Meet one cog in the complicated wheel of organic management, the American toad. Voracious predators of insects, beetles, and other pests, toads are a valued presence in our growing areas. A full discussion of organic methods is beyond the scope of a quick blog post on toads, so I’ll attempt to keep this brief and relevant.
Natural ecosystems and very robust and self-regulating. Generally speaking, they manage themselves quite well. “Pests” are partly a human creation, in the sense that we create unusual conditions through our agricultural methods that encourage the surrounding ecosystem to go out of balance. A large, dense population of a single plant (the crop) will naturally attract a large, dense population of the pest that is attracted to that single crop, and if we wish to harvest that crop we will have to deal with the pest situation we’ve helped create.
Encouraging the presence of natural predators such as toads and spiders in our growing areas helps us balance the inevitable imbalance. Natural predators are especially good at preventing problems from arising in the first place, as they can react to pests’ populations far more quickly and sensitively than I can. A resident toad will be far more in tune with the local insect world than I ever will be. On the other hand, while regular applications of chemical sprays will certainly deal with any immediate pest problem, they also eliminate most of the natural predators of the overall pest population, meaning that the sprays become the only control and become more and more necessary over time. Toads and spiders cannot easily survive in an environment where their food has been eliminated and they themselves have been poisoned.
So how do we encourage toads? Our log-built raised beds are a significant factor. Toads like small, dark holes to hide in, and the junctions between logs are a common and popular lair for them. In the photo below, the lower right corner of the bed creates a natural hollow in which the toad in the photo above has set up residence. In other areas, a few rocks piled up to create an internal hollow makes a great toad home. Most importantly, though, we don’t do anything to discourage them. Basic predators like toads, spiders, birds, and bats are everywhere except where we eliminate them due to development, chemical application, and so on. Keeping our artificial growing areas compatible with the surrounding natural ecosystem is one of the keys to organic management. And I never get tired of seeing a fat toad hop through a bed, knowing he’s stuffed with pests. Read more about Missouri toads and frogs on this MDC website.