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Old January 17, 2020   #1
GoDawgs
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Default The Fire Ant Wars

The moderate temps of late combined with the wet soil have kicked the fire ants into high gear building mounds again. So it was time to break out the dish soap again. I think I might have posted about this before but it's been a good while and I'm posting it again for any newcomers.

Fire ants are a scourge in the South. Fortunately for those of you in more northerly regions, your cold winter temps keep the fire ants out. They live in huge nests below ground and build mounds above ground where the sun warms the mounds, providing a nice temp for incubating eggs.

If you stir up a mound with a stick, thousands of ants pour out ready to do battle. Woe be to the person who isn't paying attention to where they are standing and accidentally stands on a small hill while weeding. The bite stings a lot and later a small white pustule forms over the bite. Each ant can bite numerous times. Nasty critters.

In the garden they like to start building just inside or just outside the side boards of raised beds. I usually have to do a periodic patrol to watch for small raised areas and treat them before they get any bigger.



And they will get bigger.





How to deal with them? Well, there are commercial baits that you sprinkle around the outside of mounds. Ants will carry the bait down into the nest and it will kill them. Hopefully. But I can't have that stuff around anything edible and I don't want my cats walking through the bait and then maybe licking their paws later. If you mess with the mounds, like quickly scuffing off the top with your boot heel as you walk by, they will move. I used to do that to get them to move out of garden walkways but it doesn't work inside the beds.

One day at the feed and seed, a lady there told me that 1/4 cup of Dawn dish soap in a gallon of water would kill them. Just pour the whole gallon in one mound. I tried it on a mound that appeared right alongside a bush bean row, figuring if it killed a few plants there were plenty more others growing. By golly, it worked! The beans didn't mind a bit and the ants were gone.

I got to thinking and remembered from a hort class that ants have a waxy coating that protects them. It allows them to float in large masses during floods. Soap interferes with that coating so they drown in the mounds when the Great Dawn Flood comes calling. Actually, soap is soap so I now use plain old dish soap from Sam's, the pink stuff in a gallon jug for $5-something. Nowadays almost all dish soaps are phosphate-free. Check the label.



1/4 cup added to 1 gallon of water. Hold the jug about chest high and pour slowly right in the middle of the mound. If you see run off, move the stream around a little until you hit the sweet spot where there's no run off. Then let it just pound down into the mound. It's nicely flooding all those little tunnels under there. The next day the top of the now-flat mound will be covered with thousands of dead ants.



The underground nests are so large and go so deep that you will never get the queen with this method and they'll pop up again maybe 10' away but it will be a while and they'll be out of your bean row or whatever.

Cold weather is supposed to move in this weekend so that will knock back activity for a while as they move back down deeper to stay warm. Yesterday I got all the ant mounds in the garden. In a little while I'm about to go out and deal with larger mounds in the yard, jugs of soap in hand. Death From Above!
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Old January 17, 2020   #2
b54red
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That would take a lot of soap here at my house. I don't have too many beds popping up in the garden and if I see one it is usually on the edge of the bed and a little Amdro takes care of it. Another thing that works really well is using boiling water and pouring it onto the bed. It usually takes about a gallon or two depending upon how large the bed is. When I first moved into this location 40+ years ago it was heavily infested with fire ants and I would take my fish cooker and set it up in the middle of where the worst ant beds were and heat a couple of gallons of water in a large pot and dip out a half gallon at the time so as to minimize the risk of carrying too much boiling water at a time. It is a good idea to wear long pants when doing this because if you splatter it on your legs it can be painful. When Amdro first came out I started using it in my yard and kept using the boiling water in the garden and gradually over the years the fire ant presence was reduced to a minimum. Now whenever I see just the start of a small bed I will treat it immediately with Amdro and by doing so I rarely have to deal with a real fire ant bed.

I'm sure if I really let up on treating the fire ants for a year or two I would have some significant increases in fire ants on my property. I tried some of the recomended poisons on the mounds years ago before Amdro and they did kill a lot of workers but the result was a lot of new beds popping up all over. So to me the treatment was almost worse than just avoiding the mound since a lot of little beds will get you stung more than one or two large ones that are easily avoided. It was after this experience that I tried the boiling water which was a lot of work and took a fair amount of time. It wasn't until the invention of Amdro that I really took control of the fire ants. I had to use a good bit of it the first two years or so but after that it was just a matter of checking for new small mounds showing up a few days after heavy rains and treating them with a small amount of Amdro.

