even in a small place like mine!
 
Samantha Hall
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Anita Martin wrote:Regarding mosquito larvae and small ponds:
I really wouldn't put in goldfish or any other fish at all. They unbalance any natural habitat and that's exactly what you want to create: a natural habitat.

I can't speak for all climate zones, but in my garden (Germany) when we installed our little pond three years ago it took some weeks to have the first mosquito larvae. But in the same period the first predators came and I would say today that the pond itself hardly allows to hatch any mosquito larvae. If we have any, they come from the rain water barrels and similar.

Our predators for larvae are mostly dragonfly larvae (the dragonflies came really quickly) and backswimmers (Notonectidae). I once spotted newts in the pond and had a short visit from frogs, but unfortunately our garden is a bit off from natural occurrences of amphibes and so I am still waiting patiently for more to arrive.
ETA: Coming from the garden I remembered that another way of controlling mosquitos are Gerridae - english names I have found are water striders, water skeeters, water scooters, water bugs, pond skaters, water skippers, Jesus bugs, or water skimmers.
They take care of all critters on the surface of the water.

If your pond is the only natural water in the surroundings, you could inoculate your new pond with water from an existing pond to get the aquatic life going.!



This gives me a.lot to think about. I've always adored ponds with some fish but I completely see your point.
I have a creek that's actually been turned into an irrigational canal by the city. It does have water skippers and Nutria in it, as well.as lots of dragonflies flying around. I can hear frogs around so I know they're somewhere. I live in a neighborhood where people put poison on the lawns and sidewalks and that drains to the creek (at least it does when the rains come). If it weren't for that, I'd try to incorporate the creek somehow. The edges are grown over with blackberry and the city mandates that we cut them each July. So I can't get blackberries from them.

Anyway, thank you so much for your reply. I'm going to work on a natural pond and see if I can get dragonflies and frogs to come around. I once had an alligator lizard (not sure of the real name) get in the bottom of a bucket that had a bit of water in it. Not sure if they live in water or was just thirsty. I'll need to look them up.
Thank you so much for this information.
 
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