Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Ants Go Marching Ten by Ten


There are actually lots of ants milling around, but they are way faster than my cruddy point-and-shoot-camera. 
If you look closely, you can see their horrendously ugly black bodies.


I have ants in my garden this year. It’s not particularly surprising news I understand, but what is surprising is how many there seem to be. Half of an entire planting bed remains empty because the little black menaces have taken over the entire thing. Like over the winter the suckers have been rebuilding ant sized replicas of  Native American cliff dwellings; little tiny holes poking out the side of a cliff, the ants scurrying around the levels of buildings, making corn meal, drying meat, or chipping rocks to make spear heads.  
 Doesn't this look freakishly similar to the holes in my garden wall, if you use your imagination and have a drink or two? It's Bandelier Monument in New Mexico.

Besides my many neuroses regarding germs, I have a volatile hatred for tiny crawling insects that nest. One or two ants is no problem, but thousands of swarming ants carrying egg sacks, food, and milling about just under the surface of the dirt making it look like my garden bed is breathing, is another thing entirely. Same with worms. One worm, I can handle. 50 worms swarming on a rotten apple is enough to make me vomit. And I just got the willies writing that sentence just imagining the worms. Chiggars. Termites. Lice. Don’t even get me going on lice. Now my head is itching. Dis. Gust. Ting.

After all the research I’ve done about ants in the garden, they seem to pose no real threat. I’ve been assured that they won’t eat my food, that their purpose is to harvest and clean up dead debris, aerate the soil, and to basically leave them alone, unless there is a major infestation. Too many ants become a problem because they start to “farm aphids” (who knew ants were so sustainably minded?). They start collecting aphids and protecting the plants the aphids live on because they like to eat the “honeydew,” which is a fancy name for “slimy residue left by aphid buts” and not the refreshing melon you are accustomed to eating with your scones in the morning. (Which is what I first thought “honeydew” was referring to and I couldn’t figure out why people would give these suckers honeydew. My bad.)

But I do have a serious ant problem, if nothing more than I’m sickened by looking at all the holes in the ground and on the side of the planting bed, and I can’t imagine growing food there, mainly because then I’ll have to weed and tend to that area, and like I said, the whole mess is making me nauseous.

The good news is there are organic methods to try and curb ants, especially when they get too unruly and start throwing spit wads at you when you walk by. It’s rumored that they hate cucumber peel and chili powder. I gave it a try and laid a cucumber peel wall in between ant city and my marigolds and tomatoes. I also dumped an entire bottle of Badia red chili powder on all the ant openings, hoping the suckers microscopic intestinal tract would feel the repercussions of the red chili in the morning and die of dehydration from diarrhea. At least that’s what seems to happen in our house when we eat too much red chili. Not the dying part of course.

I went and checked on my organic methods the following day, only to find that not only were the ants alive and well, they were dancing to "La Bamba," drinking margaritas, and had erected a teeny, tiny, sign out of garden debris that said, “Thanks for the enchilada sauce!” Apparently Mexican ants have taken up residence, no doubt immigrants from Arizona. And here I thought they were Anasazi in heritage.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about these guys, unless I pull up a lawn chair, grab my sombrero, and join them. I think I’ll try the boiling water trick next, which is to pour the scalding liquid into the holes which burns them? Boils them alive? I’m not sure how they die, but knowing my luck they’ll use the hot water to make some albondigas soup.

For now, that section of the garden bed is empty. But the ants know I’m out to end them. Let’s hope they don’t take their vengeance out on my tomatoes. They would after all, have to walk over my dried up cucumber peel wall. 

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