The ants in this case are a particular colony of Argentine ants, that has become something of a monoculture spanning most of North America. In Argentina, such a thing would be held in check by competition from other colonies of the same species, and especially by other species of ant.
Ants in general are good and should be nurtured. This particular family is out of context, and out of balance, in a way that is currently unhealthy and probably quite unstable. I expect some disease will take out this particular mega-colony sooner or later, and I hope native species across the continent will have numbers enough to fill the gap they leave. Most of the ants that I see, I don't want to support simply because they are unsustainable.
I'm also not happy if their herds of aphids prevent my garden from producing, or if they force worms out of my compost heap. And while I don't mind much if they take some of the spilled sugar from my kitchen countertop, I don't live alone, and so I'm happy when they stay out of sight.
"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men. They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
Joel Hollingsworth, I imagine that when you see that great over crowding of aphids that you do see on plants, it is because the ants are not farming them. I would have thought the ants kept them in less overcrowded condition that coudl not harm plants to much but this is all supposing. agri rose macaskie.
Rose - what the ants do with the aphids should probably be called ranching or herding instead of farming. The ants carry aphids to the leaves and let them reproduce, then the ants eat the sweet stuff the aphids produce. The more aphids the better as far as the ants are concerned. The biggest problem with the ants farming the aphids is that the ants defend the aphids from being eaten by other insects such as lady bug larvae. If you can keep the ants away from the aphids then the aphids will soon be in balance again because a lot of them will be eaten.
Many years ago when I was beginning to garden I had some rose bushes and they had a lot of aphids and whiteflies. (Rose - your fuzzy white insects on the undersides of leaves could be whitefly larvae if they're very small. Larger white fuzzy things would be a kind of mite if I remember correctly.) I tried various sprays but the aphids and whiteflies kept coming back. Then I did a soil test and discovered that the soil was low in a couple of minerals (too long ago to remember exactly what) so I got some granite dust that was high in those minerals and dug it in a little around the roses. Within a few months the aphids and whiteflies were all gone and the flowers on the roses were huge. I didn't have another problem with aphids or whiteflies during the several more years we owned the property. The powdery mildew also pretty much went away. So now if I see aphids I make sure my plants are well fed and that usually cures the problem, even with ants around.
It seems like humanity's first reaction to a problem is to create more death, while Nature's reaction is to create more life. I think we should emulate Nature and nurture more diverse life in response to a problem instead of trying to kill the problem.
I should think that ants liked a lot of aphids to milk for honey but do they need them to live in the same square inch. It is just that Ihave seen aphids living in less crowded conditions when i have seen them with ants than when i have seen them on their own so i think maybe ants eat them as well as milking them, or move them on to new les crowded pastures or that some o fth einsects that like eating aphids get past ant guards. There is an insect that looks like an ant that preys on them. rose
No, not really. They seem to be most attracted to the "weeds" in my yard so I generally leave them alone, although if I have a scythe or machete in my hand I'll chop down the plant which I assume at least denies them that food source. If I find them on a plant I care about, I usually just gently squish them between my thumb and index finger. You don't want to squeeze too hard or you'll squish the plant too. Kind of gross I know but it works and I carry my thumb and index finger with me everywhere
I've left quite a few so called weeds in my garden this year. With the exception of a couple of cornstalks along the edge both ant and slugs seem to be paying more attention to the supposed weeds than to my veggies. Last year every other bean was slug bit this year only two beans slug bit so far.The lambsquarter seems to be taking the bulk of the slug damage.
forgot to add that I don't know what kind of damage the ants are doing but whatever it is seems to be to the corn on the outer edge of the garden...the plants aren't showing any outward signs of major damage but I'm hoping they stick to those stalks and leave the rest be just in case.
