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Raising Frogs to Eat Bugs

Posted by John Zydowicz 
Raising Frogs to Eat Bugs
February 15, 2013 10:38AM
I was listening to a gardening show on the radio last year, and the guest was talking about raising frogs in a 55 gallon barrel/drum to eat bugs in his garden. From his two barrels, he estimated raising several hundred frogs, and by the middle of the season, they were all over his plants (and house). This really struck a chord with me, as I was working at a vineyard in Wisconsin a couple years ago, and during the summer when the leafy growth became thick and shaded the interior of the vines’ canopies, tree frogs would start to appear in really high numbers. I assume the frogs must be eating something, so why shouldn’t they be eating troublesome insects like codling moth and apple maggot out in the orchard?

So I called Roger, the guest from the radio show, and asked him about his methods. Here’s what he told me:

Once the weather starts to warm, with highs consistently in the 70’s (he said mid-May to early June, but he’s in Southwest Wisconsin zone 5 or maybe 4, so adjust timing accordingly), fill a 55 gallon barrel up with water to about 2-8 inches from the top.
He started to see eggs/tadpoles appear after a few days to a couple weeks. Apparently the frogs managed to find the barrel easily, but this could vary based on how close you are to water sources. The goal is to let some algae start to grow, which will feed the tadpoles early on. He added some aquatic plants for shade too.
Next, throw some edible leafy scraps in the barrel. Lettuce would work great. You’d have to ask a frog specialist to know their diet, but if it’s edible to us, it will probably be edible for the tadpoles. This might be early beet picking time in the garden, so if you don’t like the greens, throw them in the barrel. 5-10 good sized leaves should be enough to partially cover the surface, but don’t overdo it.
The tadpoles will grow quickly, and soon you’ll need to add a protein source. He uses fish flakes, although leftover meat scraps, or maybe even corn would work too. Mosquito larvae will also start to grow during this time, and the tadpoles might feed on them while they are small. As an additional way to keep mosquito numbers down, Roger added a goldfish to the mix, but only after the tadpoles were large enough to not get eaten.
He suggested changing the water every week or two. Maintaining enough air in the water is probably the big reason. Put a screen over the end of the tube or hose to prevent sucking up the tadpoles.
After a couple months, frogs should begin to emerge and find a home in the trees (hopefully apple maggots, moths/larvae, and aphids will be their housewarming feast).

Maybe this all seems a little unnatural, and it is, but I see it as similar to putting up a birdhouse, and it will help build up the amphibian population. If this works, maybe building a small pond adjacent to the orchard could sustain a larger population in a less controlled habitat. Eventually, adult frogs should overwinter under brush and leaves around the orchard, and if everything goes as I hope, they’ll be out in spring to eat earlier insects like plum curculio. How’s that for “insecticide residual activity”?

This works well as a kind of recycling scheme too, as we accumulate 2-3 of the 55 gallon drums every year (liquid fish is shipped in them), and they wouldn’t have many other uses (effective microbe brewing vessel is another option). Cutting the tops off with a sawzall works pretty well, and I suspect the rather unpleasant fishy residue on the inside of the barrel actually helps make the barrels a more frog-friendly pond-like environment. As for placement, that will take some experimenting. Shady areas beneath the trees would probably work best, with easy hopping access to branches and leaves. Roger suspects the frogs have no trouble moving up and down the side of the barrel to go where the bugs are, so it might not matter too much. Overheating the water could be a definite problem, though, so in an open area, some shade cloth (or an umbrella) hanging above the barrel would probably be helpful. Painting the barrel white will help reflect some light too.

I’m planning on trying this with two barrels this season. I’ll see how it goes and report back!
Has anyone else tried to encourage amphibians in the orchard? Or have you seen frogs out on your trees? I'd like to hear your experiences.

All credit for the idea goes to Roger Reynolds. His website is www.infiltratinglandscapes.blogspot.com

Orchard Ridge Farms
Zone 5a in northern Illinois
Re: Raising Frogs to Eat Bugs
February 19, 2013 07:21AM
John, now you have got us thinking!

We just posted a message about Codling Moth control, and said how we have much better control at one orchard compared to the other. And we said the only difference between the two orchards was topography, and thought maybe that explained the difference.

But there is another difference - at the Kalangadoo orchard there is a naturally high population of Brown Tree frogs (Litoria ewingi), and at the OB Flat orchard, we have never seen a tree frog in the 20 years we've been involved there. No swamps nearby at OB Flat, lots of swamps around the Kalangadoo orchard.

Come to think of it, we see a lot more spiders with webs spanning 3 to 4 metres between the trees at Kalangadoo compared to OB Flat. Don't know why!
Re: Raising Frogs to Eat Bugs
February 28, 2013 05:38PM
I bet that might have a lot to do with the differences between the sites. Cool! I wish there was some way to test how much of a difference the frogs make, but it'd be pretty difficult. Maybe the Kalangadoo orchard just supports more wildlife in general (including spiders)?

I realized another thing about that vineyard just now. Yes, it is close to the river (maybe 500-1000 meters), but it is far above and on a very steep slope where I consistently saw the frogs. So steep in fact that there are cacti growing in some of the rows, and we found rattlesnake skins close by. Above the vineyard is forest covering a steep, rocky hilltop. I assume the woods harbor plenty of the frogs, but out in the vineyard it is very dry, so I suspect the frogs would hang out in the vines where there was plenty of moisture. So in arid climates, I bet frogs look for these oases to conserve moisture, which happens to be exactly where we want them. The downside, though, is that excess humidity could also mean disease, so maybe there's a balance to be struck.

Orchard Ridge Farms
Zone 5a in northern Illinois
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