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Creating a habitat for wildlife? (was Where to discuss)

 
Susan Taylor Brown
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Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Is this the right forum to discuss wildlife habitat? I see in the critters there are really places to discuss critters for food, which is good. I am creating a wildlife habitat (along with edibles for us) and would love to know where the best place to post about that might be.

Thanks.

We have a small lot, only about 1/2 an acre, but much of it will be for birds and pollinators and other creepy, crawly, critters.
 
David Livingston
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I would put it in gardening for beginners like this recent thread . A pic of the garden always helps
http://www.permies.com/t/57129/gardening-beginners/Bumblebee-Garden-Project-Advice

David
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Looking forward to a thread about this. Wildlife habitat is the major focus of our place, with food-growing for humans as part of the habitat (which can be very challenging!)
 
Susan Taylor Brown
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Thanks, David. It's not my first habitat garden but I'm good with sharing there in gardening for beginners and getting more discussion going. Maybe it will inspire other folks. I guess I could start a project thread too, though those tend to get so long, can we have more than one project thread? I could do one for the wildlife garden and one for the general permaculture/earthworks/etc stuff.

Tyler, you and I think so much alike! It is a challenge to garden for humans and habitat in the same place. We do have a deer fence which at least gives me some protection from the deer and other critters in most of the yard thought my upper level flat sunny spot still needs to be fenced. In the fenced yard the challenge is the gophers and 75 pounds of insane dog.

At our last house, tiny 5500 sq foot lot with a big house on it and neighbors WAY too close, we ripped out almost all the plants (which weren't doing very well anyway) and put in a mostly native garden for wildlife. We had many original owners of homes all around us (they had been there for over 50 years) and although they didn't like the natural look of the landscape they were thrilled to see the increase of bird activities in the area.
 
John Elliott
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Since the goal of permaculture is to create a sustainable biome of food-producing plants, it has to create habitat for wildlife. This doesn't happen right away, but I can make some observations 7 years into my current project. When I got here, the lawn was struggling to maintain its hold on compacted patch of dirt. In places, it was losing the battle, with patches as hard as concrete where nothing could take root. But I persevered, adding in lots of biomass, and biochar when I could make some. The first fall, I planted tillage radish, and they did a good job of drilling down into some stubborn Georgia clay. Slowly, weeds gave way to more desirable plants and as they did, I noticed the wildlife changing.

When I first arrived, there were lots of ants and a few lizards, no frogs or toads to speak of, and the predominant insect was the grasshopper -- an interloper always on the move and not part of a stable community. A couple years in, the garden spiders saw that I was trying to put in a garden, so they took up residence. One morning, I counted a dozen webs along the back wall of the house, as neatly spaced as cars in a parking lot. Then the skinks arrived. They are big enough to make a snake-like sound as they rustle through the leaf litter, so I am careful, since I have seen copperheads around here about the same size.

After a couple years of no herbicide, no pesticide, no fungicide, frogs and toads began to reappear -- particularly after a heavy rain. Now when there is a heavy thunderstorm after dark, it is followed by LOUD croaking of many amphibians. I've even run into salamanders, which are more averse to the effects of human civilization than their hopping cousins.

This year I have seen a box turtle and a few voles scampering away from my footsteps. I wish the big black rat snake from a couple years ago would come back and keep the voles from nibbling on my squash. The greater the diversity of animal life that I see, the less I have to worry about pests of any one type. A few years ago, I had a rather heavy infestation of black swallowtail caterpillars, but something is now keeping them in check, because while I still grow lots of dill, parsley, and celery, and I still see adult butterflies in the garden, they are not decimating my crop.

My goal in adopting permaculture principles was not to create a habitat for wildlife -- it just happened. Kind of a by-product of having lots of edibles (I yank out the nightshade, horsetail, and other poisonous weeds) that are in season all different months of the year. Some critter will wander in and stay for a while as long as I have the buffet open. And I don't mind sharing my buffet, well most of the time. When a tomato hornworm decides to defoliate a tomato or pepper plant, he becomes chicken dinner.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 142
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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John, thank you for your lovely response. When I created my last habitat garden, I discovered the same thing. More diverse plantings created inviting environment for more diverse critters. It was fascinating to watch it evolve over 7 years and I look forward to doing it again on a larger scale but this time, with habitat for humans, as well.

