Return of the Amphibians

It’s been a remarkably cold spring. It wasn’t until mid-day on Saturday that the spring peepers in the swamp started singing. Spring peepers are a sure sign that maple syruping season is coming to a close and that springtime has arrived at last.

The memo must have gone out to all the amphibians on the farm, as they came out in force with the oddly warm, moist weather that day. A frog had dug its way out of the soil in one of our high tunnels, leaping and bounding as I pulled back the frost covers for watering. It’s sleek, blackish body and golden mustache set off the glistening eyes. A few more leaps and it had squeezed out from under the sidewall and was gone.

That evening, Kara took pictures of more amphibian friends emerging and dashing about in the new warmth, including a pebbly toad and two salamanders.

The next morning, while dead-heading the flower beds in front of Farmstead, a toad wriggled out from under the brittle leaves. The day was cooler, and she was moving very slowly, especially when the chilly wind met her skin. She clamped her eyes closed and wriggled back under the leaves. I helped by piling a few more on top and placed a distinctive rock nearby so as to remember her position and not step on her as I worked.

Amphibians are a welcomed sight on the farm. Not only because they are insect eaters but because they are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. With their delicate, permeable skin, amphibians are the first to disappear when an ecosystem becomes toxic or disturbed. These little friends appreciate the haven they have here at our farm and how we work together to build an environment that is nurturing for domestic and wild friends.

Last night the peepers were singing again, determined to find a mate even with the oncoming cold snap. The tiny radishes, arugula, and spinach in the high tunnel are covered once more, and unless the frog made its way to the creek, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s back under those covers as well, waiting for the next warmup.

Helping pollinators and amphibians during this transition to spring is important. It’s part of why we’re told to let our gardens “sleep in” during early spring. Waiting for temps to be in the 50’s for several days before deadheading or disrupting the soils is important for letting pollinators hatch that have made their home in hollow stems or dried leaves and gives the frogs and toads a chance to come out of their burrows in the soil. Burning, chopping, or crushing the leaf matter before this time destroys those overwintering pollinators, and early plowing or tilling would likewise destroy the shallow soil burrowers.

Fortunately for the shiny frog, we had only turned the soil in the high tunnel with a hand fork, not a tiller, and it seems we luckily missed his burrow. And I’m glad the toad in the flower bed was awake enough for me to see her, so she could be relocated to a safer spot.

Another amphibian memory was as winter was approaching, and we were processing turkeys. Next to the butchering station, we had rolled a large log that I used to stand on, so I could hold the turkeys at a good height for Steve. We were thinking of moving the log a bit to the right, but when we rolled it over, there was a little, cold salamander who had made its home underneath. We rolled the log back where it was and carried on. There was no questions about which was more important—the salamander needed its home.

Amphibian species are under threat all over the world, from industrialization, pollution, climate change, and more. As individuals, our everyday actions and choices make a difference for the amphibians in our community. Making kind choices for them matters in order to keep their biodiversity as part of our environmental web.

This week, we celebrated Earth Day with our amphibian friends, who likely had no idea it was Earth Day! As you bring the spirit of Earth Day with you through the rest of the year, remember the amphibians, and see what you can do to help them thrive. See you down on the farm sometime.