Dawg you might want to try the boiling water on the ones in your garden and purchase some Amdro for your yard. If you can get them really under control in your yard they won't be so much of a problem in the garden. They don't particularly like to build where the ground is tilled frequently but a few will try occasionally. I don't think it is very poisonous in small quantities from what I have read and I don't think cats are very likely to walk through fire ant beds anyway. I have seven dogs and rarely see a dog print in a fire ant bed even a small one.

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Old January 18, 2020   #3
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Amdro works well but I don't want my cats around it. I'd have to carry boiling water from the house down to the garden and that's just way too dangerous.

Thinking about it, I could probably treat a mound and then set a tomato cage over it so the cats can't get around the stuff. The MSDS for Amdro does say pets are attracted to it as it's oil based.
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Old January 18, 2020   #4
b54red
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GoDawgs View Post
Amdro works well but I don't want my cats around it. I'd have to carry boiling water from the house down to the garden and that's just way too dangerous.

Thinking about it, I could probably treat a mound and then set a tomato cage over it so the cats can't get around the stuff. The MSDS for Amdro does say pets are attracted to it as it's oil based.
My dogs leave it alone and they eat most anything besides from what the MSDS said about it's toxicity it wouldn't hurt them unless they could get hold of a lot of it on a regular basis. Speaking of fire ants I did find two small mounds about 4 or 5 inches across in my front yard and one small one in my back when I mowed today. I have been surprised I haven't seen a lot more with the rain and high temps we have had lately. Looks like I will be covering up tomorrow night and for a couple of nights after that. I will get a chance to see how the frost cloth works as opposed to 4 mil plastic. I will be covering 4 beds with the shortest one being 28 ft and the longest a bit over 40 and there will be fairly high winds for a day or two also.

My onions, peas, carrots, spinach, rutabagas, and Brussels sprouts will remain uncovered unless the forecast gets worse.

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Old January 21, 2020   #5
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Found a small fire ant bed popping up right in the middle of a row of onions in the middle of a bed. I haven't had a fire ant bed pop up in the middle of a bed in years. They are usually right along the edge.

The forecast is for 25 but it got a bit cooler than forecast last night so this may cause some damage under the frost cloth I have over my broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and lettuce. If it protects with this very long cold night and wind then maybe it will be a sufficient alternative to the plastic that I have used for years. My good gardening buddy lost his mustard greens completely last night though they were in the open but mustard can usually do okay down to 25 or 26 if it doesn't last too long. With the cold day we had today and the temps already in the 30s before dark, tonight will be a bad one and really test the frost cloth. Long cold nights like this usually result in some damage to most of the plants even under plastic but usually the plants will survive after losing a few leaves and maybe a few head of broccoli.

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Old January 22, 2020   #6
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Bill, the one blessing of cold weather is that it drives the ants back down for a little while and they aren't real active again until the sun warms up the hills. Try the soap treatment on the onion mound but if you do, wait until it warms up a tad and you notice new activity.

My broccoli plants are in pure side shoot mode now and I left them uncovered since I'm getting tired of broccoli. Besides, the shoots are starting to get leggy and loose. It's just that time; they're about done. So it will be interesting to see what they do after being left out in the elements! Time for the shovel, I think.
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Old January 22, 2020   #7
brownrexx
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We don't have fire ants in PA thankfully. What do they eat?
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Old January 22, 2020   #8
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no fire ants here in the great white north.

my wife had the unfortunate experience of standing on a fire ant hill when she was in
the marines. they were standing at attention, and she could feel them crawling up her
legs. when they got into position, they started biting. as soon as they were dismissed,
she went running to the closest bathroom tearing off her clothes to get in the shower
as quick possible. it turned out to be the male officers barracks, but she didn't care.
the pain was exquisite.



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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brownrexx View Post
We don't have fire ants in PA thankfully. What do they eat?
That's a great question, one I hadn't thought about so I searched and found a good source at: https://ant-pests.extension.org/what-do-fire-ants-eat/

"Imported fire ants are omnivores. They eat both plants and animals to satisfy their nutritional needs. Their menu includes carbohydrates (sugars), lipids (fats), and protein. Worker ants cannot ingest solid food particles (greater than 2 microns, 1 micron = 0.000039 of an inch), so they primarily feed on liquids. Only the last developmental stage of the fire ant larva (fourth instar) can convert solid food particles into a liquid that is then fed to other colony members."

