Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Help! I've got ants in my plants!

In the back row of one of my raised beds I have evil, red intruders. An enormous nest of fire ants has moved in and has overrun at least half of the bed.


I noticed the soil around the pea seedlings was much higher than it should be so I grabbed a handful of soil and it was alive with ants. After doing a girly squeal, hand fling and dance I realized I have a red ant problem and I don't know how to fix it. I also have an empty square that's begging for something to be planted in it too, but when I dug into it red ants streamed up my Garfield trowel.


I wouldn't say I'm going 100% organic with the vegetable garden, but we are doing our best not to use any unnatural chemicals or pesticides. So dumping a bucket of ant-killing insecticide into my vegetables doesn't appeal to me, but I've lived in Florida long enough to know that fire ants don't move easily. It takes a lot to tick them off. I've never met an organic product that does anything other than amuse the ants or beef them up like they're on steroids. My dad once told me that he treated a fire ant nest with a natural pesticide and the ants threw it back at him in disgust.


Anyone got any suggestions for me? As it stands I'm afraid to go near the garden at this point because it's like a mine field. I've got a sneaking suspicion that there's a sleeper cell of fire ants in my other raised bed too, so my problem is definitely spreading.

Help!

22 comments:

Ribbit said...

The only thing fire ants ever bothered for me were my zipper peas. They would suck all the sap from the flower stem and make it fall off. That's the only plant I've seen them actually 'attack.'

If you're worried, sprinkle some ant bait around the boxes. They may venture out for a snack. I'm sure it's not the perfect solution, but it's at least not in the beds themselves.

Nicolezmomma said...

I have heard that you can spread grits around the ant hole. The ants eat it and then it expands, and then, um, they kind of explode or something.

I have also heard that people tried the grits and they just sat there untouched. If you try it, let us know if it works.

Erin said...

OMG Kate, that B&W ant picture had me laughing! But it's no laughing matter, is it? I don't have anything to offer, but anxious to hear others' thoughts, since we are having reports that fire ants have finally moved northward into our area - we knew they would eventually. Do the chickens eat them? They may destroy your vegetables in the process, but at least they may take out the colony - or are they as susceptible to the venom as we are? Can't wait to see what others suggest - hang in there!

Kate and Crew said...

Ribbit - the only fear I have with that is that the only fire ant killer we've found is pretty powerful stuff. They'd bring it all back into the mound, which is in my veggies, so I dont know if I want to eat stuff grown in that poison.

Nicolezmomma - grits sounds interesting, but not sure it'd do much more than fatten them up. Oh and there isn't an ant hole in our fire ant nests - it's a huge mound with a gazillion holes in it. :(

Erin - I doubt chickens eat them...I think they'd obliterate the garden though.

Stupid red stupid ants. Hmph!

Engineeredgarden said...

No big deal...just water the crap out of their mound a few times, and they'll eventually leave.

Dani said...

Boiling water maybe?

Matt said...

I've had decent luck with food-grade diatomaceous earth. It's sharp (from a tiny ant's perspective) and they don't like it - but it feels like baking flour in your hands. I've also heard of folks adding it to their chicken feed as a worm preventer, but haven't tried it with my chickens.

Ants will farm aphids on your plants, and that causes all sorts of problems. I've lost a few melons and sunflowers to aphids/ants.

Kate and Crew said...

EG - I have watered the garden like mad, but it doesn't seem to phase them. Maybe they're used to flooding around here? We've seen ants make floating nests before...

Dani - am worried boiling water will kill my little seedlings??

Matt - I'd LOVE to find food-grade DE. Been looking for it for the chickens for about a year. I can only get it via mail order and the shipping costs more than the DE.

Guess I'll try soaking them again... and will keep looking for DE.

I went out there today and there are so many ants i could hear them. I got a little hand-rake and sort of poked around in the soil - the noise of the red ants sizzling and dropping off the edge was just gross. And I got all sorts of bitten up. They were crawling up my arms and in my shoes.

WHY IS IT ALWAYS SOMETHING?

Momma_S said...

I haven't had experience with fire ants (although black ants seem to run rampant around here), but I did some quick research for you on Garden Web's pest section, and a lot of people recommend reading about fire ants on the Texas A&M site. Here it is: http://fireant.tamu.edu/

Also, my original search: http://search.gardenweb.com/search/nph-ind.cgi?term=fire+ants&forum=pests&forum_name=Garden+Clinic

Annie's Granny said...

