In the evening, in May and early June, as the shadow of the immense oak on the western edge of the farm inched its way across the fields, the tree frogs would begin their nightly chorus. Late June through July brought drought and scorching heat. Weeks went by with no rain. For the first time, a creek beneath a covered bridge on a wooded trail I often walk was dry. The mud had hardened and cracked. In summers past, I stood on the bridge to watch the future frog singers, tiny tadpoles, nibble algae growing on fallen leaves in the cool water. I stood looking down into the dry mud, worrying for the frog population, a vital part of the ecosystem that is especially important to limiting the amount of pest insects on our farm. If the water had all evaporated from this creek shaded by trees and the bridge, then where else would there be habitat for the frogs to lay their eggs?
A photo from last summer of the creek under the covered bridge. This summer the creek went dry.
A puddle on a tarp on our farm became an oasis for frogs, bees and dragonflies. We laid down the tarp between two of our fields to block the weeds from growing. Water leaked from our irrigation systems to constantly replenish a puddle in the lowest part of the tarp covered area. A tint of green revealed the growth of algae, the first sign of life in the puddle, and soon a frog took to bathing in the puddle during the heat of the day. Bees from the neighbor’s hives would flock to the puddle to sip water. Dragonflies in glinting metallic tones of blue and green bent their abdomens as they hovered just above the surface of the puddle, depositing eggs. Like the frogs, the dragonflies voraciously consume mosquitoes and other undesirable insects on our farm. Although small in size, the puddle was a constant hub of activity during the drought, and so I took to calling it the puddle pond.
In the picture above, a frog seeks refuge from the drought in the puddle pond.
This picture above shows the giant oak in the upper right, and in the middle of the picture is the tarp between the two fields, in which the puddle pond formed. The front field has just had a tarp removed and was planted soon after.
Shown above, the puddle "pond" was small in size, but was habitat for a vast array of life.
Perhaps that is why we didn’t notice that the frog had also laid eggs in the puddle pond. A few weeks after we first observed the frog in the puddle, our farm hand, Dustin, noticed tadpoles swimming in the puddle. I watched the tadpoles sprout hind legs, then back legs, gradually becoming frogs. I delighted in their presence on our farm. A puddle that formed accidentally became life-giving to the next generation of frogs.
The time came to move the tarp, and the tadpoles had not yet turned into frogs. I carefully scooped the tadpoles out with a jam jar, transferring them to a five gallon bucket to keep them alive. I added a simple sponge filter from my fish tank for good measure. Over the next couple of weeks, the tadpoles completed their transformation, climbed up the edge of the bucket as frogs, and hopped off to munch on insects throughout the farm.
Suddenly, in late July, a thunderstorm swept through our area. Rain drops the size of marbles pounded down from the sky. A thirty-second run into the outdoors to cover the grill left me utterly drenched, and in thirty minutes our farm received five inches of rain. The creeks flowed with water and puddles were everywhere. At last the drought had ended.
The image above shows a tadpole that has nearly completed its transformation to frog being rescued from the puddle pond.
Photo above: While moving tadpoles from the puddle pond, this baby frog, hatched and grown in the puddle pond, rested upon my finger tip just long enough for me to take this picture.
Questions on the organic farm certification paperwork that I complete each year ask about how our farm contributes to conservation of amphibians (like the frogs) and pollinators (such as the bees). Our farm provides a rich diversity of habitat that sets us apart from the surrounding woods and lawns. We have partial shade areas at the edge of the woods, which is home to a great variety of living things, an ecological concept known as edge habitat. Our puddle pond helped the frogs, bees and dragonflies through the drought. We enjoy watching the birds perch on our tomato cages to search for insects and seeds to eat, and delight to see the hummingbirds feeding from our sunflower crop. Barn swallows nested and raised their young in our barn this spring, and coyotes prowl the edges of our fields, enjoying an open area to better chase their prey. Predators like the coyotes help limit the population of the woodchucks that come to feast on the tender lettuces we grow. The farm provides unique opportunities for many life forms to thrive, and the ecosystem helps keep any one life form from dominating. We manage to produce a lovely bounty for ourselves and our customers, despite the many challenges that organic farming brings. We will definitely make sure the puddle pond forms again next summer, and we will continue to seek other ways to promote biodiversity. Even if you do not have a farm, you can benefit wildlife in your backyard by providing a small water source to benefit the bees and the frogs.
Sterling Organic Farm is a small vegetable and flower farm in Eastern Connecticut that provides food and habitat for pollinators. If you liked this article, you will probably like this organic cotton “bee nice to bees” tote bag which helps support our farm, available for sale on our website by clicking the picture below. We sell flower and vegetable CSA shares throughout the year to customers in Sterling, CT, Foster, RI and Narragansett, RI. Click here to join or to learn more about our CSA.