Another interesting tidbit from the article:

"Fire ant food preferences include a smorgasbord of plants, microscopic organisms, invertebrates (including arthropods), and vertebrates (reptiles, birds, mammals). Fire ant workers have been known to wander into dirty laundry, probably attracted to the sugars and/or oils that are soaked into clothing. In companion animal and wildlife areas, fire ant control may be required to reduce losses."

Rxkeith, that must have been torture for your wife. But she was a disciplined marine, though.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #10
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Default Homemade Fire Ant Bait?

OK, I just finished reading the entire article I cited below and found something worthy of a trial.

"Conventional fire ant bait formulations are made of processed defatted corn grit impregnated with soybean oil. The soybean oil contains the active ingredient, or toxicant that kills the ant. Fire ants feed on the oil and ingest the toxicant."

Hmmm, I wonder if plain old uncooked grits moistened with soybean oil and spread around the mounds would have any effect or if it has to be "processed defatted corn grit". Inquiring minds want to know. I don't see any sources online but there happens to be a can of sardines packed in soybean oil in the kitchen cupboard. I think tonight I will drain a little oil off into some uncooked grits, set the stuff aside to absorb oil for a few days and then put it around a few mounds. I love a good experiment.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #11
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Dawg you would probably just be feeding them.

My first planting of broccoli is in the end stages if side shoot production but my second planting is heading quite well but smaller due to the long warm spell we had. I lost some lettuce and had a few mustard greens burned by the cold. It got down to 23 at my house around 4 am and then started warming up but 10 hours below freezing really gave the frost cloth a test. So far that seems to be the only damage I suffered on my covered plants. It looks like I lost a good many newly planted small onions though and they weren't covered. They were probably the smallest onion seedlings I have ever planted due to unusually good germination so they were really crowded in the pot and couldn't grow as large as they usually do. First time ever I have complained about too much germination from onions. They are like spinach you have to plant far more than you intend to use to get a decent stand; only this time I actually got far too many so the pots had seedlings as thick as hair on a dogs back. This is also the first time I have had onions freeze so bad that a good number of them seem to have died. I guess they were just so small that they froze solid.

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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #12
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Well, after I posted that about soybean oil, that evening I opened the sardines and poured off the oil. I had some old stone-ground grits in the freezer from way back and was glad to use the last of that for this experiment.

To 8 oz of grits I added 4 tsp of that fish scented soybean oil to the grits and mixed well. The jar has been sitting on the kitchen counter for two days, getting a good shake now and then to make sure the oil is distributed well and absorbed.

This afternoon I will see if I can find a new mound being built and sprinkle some of the oiled grits around it. I might have to wait until it warms up to see any new building activity. If so, I'd better store the stuff in the refrigerator although fire acts do feed on carrion.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #13
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Monterey Ant Control looks like a OMRI certified spinosad based ant bait. I have not tried it.

Oops, Just read the label, it excludes fire ants, and 3 others type ants I think I'll try some around my trellised cucumbers along with tanglefoot glue to keep ants from farming aphids on them
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #14
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A noble quest, but ya can't beat em. I've been knocking them down for years; they just pop back up 5 feet away, and carry on... I manage to keep them away from us, the animals, and my tomatoes, but just barely. Some things ya just gotta learn to live with....
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #15
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Though not a remedy for fire ants, a warning. Take care NOT to get badly bitten up, I did and ended up having a bad reaction to them, enough to have to go to the hospital. Too many bites at one time can cause you to become quite ill and now, I have acquired an allergy to them after that episode. It took almost 3 years for the scars to mainly go away below my knees. Those bites, even though I kept my legs very clean, got teeny tiny pus pockets and made me have intermittent fevers as my body fought the infections. My lower legs looked like there was fine ground black pepper scattered lightly on them for years.
Actually got some surface nerve damage from those boogers.

So, I see an ant mound, and Amdro is in play right away.

Those of ya'll with out fire ants, be glad though I suspect they will continue their way onwards, and those with them, be careful and don't take a bad chance.
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