OK, don't panic. Run to the store and buy a box of 20 Mule Team Borax, it's with the laundry detergents. Mix some half and half with table sugar, a couple of tablespoons of each should do, then sprinkle it over the mound. The ants will take it underground and feed the entire colony and they will die. It won't happen like overnight, but it doesn't take long. I had to kill out a dozen or so ant colonies the first year we were in our AZ home, and they have never returned in six years. I tried the purchased and killer first, it didn't work for me.

Kate and Crew said...

Momma_S - awesome link. Thank you VERY much. Pouring thru it now.

Granny - 20 mule team borax?? I LOVE that stuff. I'm old-school 'round here. I make all my own cleaning products and always have a big box of 20 mule team borax in the house!! Will try that for sure. Stupid ants!!!!! Thanks for the "recipe!"

Kate and Crew said...

Granny - I did a quick internet search after reading your recipe and found this: http://www.ehow.com/how_4881566_make-borax-ant-bait.html

It suggested nuking honey and sugar and then adding borax to that liquid if you're worried about the sugar/borax mixture blowing away! Now i have TWO great ideas!

Anonymous said...

Take a clean mason jar and put cooking oil on the inside rim of the jar just a thin film, stir up ants and place jar in the center of the nest,empty jar and re stir nest,replace jar-do this every day until the nest's worker ants are depleted thus killing the nest. Google instructibles search site with keywords Kill AntBeds for GOOD by Howie_D for video of this technique.

sb158 said...

Last year I had fire ants in one of my SWC's. I put about a cup of molasses in about a gallon and 1/2 of warm water, dumped it on the container, and the ants were gone by next morning. Worth a shot; ya never know.

Susan said...

Those pesky fire ants can be very aggravating...especially when you step into their mound by accident. I like the idea about watering them real well a couple of times. I think I'll try that on my mounds.

Amy said...

I do not envy your situation. When we lived in TX the stupid ants would run me out of the garden every-summer (I was a less motivated gardener then). At least I got to harvest most of it before they threw me out of there. Awful awful little creatures those fire ants. It's pretty sad, but when we talk about places to move "do fire ants live there?" is actually part of my criteria.

donna said...

I'm surprised the sight of the Garfield trowel didn't scare them away.

Seriously though, the thought of fire ants around children and pets would scare me. Or does the media make them sound more dangerous than they really are?

I'll be checking back to see how you solve the problem.

donna

Stefaneener said...

I'd do almost anything to kill them. I'm having my own problems with overly-defensive bees in my yard. I'm very unhappy, but at least I have protective gear! I just don't want to have to wear it for planting! Good luck getting rid of them.

Vonnie said...

I',m wondering if you've had any luck. My two year old grandson and I accidentally stirred up a fire ant nest under a pot. Luckily I got the brunt of the attack. We tried grits last year and it seemed to work a little. Our chickens have the run of the place. Since they're feed lots of veggie and fruit scraps, they don't seem to do anything but dig up the straw mulch in my garden. They may be too well fed since they don't seem to be taking any interest in ants. Maybe if they ate them we'd have spicy eggs!

Mike said...

I've run into that same situation here in GA. The only 100% kill method short of chemicals that I've found was boiling water. And I probably dumped a good 10 gallons of boiling water into that mound. I had a propane burner and a big 10 quart pot that I kept refilling and heating up just to a boil(did not need to be a rolling boil, barely boiling is hot enough). It must have killed the queen. The ants spent a couple of days hauling bodies out of the inside of the mound but finally stopped working and the mound died.

Of course if it's near the plants roots, it will probably kill them too would be my guess. Luckily my mounds are typically up against the raised bed borders.

April said...

i have heard about the boiling water, but you've got to make sure the queen gets it otherwise you're just giving them a good flush.
I'm battling with some black ants right now in mine and I just read that cornmeal is a good ant killer. they carry it to the nest, eat it and blow up. it's worth a shot!
someone told me to put cut cucumbers in your garden as they don't like it. it's a myth..they LOVE it. and bring all their friends with them. so don't bother with that attempt!

Tonette Cruise said...

Oh I have the same problem with my seedlings., I think the fire ants like the seeds of my thyme., I tried soaking it in water., there are still ants but not that many anymore., I'll try to put some lemon zest on the top of the soil., because I heard that ants don't like the smell of lemons.,

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