is sprinkling the dandelion heads to help with tree nutrient aquisition or does it somehow discourage ants and their "cattle"? i am having a problem with ants using my potatoe rings to build their nests/hill/mounds. i wouldn't mind a few, but it seems they have infested every ring and it makes it exceedingly difficult to harvest the potatoes that survive; in addition to the fact that the chickens just love ant eggs and keep picking through the metal cages to get at them damaging the potatoes before i can even try to harvest them any ideas? thanks, becky
I have alot to be ashamed of, first that i live in ugly cant grow a thing las vegas. 2nd I have my first garden here after listening to people say it cant be done for 20 years. Well, this year i dug the dirt out of my yard, put black gold and other potting soils in the holes and fertilized with humbolts best. MY GARDEN IS GORGEOUS, 200 lbs of tomatoes off 13 plants. of course $100 a month for water too. But now I am in trouble.ANTS AND APHIDS OMG. What an ugly sight. I saw the ants and thought oh they must be eating those aphids. I will leave them to do their job.Then I put my glasses on and holy crap,,,its not funny really I am crying as I type.OK,I HAVE DE .BUT WHAT ABOUT MY LADY BUGS? I CANT KILL MY GIRLS! TELL ME IT WONT HARM THEM.
Sherry- You shouldn't be ashamed, you should be proud of yourself for attempting what everyone said couldn't be done. Growing your own food organically and as sustainably as possible is a laudable goal.
Before you do anything, look more closely. Are all the plants equally infested or are there some with no or fewer aphids? If there are, you can take some leaves from one of those plants, mash them up a bit and put them in some water and leave it all in the shade for a couple of days, then strain the result and spray it on the affected plants. Another thing to try is get some seaweed solution and water the affected plants with it. Neither of these should harm the ladybugs.
Next, simply be patient. If there are huge numbers of aphids you should soon have larger numbers of aphid predators. So many even the ants wont be able to fend them all off.
Longer term solutions: 1. Add more minerals to your soil. An aphid infestation means that your plants are lacking in "minor" minerals. Packaged soils (in my experience) are often lacking in this way. In most parts of the country it doesn't matter, since plant roots can find some minerals from the native soil. But where the native soil is either total sand or very low on minerals from high temperatures and lots of rain, the plant roots cant find all the minerals they need. In the past I used pulverized granite and it solved the problem, but I can't find it for sale any more. I did just buy something called azomite but I haven't had it long enough to know if it will work equally well.
2. Make a place for weeds in the garden. Right now I have some dandelions covered with aphids and no aphids on my veggies 3 feet away. By keeping weeds growing around the garden, the aphid predators have a home and food all the time. Designate a spot or two for weeds and just let whatever comes up grow there and water it along with the garden. I know, it seems wacky to purposely grow weeds, but I've been doing it for years and my garden is healthier for it. Every so often, turn the weeds under or pull them off and compost them or use them for mulch. If you use them for mulch around your veggies, pull them before they make seeds. If no weeds want to grow on their own, you can get seeds of dandelions and some other barely domesticated greens and plant them.
3. You only mention tomatoes, so I don't know what else you might be growing. If it is only tomatoes, that is a monoculture and that is part of the problem. Try planting some black-eyed peas beside the tomatoes (they love the heat). You can get a bag of them from the grocery store (if they carry them) and plant them or buy seed which is more expensive. The black-eyed peas will feed the tomatoes as well as create greater diversity. If you dont want to eat the peas, cut down the plants right after they flower and plant more. You can lay them on the soil around the tomatoes as a mulch.
4. Do everything you can think of to increase the life in your soil. Make compost - as hot and dry as it is there, I would think pit composting would be the best bet. Dig a hole and put vegetable matter in it. Since your soil is pretty sterile you probably need to add compost starter. Keep it moist (you can pee in it) and shaded. Add some potting soil that has live microorganisms in it. Maybe add earthworms if they don't show up on their own. When the hole is filled with finished compost, plant in it.
One thing that would help with your water use would be to line your planting holes with something that would retard the escape of water. Water in sand tends to go straight down more than fanning out sideways. I wonder if putting a large rock or stepping stone in the bottom of the hole would keep water from escaping. Mulch on the top of the soil will keep water from evaporating upward. Generally I don't like to use plastic in gardening, but I wonder if plastic mulch (the kind with breathing holes) lining the sides of the hole would decrease the need for water. You could also use a layer of clay to make a sort of on-the-spot pot which would hold back water and give the plants minerals at the same time. The only source of clay I can think of is pottery clay and I'm not sure if it has any minerals that could be toxic. How about burying large terracotta pots and planting in them? Probably expensive. I'll be gardening in Florida sand in a few years as opposed to worn out Savannah, GA soil so I've been giving these things some thought.
