Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ants in my plants

Last year I reported that I had bumbles in my hole, but this year's infestation seems to be along the lines of smaller, less cutesy critters.

Yesterday I planted a bunch of herbs (more on that in a later post) and was about to plant some vegetable seedlings into one of my raised beds, the one that hosts all those strawberries except for the back row, when low and behold as I was amending the soil I noticed an enormous ant infestation. Greenpa, do you know something I don't?

I do have a bit of an aphid infestation on my oregano, which I'm working on, à la a mixture of soap, water and oil. Hopefully, clearing up the aphid population will help get rid of the ants and, thus, no more ant on aphid anal action. I'm not that desperate for entertainment. Anyway, I sprayed some "natural" mint oil stuff on the little buggers today in hopes that it will make them go away.

Does anyone have any other recommendation for getting rid of ants in vegetable gardens that is safe for growing food crops? The ants are those little tiny brownish ones. I don't mind a few ants here and there, but these suckers are swarming.


Anonymous said...

I have ants and aphids on my little apple tree. Everything that I've read has said that you really have to get rid of the ants to have any chance of getting rid of the aphids, as the ants farm the aphids. On the apple tree, I just put a strip of tape, sticky side out, around the base of the tree trunk; the ants can't climb over it. Without the ants, the aphids are easier. However, this solution may only have been possible because there's only a single stalk to worry about. If your oregano is in a tub, perhaps you could do it around the tub lip?

Anonymous said...

Pouring boiling water on the ants will destroy them and not hurt the soil. This assumes that there are no other plants around - because the boiling water will kill plants as well.

United Studies said...

I need help getting them out of my house!

Howling Hill said...

Chickens eat ants but if that isn't an option you can try cream of tarter, though that will become expensive.

Put the cream of tarter around the base of the plant (or around your house). As the ants walk through it they die.

Anonymous said...

My mother swears if you plant tansy, the ants will stay away. Unfortunately I am one of those people who gets a rash from tansy so I can't grow it.

Anonymous said...

Crunchy - I'm very interested in what works for the garden - I'll be checking back here.....I will be calling an exterminator today - as sadly all the natural attempts I have made have failed and carpenter ants have infested a portion of the house near another window that needs to be replaced. I'm totally not happy about it - but I refuse to let them literally eat my home....(and I know they aren't termites)

Anonymous said...

I've had success with diotomaceous earth for aphids, but nothing has worked for ants for me. I've just started trying a bait mixture of borax, sugar, and water, but don't have a lot of hope.

Joyce said...

Borax has worked well for me. You ementioned it's a raised bed (I think), and if it's been very wet, they may be there because the water table is high and they are try to find a dry place.

Cave-Woman said...


Put dry grits on the ant bed. The workers take the grits back to the queen. When the grits are eaten, they absorb the fluid in the digestive tract of the ant---and then you have ant explosions.

I have had variable success with this technique. Worth a try.

The Hot Boiling Water does work---but only on a VERY cool morning. They ants rise to the surface to get warm. You pour the water, and it boils the majority of the nest.

Once you've gotten most of the nest gone, then go with the grits.

Jennifer said...

I'll second food grade diatomeceous earth and borax.

For the borax, just mix with honey and place in little lids around your garden.

Cave-Woman said...

Forgot to add one thing...

Check to find out first if the ants in your bed are your native species and if they offer a challenge to your crops.

If they are your natives, and have no interest in your crop, it would be fine to leave them be.

I leave the little black ants alone in my neck of the woods, since they are the native species.
However, when I see Fire Ants I kill those little monsters since they are damaging so many things down here. ( Mainly a tortoise species that I'm committed to conserving.)


Anonymous said...

I soak small square of bread in a mix of borax (just a teaspoon or less), sugar, & water and set it where the ants will find it. They swarm it for a day or so then poof no more ants. For grease eaters I use olive oil instead of the sugar for the same result. I hear from my Mother-in-law that cornmeal will also kill ants as they cannot digest it. I have no experience with this one.

Anonymous said...

I'm putting my vote in for boiling water. Last week I was tilling the soil for tomatoes when I disturbed an ant colony. Two kettles full of boiling water right in the hive got rid of them.

Greenpa said...

2 things. 1) Borax- or boric acid, which is stronger, and can usually be bought in a pharmacy- are pretty good ant remedies. But it's not totally safe; do keep it out of reach of kids and pets. Yes, boric acid is/was often used as "eye-wash" - but that's pretty much an "external" use; if somebody in the family eats it, it will not be good for them.

2) Ants tending big exploding aphid populations on apple trees was exactly the situation that first taught me to - grit my teeth, and leave them alone.

Why are there SO many different remedies for aphids on apples? How about- the aphid populations pretty much always collapse in a couple weeks- whether you do anything, or not?

