Friday, March 22

Gardening with nature in mind

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Create a city garden and a habitat friendly for beneficial pollinators and wildlife such as frogs, owls and bats

Celebrate frogs on February 28 with the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s annual awareness initiative, Leap Day for Frogs. South Africans are encouraged to learn more about the importance of frogs in an ecosystem and why they are disappearing from our planet.

Gardeners who know the importance of working with nature grow a variety of nectar and pollen-bearing plants to attract bees, butterflies and fruit and seed-eating birds, and install insect hotels and nesting boxes in their gardens.

Build an insect hotel in your garden. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Frogs, owls and bats are predators that play an important part in our ecosystem, eating insect pests and mosquito larvae for a healthy and balanced ecosystem.

Frogs

Picture: Lukas Otto

The presence of frogs is an indication of a healthy environment. Support Leap Day for Frogs by creating a frog-friendly pond with sloping sides, and rocks and marginal plants to provide shelter from sun and predators. Frogs prefer still water.

Frogs are associated with weather in many cultures. Aboriginal people and Native Americans believed frogs were the bringers of rain. In Japan, frogs are symbols of good fortune.

The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans believed frogs were symbols of life and fertility, and in ancient China, the frog was associated with healing and good fortune.

Many of the frog species in South Africa are endangered because of the destruction of their habitats through wetland drainage, pollution of freshwater systems, urban development and pesticides.

Owls

Picture: Lukas Otto

The owl is the sacred bird of Athena, Greek goddess of knowledge and of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom. Owls feature in many of Shakespeare’s stories. Julius Caesar had his death foretold by the hooting of an owl.

Owls are mainly nocturnal birds of prey, hunting mice, rats, mole rats, crickets, beetles and lizards from perches on street lights, telephone poles and chimneys.

They have forward-facing eyes and can swivel their heads to look behind them. Their excellent hearing enables them to hear moving prey.

Cape Town has several owl species including the spotted eagle owl, barn owl, Cape eagle owl, marsh owl and wood owl. The spotted eagle owl is the most common owl in southern Africa and is found roosting in trees, among rocks and in buildings.

It can be distinguished from the Cape eagle owl by the fine barring on the breast. Owls also nest in holes in dead trees.

An owl box would be a good substitute in a secluded part of the garden and facing away from rain. A bedding of pea gravel or pine needles that forms a “nest” will stop the eggs from rolling around.

Bats

Picture: Sally Dixon

Bats are protected by law and play an important part in our ecosystem by controlling the insect population. The Incas protected bats because of the value of the guano they spread on their crops.

Today, guano is prized by organic growers of vegetables, flowers and fruit. Of the 56 bat species found in South Africa, 12 are found in the Western Cape.

Fruit-eaters are larger in size with dog-like faces that use their sight and smell to pollinate and disperse seed of fruit trees (mango, guava, fig, paw-paw).

The baobab tree is dependent on bats for pollination. Insect-eaters are smaller and locate their food source by sound. Bats are found in trees, in abandoned buildings, in caves and under house eaves.

Two species that will roost in bat boxes in the garden are the yellow house bat and the tiny Cape serotine bat (Neoromicia capensis). Mount a bat box on a pole or under the eaves of a house. For more details about Leap Day for Frog click here.

Firmly focused on forests

Forests keep water, soil, air and people healthy. Picture: Etienne Cremer

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation hosts the 2019 International Day of Forests on March 21. The theme is Forests and Education. Forests are an important role in a number of critical challenges we face, including climate change, global food production and creating more sustainable urban and rural communities.

How can you get involved?

◆ Design a T-shirt. Youth from five to 19 can design a T-shirt which illustrates the forest theme. Six finalists will be chosen. See FAO’s Facebook page. Closes February 28.

◆ Make a video and win an action camera. Students from 15 to 25 are invited to make a one-minute video that teaches others about the importance of forests and trees. Upload your video to YouTube and email the link with a description of the video, your name, date of birth and country to IDF@fao.org. Closes March 15. To learn more, see: www.fao.org/international-day-of-forests/en/

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