Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I can deal with a lot of things- floods, frosts, Japanese beetles, but one thing I can't stand is fire ants. Living in the north for a good portion of my life, I was close to unaware of their existence until I moved to the south. Then, everywhere I looked in my yard I saw the same thing; enormous mounds of orange clay filled with irritating stinging ants.
Really, if they didn't bite they would be the least of my problems. But working on anything outside proved impossible without fire ants biting my feet and crawling up my legs.
I began researching how to get rid of them, but most of the information I learned was disheartening. Everywhere I looked, people were suffering with same problem and no one had found an effective solution. Of course, I read about multiple natural ways people had tried to get rid of fire ants including molasses, orange oil, grits, boiling water and vinegar. Multiple commercial fire ant killers are out there as well. Unfortunately the reviews on any of these solutions, natural or conventional, were never consistent.
Because of inconsistent reviews, I decided to do some experimenting myself. I needed to find out what really worked. Being an organic farmer, using conventional pesticides was simply not an option. Growing food organically is very important to me and I'm not willing to give that up for a fire ant killer that might not even work, so I crossed these methods off my list of things to try.
The first natural fire ant solution I tried was vinegar. I drenched a few nests with straight vinegar. At first, it seemed relatively effective, killing loads of the ants, turning the current mound dormant. Unfortunately, I came back a couple days later to find a larger nest forming just a few feet away. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I had hoped the ants would magically disappear over night. Instead, they were a nightmare that continued to plague me.
Not only did the vinegar prove ineffective, but also impractical. At a gallon per nest, with hundreds of mounds in our yard, it would be too expensive and wasteful to use on a large scale. Another concern was the acidic nature changing the pH of the soil possibly harming plants and beneficial soil flora.
My second attempt at fire ant destruction involved water—boiling water. At least I didn’t have to carry this away from the grocery store in plastic jugs! For a while, boiling water became my best friend. I carried enormous pots of boiling water outside and drenched the nests, immediately killing ants inside the mounds. Giddy with success, I spent hours (and way too much energy) heating water and dumping it over nests. The best part for me was coming back to the mound a few hours later and finding piles of dead fire ants carried out of the nests. Clearly there were some remaining ants that did this work, but the mounds of carnage were still satisfying after suffering painful, itchy bites! Drenching ant mounds with boiling water worked for a while, successful every time, though labor intensive and time consuming. Overloaded with other chores, it turned out to not be a practical solution. If I was too busy to scald fire ant mounds, the ants came back in reining numbers. Other issues with this method were the dead grass around the mound. Boiling water wasn’t specific to the fire ants. Of course, carrying huge pots of hot liquid carries the risk of burns as well.
The entire situation seemed mysterious and hopeless. Even so, I decided to continue on my quest to find the perfect fire ant fighter.
To be continued...