A Million Ants Before Breakfast

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When Nature Cuddles Up To Technology

This morning did not begin well. Before my wake up cup of tea kicked in, I discovered that my modem wasn’t working. It looked fine, but my computer could not find it. I shut everything down for a few minutes, then picked up the modem to reset it and what seemed to be a million tiny ants fell out. They formed a boiling mass around several hundred eggs that also fell out and instead of being awed by the wonders of nature I freaked out.

These ants and I go way back. They are Odorous House Ants (Tapinoma sessile), native throughout the continental US and especially native to each of my Northwestern homes. I know from my studies that the wrong way to deal with these puppies is to spray with something they recognize as dangerous. Such products make ants split into multiple colonies, each reproducing as fast as possible. I know that the best way to deal with them is by using special baits that they carry back to their nests. Treated with slow acting poisons, these baits become the preferred food of a colony, eventually offing the whole boiling of them, or so they say.

Don’t Think, Act Now!

I called the safe and sane pest control company I use in such situations but they were overwhelmed by similar ant stories (no other modems, though) and nobody is available until midweek. In the meantime,  ants were still pouring out of the modem and also now my phone base. As it happens, I am not capable of letting sheets of swarming ants take over my kitchen for several days (that’s where the modem is located, though that could change). As it also happens, a natural cleaning product made by biokleen called Bac-Out Bathroom Cleaner (Lavender Lime) melts ants instantly. Thus, I immediately sprayed the countertop, the modem, and the phone base and the ants died by the cupful. Really.

I feel mildly guilty when I kill a wandering ant or two as they stroll across my stovetop or counters, but after years of living unwillingly with the ant hordes I do it anyway. Now I felt mildly triumphant as I wiped up revolting quantities of ant mush, even though I suspect that, as the saying goes, They’ll Be Baaaack!

How To Keep Ants Out

Clearly, the best way to deal with these little critters would be by keeping them out of the house in the first place. They love to make nests in crawl spaces, in the walls, around water pipes and in damp basements, then make forays out into your kitchen and/or bathroom. All IPM (Integrated Pest Management) programs recommend using the slow acting baits, but several also suggest offing visible ant infestations with soapy water and closing off obvious entry points with vasoline or caulk.

To keep food in cupboards ant-free, put anything sweet (honey, dried fruit, etc.) into zip bags or canning jars with tight sealing lids. If you find that ants have made themselves at home in your indoor plants, you must bite the bullet and toss them, pot and all. You can save the pot by soaking it in a bucket of hot soapy water overnight if need be, but the plant and soil must go into the compost heap or the green waste cart.

Clear Away The Clutter

The pest control service strongly suggests removing trees and shrubs that touch the house. I also strongly recommend that practice, yet my own house had several encroaching trees–until last week, when they were removed. Actually, a lovely old maple is still in place by the front door, but it’s merely waiting until we create a new bed for it. I’m having the driveway regraded, and while the excavator is here, we’ll do some major plant moving as well.

I was surprised at how much lighter and less cluttered the house looks now that the aging trees are gone. None were especially lovely or shapely, and all had become stairways to rat heaven for tree rats, who were leaping from amazingly slender twigs into the roof, then making their way into the attic. Ick ick ick. As it turns out, most of the trees had some rot started anyway, and the house will certainly be drier without their presence.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Partly as a result of all this, I am remaking the front garden, which never really got made properly, since we focused on the house first. Now I’m putting in a gracefully curving berm, filling it with many of the shrubs from around the house, and adding some lovely young trees, including a plump magnolia and the handsome front door maple. I’m saving all the bulbs and perennials before we start earth moving, and am planting up zillions of baby hellebores into flats, along with white violets and black mondo grass.

We are tucking a little secret garden sitting area into the middle, with stone benches and a fire pit. The space was never very inviting because it didn’t feel like a place to be. Reshaped, I think it will become appealing enough to actually get some use. A garden that only gets weeded and never loved is a sad one indeed. Oh, and the modem? Works fine. How’s yours?

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2 Responses to A Million Ants Before Breakfast

  1. Julianna says:

    good post — holy cow, those ants!

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