Sunday, June 9, 2013

Evidence-based ant eradication

I sent out a plea for help last week, looking for advice on how to relocate and/or remove the big black ants that 
were calling my garden home. You all came through with a long and extremely helpful list of stuff that had worked for your ants, 
and I couldn't wait to go to town and buy all the ingredients. (I should note that I before I resorted to any of this, 
I did try the let-the-chickens-in-the-garden-to-eat-the-ants method. They're afraid to go through the gate! What a bunch of chickens.)

Anyway, in addition to the garden ants, three other colonies are causing me grief. 
What a perfect opportunity to do a little science project. I could treat each colony with a different non-poisonous substance, 
then observe, measure and report my findings until all the ants are gone. It's the eighth grade science fair all over again.

Many of you suggested that food-grade diatomaceous earth would kill my ants. I googled the stuff 
so many times last week that I can finally spell it. While I still can't wrap my head around the concept
that a product that is beneficial to the health of my equines, canine, feline, porcine, poultry and self would also kill ants, 
the science made sense... sort of. I found a bag of the food-grade stuff in the animal supplements aisle at Tractor Supply.

I didn't expect it to be this color or this powdery. I transferred some to an empty parmesan cheese container so that it would be easy to dispense on the ants. (I'll also be adding it to Hank's breakfast, Johnny's dinner, and the hens' nesting boxes and feed,
but that's a science project blog post for another time.)

The garden ants are the unlucky subject group for the diatomaceous earth treatment. 
I sprinkled a generous amount in and around two adjacent ant holes.

Initial findings are that the ants are taking a wide berth around the substance. 
Apparently they've read all the articles that say they will die if they get the stuff on their exoskeletons.
But it's only a matter of time before they go down the ant holes and get covered with the stuff.
The suspense is killing me, if not them.

Another helpful suggestion was to sprinkle corn meal or grits on the ant hills, the theory being they eat the stuff and explode.
(Note to judge: I had my little flags all prepared to mark my exhibits but I couldn't shove them into the hard ground. Damned drought.)

For reference, this is an ant before eating grits. It remains to be seen if I will post pictures of him post-digestion/explosion.

The grit treatment is being used on the ant hill that I step on every time I open this tape gate to the pasture. 
That would be at least once a day. Let's hope it works.

Perhaps the most bothersome ant hill on the ranch is this one, right next to the main gate. 
Lucy and I have to avoid it every time we leave on a ride and every time we return home. 

Me: Hurry, Lucy, hurry! Ants! Ants! Ants!
Lucy: Could you just get rid of the damn ants already?

I treated this ant hill with baby powder. Visitors are going to think I've been changing diapers on the driveway. 
So be it. If it makes the ants go away, I'm all for it.

The fourth and final ant hill is in an area where I walk Lucy from the corral to the hitching post. 
I've treated this colony with cinnamon. The smell makes me want to eat a piece of buttered toast 
every time I walk past it, so I'm hoping it doesn't work.

I'll give it a week then report back with my results. 


  1. i do so hate cliffhangers and this is one, can't wait to see which one works, i had forgotten the grits one, daddy used to use that but i can't remember if it worked. in waiting mode....hope we get Results before a week.

  2. This is going to be a great experiment! I also read to pour boiling water down an ant hole and that takes care of that(but it will kill your gress if you do).

  3. You sure have an array of things to try and solve your problem ants and I'm anxious to see which works. I use the diatomaceous earth to keep bugs out of my garden, especially potato bugs, and it works great. Keep us updated.

  4. This is great since I missed the grade 8 science fair back in the olden days ;-) Good photo's of those ants,,,,,I feel itchy now!

  5. I agree with Sandra. Hate cliffhangers. Especially as I'm eying my own ant colonies. Glad you have invested in all the ingredients....I'll wait for the results...and then hot footed it to the store for definitive ant removal product.

  6. A cliffhanger ! Hadn't seen one of those since Saturday afternoon matinees! Really interested in the outcomes.

  7. Very Interesting! I can hardly wait for the results. And, looking forward to the "feeding it to the herd" blog!

  8. Having judged science fair projects for years, I am impressed - especially with the little flats! I am looking forward to reading your trifold backboard display, from your Hypothesis to your Conclusion! I am hoping that you can conclude that many of the substances are effective in getting rid of your ants! Good luck!

  9. You might want to do some more research before you start feeding that stuff to your critters. I have been down this road, and not only does it not do what is often claimed, I think it causes harm when fed in high doses or long term. I am a histotechnician (meaning I create stained slides from tissue samples). I have seen DE under a microscope in amongst the villi of the intestinal lining. Think about the kind of damage that DE causes to an insects skeleton being wrecked upon the extremely delicate lining of the stomach and intestine. I know one horse who nearly died of anemia because his owner was using DE as her only dewormer and as feed-through fly control. The combination of heavy parasites and damage from the DE nearly killed him.

  10. Can't wait to get to see how this turns out. I'm betting on the DE.

  11. This is the one I use it works great, but with the chicken, and smooch it maynot be a good idea for your ranch.

    Supplies Needed
    1/2 cup of sugar
    1 1/2 tablespoons Borax
    1 1/2 cups warm water
    Cotton balls or paper towel
    1. Mix the Borax and sugar together until well combined.
    2. Add the mixture to your warm water and mix constantly until the powder has been completely dissolved.
    3. Seal the mixture in a jar or container for future use, and use only what you need in the next steps (and save the rest). It is important that you clearly label the jar, as it will just look like water. Do not leave this where children can get to it. (Because this is such an easy solution to make, however, I only kept what I made until after the ants had been gone for a week or more.)
    4. Fill some jar lids, milk caps, or other shallow containers with cotton balls or a wad of paper towel.
    5. Add the sugar-Borax solution to the prepared lids making sure to soak the cotton balls (or paper towel).
    6. Wait. It may take the ants a while to find the solution. But, once they do, let them feast (and take the solution back to their home). At our house, to speed up the finding process, I placed a couple of the soaked cotton balls directly on the ledge in my kitchen where most of the ants were.
    Be prepared – more ants will probably show up once they find the solution. However, within a day, you’ll probably see much fewer ants. Over the course of just a few days, all of the ants should likely be gone. Because we had watched the ants quite a bit, we noticed where they were coming from and made sure to use a sealant to seal the area to stop them from coming back in the future.

  12. I, too, have ants.... will be waiting with bated breath to see if anything at all works...not holding that breath though.... mine are still swarming all over the garden in spite of my best efforts.....

  13. I love, love, love this blog. Science is not the way my mind works but oh so interesting. Do keep up informed. I'm on pins and needles and putting my money on the d... earth thing.

  14. Love a good science project. Now would like to see a nice poster board written up of your hypothesis, process, results :-)
    So, are you going to start eating DE too? It sounds like you won't have any trouble keeping it fresh because I am thinking it is not gonna get wet :)