Sure, there can be exceptions to that- you might be the unlucky one with tenacious aphids. But 9 times out of ten- "oh my gosh, the aphids are killing my precious apple trees!" "Uncle Harry says if you spray them with water used to wash socks- works every time!" so you wash some socks; spray the water- and a week later, the aphids are gone. Hey, it works!

I played with the aphids on my 200 young apple trees for years. Soap, etc. More aphids, every year. Finally, I had one of the top organic nurserymen in the country visiting- known for his organic apples- and he looked at them, shook his head, and said I really really had to do something about those aphids. He should know, right? He was also a friend, and someone whose intellect I respected highly.

And he was wrong. I couldn't get out there with the soap spray right then- too many other emergencies. It was 2 weeks. I mixed up the soap, got it into the back-pack sprayer, went out to tackle my chore- and-

The aphids were all gone. All. gone. Without me lifting a finger. These days- I can go years without seeing an aphid in the orchard.

Now- there were 200 trees- not one or two in a suburban backyard, but 200 8 year old standard apples in a highly complex environment.

This grit your teeth thing may NOT work if the environment is too simple. But- if you have healthy birds and bugs around- it might. Just wait. The more aphids there are- the more reason for their predators to start focusing on them. Really.

Chile said...

FWIW, the boiling water trick does not work here in the desert. I've tried it numerous times on small and large ants with zero success.

Kristijoy said...

I think that if they are not eating your crop, that leaving them be is best. If they are actually swarming, like, with wings and all, you just wait for it to pass, annoying but temporary. Ant colonies can me up to a mile in diameter. Just getting rid of the few in yer yard won;t always make much of a difference. Aphids, man, We get so many here in the roses and the birch trees in downtown Portland, I have just given up growing cruciferous foods. Seriously. I hate those little buggers. Ant, as long as they are not in my food, I just let 'em be.

Wendy said...

This weekend, my sister just killed a huge mass of sugar ants with dish detergent (seventh generation brand, actually) in water. 5 squirts in a Nalgene bottle and they died almost instantly.

Your ants may be more hardy than sugar ants, though. I just posted about the grits myself last week because I've heard that works (if you don't have massive amounts of them). You just need to make sure to sprinkle the grits on dry ground when it isn't going to rain for a day or two.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

i have tried borax and sticky tape for ants with quite a bit of success. i have seen what seems to be a viral plant infection where aphids are and i am thinking they may vector it, for i use a very dilute soap spray (1/4 tsp dawn or palmolive--they are the best de-greasers)in a quart of water sprayed on in the evening. with particularly tender plants i hose off the leaves in the am. the basic aphid removal is just water spray. works ok if ants aren't planting the little guys. my favorite ant killr is 8 oz of the cheapest rot-gut vodka you can find with 50 drops peppermint essential oil (not the flavoring found in the baking aisle of the grocery) in a spray bottle. assuming you think vodka is safe around people, you can spray your kitchen cupboards and food. the strong smell seems to somewhat disrupt their scent trails, and the vodka, well if you spray them directly they twitch--tiny seizures? this is only a contact poison. no twitching once it dries.

JessTrev said...

interesting thread - especially greenpa's examples of live and let live - we have swarms of sugar ants yearly and i tend to just ignore them. tried a bunch of natural remedies like cinnamon to block their paths etc but i have really just come to ignore them. but my dh loathes them so and has come to associate my composting (my new love!) with his ant hatred so i better step it up a notch or i will lose my composting tub! reading with avid interest. let us know what works!

Kelsie said...

Yep. I agree with whoever said the swarming is only temporary. Swarming happens, I think, when several new queens (or "princesses" as we call them) are ready to leave the nest. I'm not sure why, but the entire colony seems to get involved in this farewell. It only lasts for a few days. Other reasons for swarming might be that one colony is warring with another over territory. I'd just leave them be. They'll settle down once you're done digging and/or the princesses have left town. :)

Robj98168 said...

Ants are high in protein... Thousands of bears can't be wrong!what you aren't gonna harvest them and eat them???
I have always heard that borax works wonders. My mom used to put sugar in a jar and trap the little buggers before she broke down and bought poison. Hey it was the 60's

Anonymous said...

I have had a lot of success with orange oil, but I don't think it's safe for use directly on plants. Google would know!

Anonymous said...

Cinnamon in their path stopped them coming in my house -- I could actually see them walk up to it, get annoyed and give up (get a big container at a bargain store). Maybe you could guide them to an unfriendly neighbor's house with cinnamon paths?

Boiling water worked to kill parts of the colony here in Denver. It was a little sad to watch them bring up all the corpses, though.