Yes, I suppose perhaps this isn't the perfect set of forums to discuss wildlife habitat though I really believe there are many of us that not only want to adopt a sustainable way of growing for human consumption but who also want to become stewards of the earth for Mother Nature's family. And we end up helping each other out. The pollinator plants I will plant to help the fruiting trees and shrubs will attract beneficial insects which will attract birds. And we have many of the same issues. Like water for the plants and water for possible ponds or water features. I really wanted a pond, both for the wildlife (instant bird attractant) and for the peace it brings me to watch it. But then I started thinking about maintaining it and here in drought California, that isn't always easy. So I decided to compromise and do a pondless feature with a wetland which gives me the same solution. I had three at the old place and they were easy. No good if someone wants to grow fish but great at giving you the joy of a water feature without the worries of mosquitoes.

Anyway, I will try to keep my conversation permie based with perhaps, as I said, project thread for the wildlife aspect.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Susan Taylor Brown wrote:
Yes, I suppose perhaps this isn't the perfect set of forums to discuss wildlife habitat though I really believe there are many of us that not only want to adopt a sustainable way of growing for human consumption but who also want to become stewards of the earth for Mother Nature's family.


Actually, according to Bill Mollison, creating and protecting wildlife habitat is a major part of permaculture:

From Permaculture A Designers Manual:

Chapter 1, page 6-7:

"As the basis of permaculture is beneficial design, it can be added to all other ethical training and skills, and has the potential for taking a place in all human endeavors. In the broad landscape, however, permaculture concentrates on already-settled areas and agricultural lands. Almost all of these need drastic rehabilitation and re-thinking. One certain result of using our skills to integrate food supply and settlement, to catch water from our roof areas, and to place nearby a zone of fuel forest which receives wastes and supplies energy, will be to free most of the area of the globe for the rehabilitation of natural systems. These need never be looked upon as 'of use to people', except in the very broad sense of global health."

Page 7:

"We abused the land and laid waste to systems we need never have disturbed had we attended to our home gardens and settlements. If we need to state a set of ethics on natural systems, then let it be thus:

- Implacable and uncompromising opposition to further disturbance of any remaining natural forests, where most species are still in balance;

- Vigorous rehabilitation of degraded and damaged natural systems to stable state;

- Establishment of plant systems for our own use on the least amount of land we can use for our existence; and

- Establishment of plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species."

Page 9

"We create our own life conditions, now and for the future. In permaculture, this mean that all of us have some part in identifying, supporting, recommending, investing in, or creating wilderness habitats and species refuges..."


"As will be clear in other chapters of this book, the end result of the adoption of permaculture strategies in any country or region will be to dramatically reduce the area of the agricultural environment needed by the households and the settlements of people and to release much of the landscape for the sole use of wildlife and for re-occupation by endemic flora. Respect for all life forms is a basic, and in fact essential, ethic for all people."
 
Susan Taylor Brown
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Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Tyler,
Thank you for your response. It goes along with what I had read and believed.

I am learning to be more permie about many things but at my heart, I garden for wildlife. Trying to restore any place that I can brings me so much joy. I fall asleep at night planning what I can do in the garden. Growing food is fun and makes me feel proud of taking care of some of our food needs. But creating habitat makes my heart sing a sweet tune. I came to these forums to learn more permie ways so I could stack them within my habitat. I think I can make it happen. I used to spend a lot of time on some native plant forums but it was never a good fit because I am not a native plant purist. I appreciate what they can do for habitat (read Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy.) But I also love other plants.

