Native Wildlife & Food Gardens
“If I encourage native wildlife into my backyard, can I grow my fruit and veggies and eat them too?”
Having a wildlife friendly backyard with resident possums and native birds doesn’t mean you can’t have a productive food garden as well. In fact many of our native wildlife species are actually beneficial in a food garden and can help with free, natural pest control and pollination. So they are more likely to enhance rather than hinder your fruit and veggie production.
By attracting and working with different native wildlife species you can also minimise your need for and use of harmful chemical pesticides, which damage your soil and kill non target species. The poisoning of insects with chemicals can also have negative impacts on larger species higher up in the food chain. Frogs and small birds would suffer a reduced food supply due to the reduced insect population, or they may become sick or even die after consuming poisoned insects.
Beneficial WildlifeMicro Bats
Micro-bats are a group of small nocturnal bats (less than 12cm in length) that feed predominantly on insects. Micro bats can consume approximately one third of their body weight in insects (including mosquitoes) each night. Encouraging micro-bats into your garden by providing roosting opportunities, such as putting up a bat box or leaving older trees with hollows, will provide a free natural insect control program every night of the year.
Tip: If you don’t have any large trees, hang your bat box on a pole in or near your veggie garden.
Insect Eating Birds -
- By planting a variety of locally native flowering and fruiting plants in your garden you will attract a diversity of native bird species.
- Robins, scrubwrens, flycatchers, thornbills, pardalotes and tree creepers feed predominantly on insects. Combining native plants and food plants in your garden will help to attract “good bugs”. It will also assist in directing “bad bugs” away from your fruit and veggies, These bad bugs will then be kept under control by the insect-eating birds that your plant choices have attracted!
- Many nectar eating birds such as honeyeaters, miners, friarbirds and wattle birds also eat insects. In many cases up to 70% of a honeyeater’s diet can be insects.
- Butcher birds and magpies will also help with the control of larger pests like snails, slugs and caterpillars
- Frogs help with the control of insects, beetles and moths. Frogs and tadpoles also eat mosquitoes and mosquito larvae
Some insect species are beneficial to food and native gardens and are needed to pollinate flowers to produce fruits, vegetables and seed for both our own consumption, wildlife consumption and future germination of new plants.
- Honey bees and especially native bees are fantastic pollinators with the added benefit of producing honey.
- Australia has ten species of social native stingless bees that would pose no threat to humans in a garden. Two of these species, Trigona carbonaria and Austroplebeia australis are often kept in nests or hives in suburban backyards.
- A group of beneficial wasps to have in your garden is the parasitic wasps. While usually quite small in size, these wasps assist in the control of aphids and caterpillars. They do this through their parasitic process of laying eggs in a host animal that will subsequently die.
- One species of wasp lays her eggs in the caterpillars of species such as the cabbage white butterfly, where it develops to the pupae stage before emerging from the host. A second wasp species lays its eggs in adult aphids, that act as a kind of incubator before the young wasp eats its way out.
- Ladybirds and hoverflies are both good natural controllers of aphids. Hoverflies will actually lay their eggs on or near a plant that has an aphid problem. After hatching the young hoverflies then feed on the aphids.
All of these are just a few examples of the roles and relationships different species have in your garden. There are many more species - spiders, beetles, insects and worms – that will also positively contribute to your garden ecosystem.
Protecting your veggie patch and food garden
There are a combination of ways you can protect your food garden from pest insects, birds and larger species such as possums, fruit bats, brush turkeys and bandicoots.
- ensure you provide an alternate natural food source by planting a mix of locally native plants in your garden. Pest species and wildlife are often drawn to our food gardens because there are no alternate native food sources.
If your backyard friends have already developed a taste for your fruit and veggies then the provision of alternate native food sources for them in addition to excluding them from your fruit and veggies may be the best option.
Tips and Ideas
- Bird netting can be placed over individual fruit trees to deter birds, possums and fruit bats.
- To prevent birds, possums and fruit bats from beating you to the ripening crop, homemade or commercial netting and material bags can be tied over individual or groups of fruit (e.g. bananas) while they are still hanging and ripening on trees.
- In small veggie gardens and raised beds where pest insects are a problem, plants (such as leafy greens) that don’t need pollination can be planted together under insect netting. A removable frame can be erected by pushing pieces of either electrical conduit, poly pipe or flexible agricultural irrigation pipe over timber or bamboo garden stakes and securing netting over the top. The netting can be anything that will let enough light into the garden but still have holes smaller enough to exclude pest insects. Many garden centers and organic garden suppliers sell special insect netting for this purpose, or you can use an old curtain or open weave shade cloth.
- For veggie gardens and raised beds with plants that do require pollination by insects but need to exclude larger species, the same frame can be erected with an open weave bird netting. For the safety of birds and other wildlife it is best to pull this netting tight over the frame and secure it to the ground or frame of your garden bed. Ensuring the netting is tight will prevent animals from becoming entangled in the netting. Securing the netting at the base will minimise the opportunity for access under the netting. If some larger wildlife species persist in climbing on the netting a little bit of slack can be created between the frames; this creates an insecure footing that will deter species such as possums. Alternatively, a lightweight chicken wire can be used in place of the bird netting.
Smaller non-permanent structures can be erected over all or part of your veggie patch using timber or bamboo stakes crossed at each end with a another stake laid horizontally between them. Netting or shade cloth can be draped over this structure.
Below are examples of a fully enclosed walk-in veggie garden design. Since it protects the food garden completely, landholders can continue to attract wildlife onto their properties without worrying about their homegrown food supply. In the example star pickets were placed in the ground and semi flexible ag pipe pushed over the top. The pipe was then bent over and secured to the house to create the frame. Mesh netting was secured to the frame with the aid of wire that was strung horizontally between the pipe.
For Further InformationLinks and Other Resources
Become a food producer or the farmer of your hoursehold.
Check out our Living Smart Food Module.
challenges, tools and games.
Useful Tips and Facts
- Create urban wildlife corridors and stepping stones to larger local bushland or parkland areas.
- In nature there is no such thing as waste everything is linked and contributes to the cycle. As a plant reaches the end of its life cycle it is not discarded by nature, instead it provides habitat for animals and food for micro-organisms as it lies on the ground, the waste from the micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi feeding on it replace nutrients and organic material to the soil for new plants to grow.
- Plant local native species
- The best way to attract native wildlife to your backyard is to provide a variety of healthy natural foods in the form of seeds, leaves, flowers, nectar, pollen, fruits and nuts throughout the year.
- The use of pesticides and herbicides can damage your soils and kill non target species. The poisoning of insects with chemicals can also cause larger species relying on those insects as a food source to become sick or even die from eating poisoned insects.
- To create habitat for smaller native birds you can grow shrubs close together to create dense corners or pockets in your garden which will provide protection and refuge from larger aggressive birds such as noisy miners
- Wattles (Acacias). While most wattles only live between 6 - 10 years, they are an important pioneer species which colonise disturbed areas, where other plants find it hard to grow. They improve soil conditions enough to allow other species to germinate and thrive by fixing nitrogen into the soil through their roots and adding high levels of organic leaf litter.