As gardeners, homeowners and parents it is hard for us at times to think of ants as a beneficial insect. However, I believe it is true.
Sometimes we only notice the bad in things – or rather we only notice something once it has affected us negatively. So ants are off of your radar… until: They show up in your home, there is a huge ant hill near where your children play, or you are bit by the barefooted enemy: The dreaded Fire Ant.
But can we really judge an insect based on the few times they behave in ways we do not want them to?
Make no mistake, ants can be a problem. You probably care less about ants that are out in the woods scrounging around for their meal. However, when they have found their way in to your pantry – that is a problem.
In our area, fire ants are fairly prevalent. This is a problem when it comes to letting our children play outside. You cannot just look for large mounds to identify where ants are located. They can have just as large of a colony with a hill that stays below the tops of the grass blades.
So, as children run and play they can easily disturb the ants, causing them to become aggressive.
You can combat these ants in a natural way. Before you run for the chemical insecticide, consider these options:
- Keep areas clean of food items. Ants are great scavengers and will quickly find that dropped piece of food. So, do not let children take food items into outdoor play areas if ants are a problem.
- Get some chickens. If you can have a few chickens roaming around your yard – let them. They will help keep the population of ants around your home down. Ants know the enemy and will choose to build their own homes elsewhere.
- Use organic applications. A wide variety of options are available to you. Diatomaceous Earth, or DE, can be used to set a perimeter around an area. Ants WILL cross it, but the DE injures them in a way that causes them to dehydrate and die. For more direct applications, such as on ant hill mounds, use a mixture of orange oil and water to douse the hill (Click here for our homemade orange oil insecticide video).
While ants can be a nuisance, the vast majority of ants, the vast majority of the time, go about their activities without you noticing. They are a busy species. So what are they doing when they are not in your cupboards or biting your feet?
Ants help your homestead in a variety of ways, including:
- Aerating the soil. It is a whole lot more subtle than using a tiller, and a lot more effective.
- Carrying seed. You might not want volunteer vegetables growing around your yard, but ants may well be the ones that help you get them!
- Removing dead insects and other animals. Ants are very effective in quickly breaking down animal carcasses.
- Protecting Plants. As they hunt down other insects, such as aphids, they can be beneficial to your plants.
Let Ants Live:
When you decide what you are going to do to a colony of ants, take a moment to consider the fallout. Okay, 1 ant bit you. That hurt, and it still itches. But are those ants also keeping your pea plant free of aphids? Did those ants help aerate, fertilize and move grass seed into that bare spot in your lawn?
The effects of one action, like killing a colony of ants, is not always easily seen, but we can take the time to weigh our other options. We can try to curb their behavior and control their numbers through organic and natural means, rather simply eradicate them all.