I think one of the best things we can do to create habitat is to bring water into the garden. In my old, tiny tiny urban yard, I put in a pondless water feature that drew so many birds. Some liked the bubbling water on top. Others liked the more still water at ground level. Because the water was always moving I had no mosquito issues. I am in the middle of trying to figure out how to do it on a much larger scale here at the new place. Plus I would like to do it all with rainwater so I need to figure out how to do a cistern which could send the water to a wetland which could then send it to the water feature. Still trying to wrap my brain around how to do that.

I think I will go start a project thread to track all this.

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Small but potent water feature
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chickadees
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It was amazing to see the little hummingbirds not be intimidated by the big bubbling rock.
 
David Livingston
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ok lets see what we can do
No garden is an Island to steal a saying . Could you provide us with a plan of your garden ? and also what is beyond the boundries . Can we provide habitate that compliment or provides missing bits that would complete a habitat for a particular animal . eg I loved the picture of the humming bird . We dont have them here in europe ;-( What do they need and what is in short supply in your neighbourhood ?
Are nesting sites an issue .
For example I leave old honey suckle for longtailed tits , they use it for their nests . No old honey suckle no longtailed tits .http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Long-tailed_Tit
Are there any similar "fixes " you could do .
Water is often an issue or even just damp areas.
Particular rare native plants ?
Bird boxes ? frog boxes bat boxes
hedgehog boxes ( ok I know you dont have hedgehogs but I am sure there is an analogy ) Gaps in fencing to let larger animals come and go
A big pond ?

David
 
Tyler Ludens
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Susan Taylor Brown wrote:Plus I would like to do it all with rainwater so I need to figure out how to do a cistern which could send the water to a wetland which could then send it to the water feature.



It might be more practical to go from the cistern to the water feature to the wetland, letting the final overflow of the cistern and water feature soak into the ground of the wetland.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's a thread for general discussion of permaculture Zone 5, the zone specifically for wildlife: http://www.permies.com/t/56225/permaculture-design/Mollison-Permaculture-Zones-happened-Zone
 
Dale Hodgins
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For hummingbirds, the best thing is to plant fuchsia and other flowers that have a trumpet shaped flower. They eat nectar but are also insectivores, so a welcome visitor.

They prefer to nest in the protective cone that lies beneath the nests of hawks and eagles.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
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Thank you all for continuing to talk with me about gardening for wildlife. When I first posted, I just wanted to know where to place the thread. I didn't have specific questions posted and I know that everyone here loves questions so they can share their awesome knowledge.

So here are some questions:

Tyler, you mentioned it might be more practical to go from the cistern to the water feature. My only thought was wondering if the rainwater should be filtered through a wetland before it went to the water feature or if I can put a filter either on water going into the cistern or coming out of it, and if that would be clean enough for the water feature? I am excited that working out there this morning I figured out how I can do a much longer wetland area, linking the various rain gardens, than I had planned before.

Dead trees/snags for owl boxes or bat houses or? We had a few dead pine trees that had to come down. I had asked the tree guys to leave them about 15 feet tall with side branches. He ignored me (while I was standing right out in the street watching him) and proceeded to cut them lower and take off all the side branches. So now instead of some neat snags I have, well, three weird looking things. (pic below) I am trying to figure out what is best for the wildlife. I can leave all three as they are. I can cut down one or two of them. I can put an owl box on one. Would it be too close then to put a bat house on another one or should it be farther away from an owl box?

At this point there is not a lot I can do for the birds except to get water out there for them, but even then, they rarely use it because there just isn't any cover for them. Yet. I have started to build up areas like this critter habitat which serves me in a few ways, 1, getting anything to grow in this dead dirt will help improve it, 2, this one will help slow down the water coming down the slope, and 3, a home for lizards, salamanders, frogs, toads, (snakes if I am lucky), and, as the plants grow and bloom, something for the pollinators. We had a small toad up on the deck the other day and I would love to put a little toad pond without a pump for them but we have such horrible mosquitoes that I am not sure I can take the chance the toads would come in time to eat them. Still pondering that.

