Garden Clippings: Confessions of an Ant Murderer

Or How I Went after a Hoard of Ants...and Lost.

As a practice, I don’t kill bugs. I’m a catch-and-release girl with moths, lacewings, houseflies, spiders, even the one big old slow cockroach that gets inside every summer. (I figure he can spend his final days/decades in the ivy.) I use a Number 1 plastic container from Gelsons and a piece of thin cardboard.

I will kill fleas.

And, now, ants. By the thousands.

Act 1: They Came In Through the Bathroom Baseboard

Nothing quite saps the life out of you than an outbreak of ants. It was not our first ant invasion. We had a Napoleonic invasion in Illinois. A fearless army stormed into the spare bedroom in Pacific Palisades.

But this was the first attack in the Valley.

They turned up in the bathroom. I smushed them and washed ‘em down the sink. They just kept coming.

Ants are schizophrenic (I apologize to those I have offended). They are programmed with two missions—commit suicide, survive at all costs. How am I supposed to deal with that?

I calmed myself...it took awhile.

I posted about the invasion on Facebook. Lots of responses, which I will categorize as “easier said than done”—find the trail, pour boiling water down the drain, grate lemon peel around the sink, find the trail, draw a chalk line they will not cross it, organic peppermint oil, find the trail.

I got the Maglite in hand and took what turned out to be a lucky guess and plugged two openings in the baseboard. Victory is mine!

Act 2: They’ll Be Back

Two months passed blissfully.
But this is L.A. Time for the sequel.
New location: the kitchen.
It is hot and arid and ants don’t like that at all. They want in. They have taken over the counter, they have control of the sink, they line up at the stove top.
I am so freasked out I am slapping the freckles on my arms!
They find cover in the roll of paper towels, in the pages of the LA Times, along the computer keyboard.
Every drop of water, every stray crumb defeats me.
As my husband heads off to a screening of Frankenweenie, I’m about to have a nervous breakdown.
“WHAT DO THEY WANT?” I scream to myself.

Well, according to Wikipedia: Food. Water. Refuge from dry, hot weather. The site also goes into nauseating detail. I will spare you much of it, but here’s a few salient facts: ants form nests in the ground, near sidewalks, under ivy, under or inside logs and in garden pots (let’s simplify and call that “just about everywhere”); their food sources include trees or plants that harbor honeydew-producing insects (not to mention a fave munchie—dead bodies of other insects); ants communicate with each other using pheromones, sounds, and touch (which I admit is pretty darn mind blowing...except when it’s happening around your bagels and cream cheese); in some ant armies if the foragers (you know, the ones sent out as scouts by queens), become separated from the main trail they sometimes may turn back on themselves and form a circular ant mill, then run around continuously until they die of exhaustion; oh yeah, and ants have been used as surgical sutures.

In the not-so-good-news from UC Davis “eliminating the entire colony is nearly impossible. Therefore pest management is a matter of controlling local populations, instead of eliminating an entire colony, and most attempts at control are temporary solutions.”

Thanks for that.

Act 3: Praying for Winter.

We find me in 100-105 degree heat in the rainless Valley. Bottles of non-toxic Orange Guard have been emptied on multiple nests. Bay leaves, cinnamon and wet coffee grounds circle the sink.
Ah the promise of winter. The ants will disappear. Clean counters once again. There will be peace. But the accord may be short-lived as ants spend the California winter in a state of dormancy or inactivity. They don’t die off.
Iceland calling? Well, not so much--it seems ants produce their own antifreeze and can survive even the harshest deep freeze.

“Hello? May I have the number of a good psychiatrist?”

*Use killing potions such as borax (I don’t like this option if you have pets) or non-toxic Orange Guard, which ants bring back to the nest and rub off the poison on others (a process called trophallaxis).
*Find the trail, vacuum the trail, wipe the trail with white wine vinegar, soapy water or window cleaner.
*Natural deterrents that work temporarily include bay leaves, coffee grounds, cinnamon, peppermint oil.
*Caulk openings or plug with petroleum jelly.
*Check houseplants such as african violets, they may be hanging out in the soil.
*Insecticide soap, available at garden stores, can help eliminate ants that are already present in your outdoor potted plants. Fill a plastic bucket with water and insecticidal soap (2 tbsp. of soap per quart of water) submerge the entire pot in solution for 20 minutes.
*Rake up piles of outdoor debris.

*A non toxic spray—Orange Guard available at either the Whole Foods on Coldwater Canyon and Riverside or Sepulveda and Ventura.
*Petroleum jelly available at CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens
*Chalk—Office Depot or Staples on Ventura.
*Bay Leaves, cinnamon, lemon peel, white wine vinegar Gelsons, Ralphs
*Caulk, rake: hardware stores Ace on Ventura
*Insecticide soap: Sheridan Gardens Nursery in Burbank, Armstrong Garden Center in Sherman Oaks.
*Appointment with a psychiatrist.

Marla Hart October 04, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Karen--this is one solution of which I have not heard. And I will Google it. Then when I get brave enough and energetic enough I will try it. Thanks!
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