The article you linked to said spiders are their predators ... be extra careful not to kill off spiders! Good luck.

Andrea said...

I've also heard that spent coffee grounds work. I don't think it kills the ants, just causes them to move on. You might be able to use that technique to suggest to them that your raised beds aren't the best place for them. And the coffee grounds will be good for the soil.

Wendy said...

I had ants for a while. I left them alone. They didn't eat my plants. I don't know what they ate, but I didn't have an infestation with anything else. I think I would find out what they eat, and if they weren't in competition with me for food, I'd just leave them. I guess I've just found that the more diverse my eco-system, the better it is.

Kunstler talks about simple and complex systems in his book The Long Emergency. He's talking, specifically, about our society and our desire to make everything more "efficient", which has actually weakened us. I've taken that information a bit further and applied it to my surburban eco-system. The more complex and diverse, the better able it will be to sustain itself, and ultimately, me. So, I leave all little critters alone. It all balances out in the end, and so far, we've never starved.

Gypsy Root said...

We have some insects invading our container gardens outside. I was going to try mixing cedarwood oil and lavendar in water and spray the plants- if that didn't work maybe teatree...but now I'm wondering if soaking chili powder in water and spraying the plants with that might help?
Looking forward to finding out your solution.

Jenn said...

This year has been perfect weather for aphids -- they are infesting everything in Northern California.

East Bay Nursery on San Pablo may have ladybugs again -- I recommend getting a pint a week of lady bugs and releasing them in the evening (after wetting down all the plants).

They seemed to do the job - and they lay eggs and more ladybugs come out and eat more aphids. Also got a mantid egg sack, they are good for munching up the aphids.

Even my CSA newsletter talked about the aphids in Capay Valley -- they apparently *really* like chard.

Anonymous said...

I have some serious global trade traveling types of ants in my ornamental nursery, both under the ground cover cloth {saran} and in the pots, and some of them are the small red fire ants, some the black Argentinian fire ants {really dangerous, watch out for them, they're 3/8ths of an inch long and leave a pustule when they bite and they live to bite}and a whole collection of other colonies from the "crazy" which runs around like a nut, to the tiny sugar ants, and oh so many others.
I use a product that comes on a flake, I use a very little of it, maybe 25 or 50 of the tiny flakes placed near the colony. The ants take it home right away and they eat it and the queen eats it and she becomes sterile. It's radical ant birth control. So that eliminates them.
Also, I dig up colonies if necessary and use agricultural soap on them. Boiling water carried around, well you might trip and pour it on yourself, I'll skip that one. If you have plants in pots and ants invade the pots {at the nursery, this is problem # 1} take the offending pot of ants {with the plant in it} and put it into a much bigger container that has a preparation of ag soap and water in it, also make a nice foamy soap head on it with your hose so that when you plunge the pot in there, if some of the ants head up the plant trunk they will be suffocated by the soap bubbles.
When the pink hibiscus mealy bug invaded the greater Antilles in 1996 {sounds like a real war annal}
I gained a new respect for the incredible intelligence of ants. I consider them at least as smart as rats. They {the aphid farming species} figured out within weeks that the mealies could be farmed and milked just like aphids and they went into business right away.
So, sorry Mr Greenpa, the insect world is often prone to work things out amongst themselves to our detriment. Yeah, there are predators that are called beneficial, because, after all, those babies are beneficial to us humans, but on the other hand, often times all the critters get together, find a niche without a predator and they exploit it.
Think about it -- humans have succeeded for the same reason.
Always be very careful of your soaping remedies. Make sure they contain simple soap {potassium salts} and are not household cleansers with ammoniates or other additives that will harm the plant roots near the ant colonies.

Walking Green said...

neem oil works will also help take care of the aphids!

keep us posted

Anonymous said...

Lady bugs are cool! I had an aphids infestation destroy my broccoli last year. When I finally released the lady bugs, they had a FEAST! You could actually see the ladies munching on the aphids. Your boys will think it's cool too.

Lesley said...

My husband's grandmother swears by sulfur. We had a fire ant infestation in our raised beds and finally tried it after trying boiling water, soap, gritz, and cornmeal to no avail. At the point we tried it, I was desperate for anything after watching them destroy half of the bed. We sprinkled some on the plants and the ground and the sulfur worked great!! It didn't kill any of the ants (we don't think), but made them pack up and move practically overnight. There are directions for using it in/on around plants and fruit on the package.

Melody said...

Sprinkle lye (pure Red Devil, not a drain cleaner) on the mound (wear gloves!), then spray the lye with a water hose sprayer set on mist (from a distance).

The water and lye combine in a chemical reaction that raises the temperature very quickly.

Since lye is a naturally occurring base, there are no long-lasting residues.

This is how I got the ants out of my compost heap.