David I am still trying to draw out a plan. We have a few resident hummingbirds living in the bottle brush tree in the front yard. They divebomb me every so often. I know we will have a lot more once the plants get in. While they do drink nectar it isn't their primary diet, it just gives them a sugar boost to keep those wings a flapping. They eat insects most of all and actually spiders are thought to be the favorite food for them. Our hummers hang out in the privet trees that line the property. Nectar plants for birds and butterflies and bees will go in this fall (the perfect time for planting native plants.) I expect I will see much more critter activity come spring.

Oh, and though there are not many bushes/trees for cover yet I am making lots of mini brush piles and rock piles all around the place. The gopher snakes are just across the street. Hopefully one will make it into our yard soon.


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dead pines to be used for ???
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critter habitat
 
Tyler Ludens
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If you have room for a bunch of water features, the more the better, in my opinion! If you're worried about the quality of the rainwater, you could let it run through a constructed wetland type of small pond (which could be in a tank or barrel if you need to maintain elevation of this portion of the water system) with cattails, which are one of the best filtering plants plus excellent for mulch, and then it could go to the water feature and from there to another wetland in the ground.

Attached is a little design I just doodled showing a system of features using rainwater. None of the features are to scale or showing specific details of plumbing, they're just meant as suggestions, not a plan!

A. Rain tank

B. Cattail and gravel filter tank

C. Birdbath water feature

D. Little tiny pond with lilies or something pretty

E. Marsh wetland
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Susan Taylor Brown
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Thanks, Tyler! That is along the same ideas I had, plus some. I appreciate the brainstorm. One reason this piece of property appealed to us is that it is so well setup for gravity water collection.

I know cattails are supposed to be great for filtering water. Do you know if they tend to jump ship and invade the yard?

I know you just said suggestions (and I always appreciate suggestions).... While I adore lillies I will never have them again. We had them in a couple of pot ponds at the old place and they are like crack for raccoons. And man, when the raccoons want something, they make a horrible mess. They pulled everything out of the ponds and left them all over the yard. LOL. But I know there are a lot of other plants that would work instead.

I am trying to decide where to put the rain tank(s). I don't think hubby wants anything like that on the deck because of the weight. But I am looking at some that could go half in the ground under the edge of the deck. When we convert from septic to sewer we will have a big space for an in ground tank at the other end of the yard. We will also have grey water coming down from under the deck as well. Just need a few hours of the plumber's time for that and then I can plant the trees for the guilds.


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Main part of pondless water feature here, in front of the downed tree, about where the pile of cement is
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This is the path down from the deck. I have at least 3 downspouts that I can direct under the deck and to the water space
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The main water feature will be on the far side of where the dog is standing. Then I picture some small rain gardens working there way down here, to the lowest levels. These two long narrow terraces will be reshaped to look more natural
 
Tyler Ludens
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Cattail will definitely invade any pond you put them in - I made the dire mistake of putting them in my little frog pond, and they took over and killed some other plants, and are now a maintenance nightmare until I can finally remove them all. So I advise only planting them in a container in which you don't want anything else. I really like Cattail but they need careful placement.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Cattail will definitely invade any pond you put them in - I made the dire mistake of putting them in my little frog pond, and they took over and killed some other plants, and are now a maintenance nightmare until I can finally remove them all. So I advise only planting them in a container in which you don't want anything else. I really like Cattail but they need careful placement.


Thank you! That's just the info I needed. I do the same thing with horsetail rush, which I love (as do the dragonflies).
 
Tracy Wandling
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Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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Ah! You got your thread going about your little slice o' paradise pie! Good. Now we can watch it grow. These are my favorite kind of threads - where we can see things happening, from blank canvas (or rocky, thorny, sandy, or cement canvas, as the case may be ), to all the little details as they emerge. LOVE that photo of the chickadee, and the water feature. Gorgeous. Looking forward to more!

Cheers
Tracy
 
Susan Taylor Brown
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Thanks, Tracy. I still think I am going to start a thread over in the actual projects. I gathered all the photos of the beginning of this into one folder but got overwhelmed trying to figure out where to start.

