Following plant life, animals in a permaculture garden are necessary for the ecosystem to flourish. They keep pests in check, pollinate flowers, fertilize your garden for you, and in some cases be eaten. Always encourage biodiversity in your area by creating plenty of diverse habitats. The closer your garden resembles the edge of two or more ecosystems, the more biodiversity will occur. For a healthy ecosystem in your backyard, consider these animals and their needs to encourage a neighborly relationship:
Okay I get it, you don’t like them. They might creep you out, but unless you live in a tropical climate, it is unlikely that any venomous snakes live in your area. In any case, leave them alone and they will likely slither away as soon as they notice you approaching. Let’s be honest, snakes are more scared of you than you are of them. They’ll eat chipmunks, mice, large insects, or any variety of garden pests that might get to your food before you do. In most cases, they notice you before you notice them, and the same holds true for their prey. A woodpile or rock wall creates the perfect hiding places to attract our slithering serpentine friends. Another advantage of rock walls is they provide warmth, as they are cold blooded and are therefore more active with warmer temperatures.
Truth be told, I just really love chicken. Wings, breast, legs, I’ll eat it all. Problem is farm style chicken chop shops provide way too many opportunities for food born illness to creep into my food, and it seems ethically iffy at best. Instead, it might be a good idea to let your chicken out of the coop during the day, stretch their legs, forage for some tasty insects to eat, and help fertilize your garden. Chicken manure is a common organic fertilizer, so why not let them fertilize your garden for you? They’ll munch on pesky slugs and caterpillars while fertilizing the plants while they’re at it. Pest control, fertilizer, and tasty on the grill, and when healthy will keep you supplied with eggs, a couple chickens fair well in a permaculture garden. Ironically enough, they might even hunt, kill and eat some of the smaller snakes in your garden, keeping the population in check. As always, balance is the key in permaculture, so always attempt to keep only as many animals as you can adequately feed.
3. Wild Birds
They can be both a bother and a life saver, depending on the species. Some may even be both. Allowing a large variety of species to flourish in the garden keeps local insect and vermin populations in check while assisting in spreading seeds. Unfortunately, the latter means a loss in yield, so passive deterrents such as a netting around berries can sometimes become necessary. Birds also come in a variety of colors and add sound to your landscape, so keep that in mind when attempting to attract certain species. Birds of prey, such as eagles, hawks, owls and ospreys often find shelter in tall trees, but some species (mainly eagles and hawks) are so large that they have been known to attack small deer, so keep any livestock sheltered. Many will happily swoop down and take out some small mammals or other birds as they come out of hiding both night and day. Allowing for adequate roosts will ensure birds of all sorts will fly by for a visit. Bluebirds, sparrows, nighthawks, phoebes, and many smaller species will attack on caterpillars, grasshoppers, moths or other insects that would otherwise wreak havoc on plants in your garden. Keeping bushy, low lying plants will keep these fly-by-day insect eradicators as useful neighbors and give them shelter.
2. Lady Bugs
Besides being attractive to look at and universally revered as lucky, ladybugs are inept at keeping nuisance aphid populations at a minimal level. Though deterrents may be used, aphids will inevitably find their way into your garden. Fortunately, there are ways to invite our ladybug friends over for dinner. Keeping a warm area for the ladybugs to stay during cold nights has been known to create infestations of the tiny beetles. It has been noted that ladybugs are attracted to the color white, especially by small flowers such as cilantro or overwintered carrots. If suddenly one day you see thousands of ladybugs congregated in a windowsill, leave them alone. They do no structural damage and are only resting. Not to mention it is extremely good luck and they will leave as soon as it is warm enough.
This is the point where the list turns from helpful to necessary. Both butterflies and bees pollinate flowers (along with male mosquitoes and some fly species, but who wants those?) and are attracted to bright colors. Keeping flowers nearby fruiting vegetables will serve as a beacon for these insects to frequent. Without these species present, many plants including cucumbers, squash, broccoli, cauliflower amongst many others will never produce fruit. It is a complex and deep symbiosis between flowers and insects and should be celebrated in the garden. Artificial pollination is often still possible, but these insects will always do a better job. Less work for you, more color, and interesting animal movement in the garden is always a plus. For those with enough space and resources, beekeeping can be a great hobby and the honey contains antibiotics that help combat seasonal allergies (as long as it is locally produced).
All in all, proper animal identification and encouraging a vibrant, biologically diverse ecosystem will help increase overall yield in a permaculture garden. Without them, many necessary processes would not occur and pests would overrun the garden. Before resorting to expensive and costly (environmentally and financially) control methods, consider having some other species over for lunch. A well balanced ecosystem and permaculture design will allow minimum effort to result in maximum yields for as long as the ecosystem stands. As with anything, observe, plan, design and build according to the resources available in your area.