Sorry for digressing, but then everything is connected, right? Hope some of this is helpful.
reposting these qustions about the ants and aphids podcast as i have not yet recieved any answers: is sprinkling the dandelion heads to help with tree nutrient aquisition or does it somehow discourage ants and their "cattle"? i am having a problem with ants using my potatoe rings to build their nests/hill/mounds. i wouldn't mind a few, but it seems they have infested every ring and it makes it exceedingly difficult to harvest the potatoes that survive; in addition to the fact that the chickens just love ant eggs and keep picking through the metal cages to get at them damaging the potatoes before i can even try to harvest them any ideas? thanks
Hi Claudia, Everything you said makes sense,and yes I do have melons, they are the most infested. I will get started right now. Thank you, I have been sick over this for days. sad as it is, I could have caught it sooner but with it 110 degrees maybe 120 in the sun, I never wear my glasses. I only grabbed them to check out the curled leaves, when I saw it I almost fainted,then I cried and now with a plan in mind, I am PISSED, I will get those S.O.Bs right now thanks so much Sherry
FlSunshine - I can't comment on the podcast, but earlier posts in this thread suggest a couple of things that might get the ants out of your potatoes: diatomaceous earth and grits. The DE should be food grade and shouldn't hurt either the potatoes or the chickens as far as I know. The grits work because the ants carry the particles back to the nest and eat them dry. With moisture added the corn particle enlarges and kills the ant. If you can't find grits in your grocery store, I bet coarse corn meal would do the same. Of course, that's another reason to keep the chickens out of the garden for a while. I haven't personally tried either of these remedies.
There must be a reason the ants like the potato patch so much - shade, moisture in the soil, a ready made mound of dirt... If you can figure that out then you could make the potato patch less attractive and make someplace else more attractive to them.
Thanks for your reply CBostic i have tried the grits and DE before and while it works great on mounds in the yard for some reason it just didn't seem to work in my potato rings (4 ft tall fencing wire formed into a 3 foot in diameter ring)...i put the seed potatoes down and cover them with loose hay...then as the plant grows i add more layers of hay until it reaches the top...it stays pretty moist in there and maybe that is why the grits and DE don't seem to work i will try your suggestion and make a more inviting environment nearby and hopefully that will help...thanks again
Someone mentioned growing mint in order to discourage ants. Well I have a lovely Catnip plant that is suffering because it is overrun with ant. they crawl up and down, they heave the soil out and it dries out much faster than it should because the soil is completely aerated and fluffy cause of the ants. In the hot Summeer Heat I've lost many plants to dehydration while watering regularly only to discover an ant colony has moved into the potted soil and taken over.
So I might try the DE on my Catnip cause I need to move it and don't want to move a whole colony of ants and possibly lose my moving truck deposit because of infestation.
Ants killed my potted Japanese Maple tree, they've killed many container garden plants. I don't hate them for being, but I hate what they do to my plants that I love and care for.
Plus I want to encourage worms but I'm afraid the ants attack the worms.
I'll be moving to a house with a flat yard and will probably have new ant problems there, but I dont' want to relocate them with my plants. Any suggestions for removing an ant colony from a potted plant like catnip that has fine roots?
In my experience I have used Valerian to attract the Ants and Aphids. They love to suck the juice out of my Valerian plants and leave everything else alone. My Valerian seems to grow so fast that the aphids don't seem to even damage it. The Valerian is just mixed in with all the other plants. Valerian can grow tall though so it can shade out other shorter plants if you dont watch it. It does have pretty white flowers too. Every year I see these super tiny bee like insects on their flowers that I have not seen anywhere else. The kids love watching the ants guard the aphids.
