Horny Toads

I'm not an expert on the life cycle of the toad but, based on what I'm experiencing on my slice of Inver Grove Heights, the toads were in a loving mood at some point after the spring thaw. 

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Since June every couple steps in my yard results in the scattering of infant and juvenile toads. Mowing the lawn has taken an extra 15-20 minutes as I pause to gently nudge toads on their journey away from the mower deck. 

It's great. 

No, really. It's great.

Besides the obvious benefit of delighting the four-year-old, it's a clear sign that my organic approach to lawn care is paying off in spades. I've never had such an influx of toads. Come to think of it, the only places I've noticed toads in the past were my garden boxes, where the toads would hang out and do toad stuff from time to time. Not coincidentally, my garden boxes were previously the only chemical free space on my property. 

Upon further research, it turns out that frogs and toads have very absorbent skin. Unfortunately, that means they can quickly absorb toxins from the environment, making them extremely sensitive to herbicides, pesticides and other sources of pollution. The fact that the neighborhood toads have chosen my organic lawn as their breeding ground is flattering. In fact, I hope they will choose to spend the rest of their lives here. 

Why? In a three month season, a single toad will consume nearly 10,000 insects. Between my toads and the bat(s) that chill out in my bat house, a fair bite is taken out of the mosquito population without me lifting a finger. Speaking of winged insects. I've also noticed an increase in the number of butterflies that choose to stop by for visits; another beautiful sign that I'm on the right track. 

 

 

New Adventures In Turf Management

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Last autumn (the best season by far, and those who think summer is better can suck it) I detailed a new approach to managing my third of an acre. 

I decided to leave the boulevard for the bees, doing nothing but tossing the occasional bushel of clover seeds at it and providing a regular mowing. No more water, chemicals, etc. wasted on an easement that routinely suffers salt damage during harsh Dakota County winters. 

The front yard would be the showcase, the beneficiary of the chemicals and potable water available to the modern homeowner. 

On the other side of the fence, the backyard would be managed with a hybrid approach, manually removing weeds and adding clover to the mix for its nitrogen fixation properties and drought tolerance. 

As most of my other plans do, this one went out the window early on this "spring". As the local readers of this blog know, we went from a 15 inch snowfall in late April to 90 degree weather by the end of May. The extremes were a shock to the yard as much as they were a shock to my system. 

The usual 4-step fertilizer program for the front yard was scrapped, as was my plan to do some additional overseeding in the front and back. It simply got too hot and too dry too quickly for that to be worth the effort. 

At the same time, I was doing additional research into the drawbacks and benefits of organic lawn care. It turned out there are no drawbacks unless you're the type of person who enjoys wasting time and money applying synthetic chemicals in an unwinnable battle. Let's face it: in the battle of man vs. nature, nature is undefeated. 

I decided to leave the Weed B Gon and Roundup in the shed. For weeds that pop up in my rock and mulch beds, I created my own weed killer out of white vinegar, salt, and dish soap. For extra stubborn weeds I can always turn to my trusty propane torch. For the dandelions and others that I choose to remove, I have a variety of manual tools at my disposal including a dandelion fork and a stand-up weed remover. I pulled a bucket full earlier in the "spring" and have let the occasional dandelion be since then. 

Mother Nature has been filling in some of the salt-damaged boulevard edge with a variety of plants, and the clover I seeded out there last autumn has greened up nicely as a companion to the fescue/bluegrass blend that also resides there. 

The clover in the backyard is in bloom and feels wonderful underfoot. I recently fertilized the entire yard with Milorganite, an organic slow-release fertilizer that is made from the heat-dried microbes that feed on wastewater in the Milwaukee sewer system (not kidding). 

My new plans include overseeding the front yard with microclover (a smaller variety of white clover that blooms less often and grows shorter) and adding additional white clover to the backyard and boulevard this fall.

Learn more about the benefits of clover.

The bottom line: Monocultures are unnatural; trying to maintain one is a waste of time and money. My new approach is healthier for my soil and, more importantly, my family. My one-year-old can put anything from my yard in his mouth without risk of ingesting toxic chemicals, and the cats are no longer put on house arrest after a dose of weed-and-feed. With that said, I'd still prefer that Bradley stop eating mulch.