Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Fifteen

Resuming my highly personal notes on Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012), here’s Chapter Fifteen: Living with Wildlife. Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Small outposts of frog, toad and snake habitat scattered throughout the farm and garden are more important than one large zone. If your landscape is rolling, there will undoubtedly be opportunities for creating terraces, drains, stone retaining walls and other features that will serve nicely as habitat. These will also nurture skinks and lizards, which enjoy sunning themselves as they keep an eye out for bugs.” — Peter Bane


Bear, Nov. 2016

“The farm, if it is successful, will attract many wild birds and animals. This can be a source of joy and also of frustration if their hunger overwhelms your cropping plans. Plants are rooted and stay in one place; animals move around and eat them. You have to remember that what appear in your garden as pests are simply wild animals doing their job. It is easier to respond appropriately if you don’t take predation personally but understand how to counter it. Virtually all of our food crop plants are delectable to wildlife, including parts of the plants that are inedible to us, such as leaves, stems and even roots. And, while plants can defend themselves against insect predation by a variety of internal chemical means that you as the farmer can support, hungry larger animals can and often will eat almost anything that is growing well and within reach — usually at a most inconvenient time.”

Deer (and elk, moose, caribou): Their ecological niche is woodland/meadow edge, like ours. Deer can leap 11 feet if they have running room. To protect against deer, need dogs or fences or both. A fence of 8′ minimum is necessary to deter deer. It’s better if it’s not robust but has a floppy, indistinct top. Deer won’t leap over a barrier they can’s see through. Double fences work well. [We erect a 6′ tall fence of bamboo stakes and fishing line around our vegetable garden each year, for the last 4 or 5 years. The fishing line, of which there are several strands about a foot apart from each other, is basically invisible so it it surprising to run into it. So far, no deer has gotten inside it, and we have lots of deer all over the yard:

fence with gate around planted vegetable garden, 28 May 2017
deer outside the vegetable garden fence, 6 Aug 2017]

A “strategy for fencing offered by permaculture designer Toby Hemenway is to plant vegetation the deer are invited to eat on the outside of your hedge while growing your fruits and other delectables on the inside.”

[We do this as well.]

Foxes and bobcats: A menace to poultry. Good housing, good fencing, and a pair of dogs works well. [We like our foxes, because we suffer from mice and voles and we don’t have chickens or other domestic prey animals.]


Other large predators and garden pests in various parts of the U.S. and Canada: alligator, bear (protect beehives from them), mountain lions; wild rabbits, groundhogs/woodchuck, raccoon (“The raccoon is famous for getting your sweet corn the night before it will be perfectly ripe”), skunks (which eat grubs and snails, and if you have a yellow jacket nest, “[p]ut a few chicken bones by the entrance to the insect nest and the skunk will be drawn to them at night. It will then dig out and ravish the yellow jackets”), squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles (eat plant roots). Daffodils repel voles and should be planted around young trees to protect their roots from being eaten. Use tree guards on young trees to protect against tree girding — chewing all the way around the bark, which can be fatal to trees — by mice, voles, rabbits.

skunk (motion camera), Oct. 2014
raccoon (motion camera), March 2017
neighbour’s cat teasing chipmunk before it killed it, July 2017
barred owl eating a vole, Jan. 2017

Try to attract snakes, which eat rodents, slugs, snails, and raptors of all kinds (protect chickens from them if necessary), which eat rodents and rabbits.

snake attraction: check (Aug. 2014)
hawk killing mourning dove (motion camera), Feb. 2016

Birds: overplant berries and fruits to they can have some.

A few of our many birds:

Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
If damage to the crop is to less than 10% of it, it’s better to tolerate than to mobilise against pests.

It’s easier to see pests (herbivores) than to notice the predators that keep them in check.

Encourage pests’ natural enemies. Confound, confuse, and panic pests. Minimise pests’ habitat. Trap pests.

Diversity helps confuse and disrupt their patterns. Interplanting, patch gardens, varied bloom times and heights, wild edges everywhere. No monoculture.

Small (and beneficial) insect eaters:  dragonflies, frogs/toads, songbirds, turtles, snakes, skunks, yellow jackets (they eat large caterpillars), ladybugs, fireflies, skinks, newts, lacewings, lizards, preying mantis, hoverflies, predatory wasps (ichneumon, chalcid, braconid).  Small ponds help attract some of these — standing water of at least 3′ across is enough. Also, small outposts of frog, toad, and snake habitat scattered around the garden is better than one larger zone.

ladybug on Angelica, June 2016
spotted salamander found in mulch, May 2017
common thread-waisted wasp on allium bloom, Aug. 2017
ichneumon wasp on veronicastrum, July 2014
dragonfly with prey on patio, Sept. 2014
some hoverflies and something else on anemone, June 2014
juvenile grey tree frog on echinacea, Aug. 2014
wood frog, May 2015
eastern American toad in fruit guild, May 2017

Predatory wasps like plants with many small flowers, such as umbels, composites, and crucifers, as well as mints for nectar.

Nectary Sources: Stinging nettles, yarrow, burdock, Queen Anne’s lace, tansy, fleabane, milkweed, oxeye daisy, New England aster, goldenrod (but not intermixed goldenrod).

Osentowski: Plant nectary sources in bio-islands, guilds, habitat patches, as end caps on vegetable gardens, or anchored by a shrub. Grow them in patches, as perches, on edges, distributed around the garden.

Native nectar sources have a well-established relationship with local insects and birds.

Spot Strategies:
Spray beneficial nematodes — microscopic organisms that parasitise  pest insects — over affected areas. Beer for slugs. Spray Safer soap mixed with garlic and cayenne on plants with pests. Blender idea to spread panic: “Where the pest is visible and can be collected, you can also gather a good sampling, liquify them with water in a blender and spray the resulting gory mess back onto the crop under attack. This both spreads diseases specific to the pest and also distributes pheromones signaling predation and death, causing panic and terror among the remainder of the population.”

Clean up fallen fruits.

Moles are OK. They mostly eat insects and won’t eat plants, roots, or bulbs. “They are on your side.”


Featured image (top image) is a pickerel frog near the house foundation, Aug. 2011.

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