"I - am a thoughtful guy. I think alotta thoughts; about alotta things." Rhett and Link
I have the same problem off ants herding aphids on a apple tree I have in a pot. And all I can say is is there any end to the uses for duct tape! I just wrapped the tape over on it self to make it double sided then wrapped it around the trunk! Then shook the tree to remove the ants then they can't get back on within 24 hours I had captured ants and aphids alike and no ants on the tree! Change the tape every few days and there's still no ants on the Tree one month on!
This year has seen my young fruittrees and beans absolutely crammed with ants farming aphids. I tried spraying with washing-up liquid in solution but as well as getting rid of the ants it made the end tips of the trees die off (it was eco-friendly stuff!!!). So I've resorted to rubbing off as many aphids as I can by hand but I'm not winning the battle here. How do I discourage the ants from doing this? I don't want to kill them as I appreciate their contribution elsewhere, just not on my fruit trees and beans.
One other thing I used was to prune so branches/stems are not touching other plants/trees (ant highway), then I surround the base of the plant/tree with DE and dust the lower parts. If you have a way to slow irrgate you can keep the DE dry and working. But I really like garlic and hot pepper juice when I have the time to make a batch. Thin with water and spray the directly - so satisfying >
In addition you can add equal parts of Borax and Sugar with just enough water to form a syrup. Place this on a piece of cardboard in the path of the ants. However this second method did not work well for me once the ants had establish their supply of food from the aphids. But at other times, when they are looking for food it does work.
Use a sticky product like tanglefoot on the trunk of the fruit trees to exclude ants. Do know that the ants will eventually form a dead ant bridge across the sticky stuff and you may need to occasionally stir or refresh it depending on the severity of the infestation. Do this in addition to what leila said and you're likely to find the situation becoming more moderate.
I dust my tree's with diatomaceous earth anytime I get a 3-5 day dry hotspell, the aphids dehydrate and die along with other under leaf parasites. The ants get throw for a loop which helps break the aphid consentration efforts, if they didn't cluster the aphids it wouldn't murder the tips like they do. Plus the ants deter ladybug larvae from eating the aphids. I use a hand cranked blower to get a fine cloud everywhere, but you can just throw it.
Location: St Paul, MN/Tularosa, NM and now a gapper at Wheaton Labs
I'm not sure how many of you know that ants will protect aphids in order to farm the sugary substance they excrete. We have a lot of ants. We have aphids, and I have seen a fair amount of lady bugs, however, the ants are protecting the aphids. So I've basically been cutting down the plants that have aphids on them, so far it's a very select variety of weed and nothing else. I'd like a better solution though. I think the lady bugs will handle the aphid problem if I could only get the ants to stop farming them. Kill the ants? What is the solution here?
I have the same situation, and I've been putting out borax/sugar syrup baits to ants and find many dead ones, but there is still plenty of them to protect aphids on my cucumbers and melons. That said I am gardening in a community garden full of cooperating type of ants -Argentian ones, so if one nest doesn't have enough memebers, other nests supply to them. If you have black aphids, they are much easier to deal with - save some banana peels and cut them up small. Scratch them into the soil surface around affected plants. Aphids will leave in 2 or 3 days. Plants uptake whatever is in the peels and black aphids do not like it. Not the green ones though. Those are the ones that are on the cucurbits.
In my garden I see this mostly on lamb's quarters. My solution is to leave some lamb's quarters in the garden as a trap crop. Every so often I pull up the aphidy plant and give it to the chickens. No big problem.
I don't like how ants climb up my legs when I disturb their nest and hang out on it. I do like how they aerate the soil and move nutrients around. Ants are more welcome in the garden than the kitchen.
Aphid wasps will swoop right in there and steal aphids right from under the ants. Encourage them by providing wood nesting blocks with 2mm to 4mm holes drilled in them, they will also use pithy stems that have been pruned leaving an exposed end that they can excavate. They nest in tiny cavities similarly to mason and leafcutter bees but instead of pollen and nectar they stock their holes with paralyzed aphids for their young to eat. Learn more about them here https://bugguide.net/node/view/13573