I adored that water feature. They were so hard to leave when we moved. I did three of them at the old place and I am looking forward to doing them here, on a larger scale. I got excited today as the guys were here trimming the oaks (oh how they shine center stage now) and cutting back the privets by more that half. I have tons of branches and trunks to clean up across the next month. (I am slow.) Best of all we figured out a way to move the overflow water from the raingarden at the top of the hill down the slope to a retention basin/possible vernal pool at the lower yard. That gives me one more place to store water in the ground than I had planned, which is exciting.
 
Tracy Wandling
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I know about the overwhelm! I take a ton of photos to document everything going on around the property, and I had/have a heck of a time organizing them. Sometimes I get a little too creative with the names I give them, too, and can't find them when I want them.

Ground water storage - the permaculturists dream! lol We are looking at that all the time - and it's isn't easy here, with basically sand, sand, everywhere. But we'll get there. Looking forward to your new water features. I'd love to do one in my garden and yard, so I'll keep an eye on yours to see if it'll work for me.

Are you going to do some hugelkultur/buried wood beds with all those trimmings from the privet and oak? That's another great way to store water.

Cheers
Tracy
 
John Polk
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You might like to try one of these Pollinator Guides (PDF).
They have the country divided into about 32 regions, so you should find one for your region.

The first step in creating habitat is to start small - micro organisms and pollinators.
Everything else will grow from there.
Good luck.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
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Thanks, John! Some nice information in those guides.

I am looking forward to getting the major hardscapes done by fall (though there will always be tweaking of things) because I simply can't plant while earth is being moved so many places. And I need to stock up on hundreds of gopher baskets which is really going to make planting slow but it is the only way to give things here a fighting chance.

Tracy, I have one hugelbed done, though I goofed on it and didn't put in enough soil on the top layer so I will build up the sides of that so I can add more dirt. Then, yes, while I have the heavy machinery here, I am going to have him dig 4, I think, retention basin/water feature holes, plus at least three spots earmarked for hugel beds because I really need tons of organic matter around this place. So very dead in the main part of the yard. Big machine guy will also drag all my brush to the back of the property so I can work on it.

Tracy, with regard to photos, I don't know what your method of storage is but I highly recommend Lightroom and giving up renaming photos for tagging them. I have over 75,000 photos in Lightroom right now and they all just have their generic name that comes off the camera or the phone. The trick is that as soon as you import them into Lightroom, you need to tag them. I always start with a few basic tags, dog, bird, water, house, yard. I tag anything that has anything to do with this property with the name of our street. Then Lightroom does a few things for me automatically. It sorts things into virtual folders by months and years. Then, based on the tags, it can set them up in virtual "collections" so that I can click "yard" and see every picture that references this yard. With the last house I was on top of the tagging but since we moved here I have let it get away from me and I will need to devote a couple of days of getting caught up. It is a wonderful way to search for photos based on tags. I do most all of my editing to photos within Lightroom as well. I just love the virtual catalog. And your photos can be, if you want, anywhere on your computer and it can track them for you. A steep learning curve but I have found it invaluable.


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From the deck, looking down at the hugelbed. Only thing really growing is sweet peas and volunteer potatoes and garlic. Septic is under tarp on left so plan is that this space will be for pollinators.
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Most people (who aren't thinking permie) would hate to see that big pile of clippings and branches but I am excited. So much wood for building and leaves for mulching.
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Anne Miller
pollinator
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Susan, the pictures of your place show a lot of potential so I am looking forward to more reports on your progress.

I have a wildlife habitat for deer and hummingbirds. I am working towards creating a butterfly habitat.  Previously we planted bluebonnets and firewheels. With those and the wildflower that grew, it was butterfly heaven.  I hope those same wildflowers will come back next year. I am planning to create a habitat for the butterflies by adding host plants for the specific butterflies that I see in the garden.  The butterflies love the firewheels and the mexican sunflower that we planted this year.

We are the only water source for a square mile or more, so we see lots of wildlife.  We have pans on the ground for the rabbits, armadillos, porcupines and things that can't fly or reach the water tank or bird bath.

I wanted to share this link on butterfly gardening.

Butterfly Garden
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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