Posted in Life

Ant War

February 9, 2010 - 11:50 am

I am at war.  The ants and I fought to a draw last Fall, but they are back with a vengeance.  They have numbers and determination and chaos theory on their side.  All I have is intelligence, tool making, and opposable thumbs.  The best I can hope for is to fight them to a draw, but I am giving it my all.  I am manically obsessively tidy and clean in the kitchen, and ants are NOT welcome to share it with me.

Yes, I know there are all sorts of chemicals I could use to get the upper hand in the battle, for a while.  But let’s remember, people, that this is my kitchen.  I live here.  My primary tools in this battle are borax and orange clean spray.  I’m just not willing to use anything more toxic.  so I have to get crafty.

They have been mustering their forces for a couple weeks now, and I’ve been watching with some trepidation, and searching for my round tuits.  I’ve swiped them off the counters whenever they’ve made an incursion, and kept my vigilance up in the cleaning department, making sure there was never a dirty dish on the counter or in the sink, never a crumb lying around to tempt them to make a sortie.

Today, though, they crossed a line.  I opened the upper cabinet next to the stove where I keep the sweet things– all in hermetically sealed containers, because I am not a n00b in this war– and there they were.  Somehow, they had found the prize.  That was it, I had to engage.

Let me pause for a moment to explain these ants.  I’ve never encountered them anywhere but the west coast.  They don’t bite.  They are tiny and mostly black.  A little bit of googling makes me think they are probably “little black ants,” or Monomorium minimum. They are, simply, everywhere.  That site suggests you can manage them with bait traps.  This has not been my experience. I put out bait traps when I first moved in, to no obvious effect.  I renewed them a week ago after the ants started appearing again, but they seem to laugh at the traps.

I will state for the record that I would far rather be dealing with these little guys than fire ants, and perhaps I should just quit my bitching.  But I’m not gonna, so there.  😛

It took me several years to fight them to a draw in California, and I bring those skills to the table.  In that house, I was able to seal most of the house to reduce their access points to the doors and windows, where I put down a line of borax.  This helped, but was not, in the end, sufficient.  I’m not sure if it’s sad or funny, the things I did to defend my kitchen from the ants.  Sugar jars in water moats.  Trying to find and destroy the ant colonies outside.  The garden folks told me this wouldn’t help.  There were too many ants.  They told me I could, perhaps, destroy a colony, but that would just open up a territory for the colony next door.  I’m not sure of the mechanics, but they were right that it didn’t work.

What finally succeeded at managing them was an accident.  You see, I came home late one night, tired from dancing, and wanted to make tea.  I puttered about in the ambient light of the kitchen doing that thing, and reached for the cute little honey jar I had at the time.  It was white ceramic shaped to look like a bee hive with one of those wooden honey drippers in it. I thought it was adorable.

The salient point here is that I had gotten cocky, and left something sweet on the counter in an unsealed container.  Which I discovered when I innocently picked it up, and immediately had ants crawling all over my hand.

To my credit, I did not drop, or fling, the honey jar.  I walked out the kitchen door to the garage and set it down in the back corner, to deal with the following day, then returned to the kitchen swatting and flinging ants and cursing.  I scrubbed my arms, washed down the counter, and went to bed with my tea, fully expecting half the colony to have moved into my kitchen by the morning.

Much to my shock and surprise, the kitchen was 100% ant free in the morning.  The honey jar in the garage, however, had a thick swarm of them, and a trail I swear was an inch wide going back and forth from a crack under the back wall and back.  I had an AHA! moment.  What the ants demanded was a tribute!  And, really, was a container of honey so much?

Now I wanted my little beehive jar back because I’m stubborn that way, so I found a little plastic container in the recycling, put on my big girl pants, and picked up the beehive jar.  I poured the honey into the container until I couldn’t stand the ants crawling on me any longer, and ran into the kitchen to wash my arms and the jar off in the sink.

The ants accepted my tribute.  Eventually I switched to a plastic plate with sugar on it, but I renewed the sacrifice whenever it seemed to need it, and the ants mostly left my kitchen alone.

I made a similar tribute shortly after moving in here, when they found my box of sugar cubes.  Living on the east coast had made me soft.  The ants out there will bite you, but they mostly seem to prefer to live outdoors.  So I had, unthinkingly, left a container of sweet stuff unsealed in my cabinet.  Once the ants found it and I realized my error, I transported it to the wall outside the kitchen, and the ants happily accepted it.  It was a cardboard box, though, and this is Seattle.  It was enough to appease them until the rains and the cold came, but now that spring is warming up the world, they are back, and they want what’s theirs.

I cleaned the kitchen today, scrubbed every surface to get rid of the trails, and discovered, much to my horror, that they had moved into a narcissus pot on the kitchen windowsill.  I tried to drive them out by drowning- leaving the pot standing in water for a while- but after a half hour of letting it sit for a bit then lifting it out of the water to see more ants come swarming, I decided they could have the damned narcissus bulbs, and put the pot out on the porch.  I don’t like narcissus that much anyway, and they are done blooming.

I also built the vessel of my tribute, Seattle style.  A Darigold sour cream container now has a couple holes about 1/2 inch up the sides, and the lid on.  I know the tribute will need to stay dry.  I have put some cactus honey powder in the jar, and sprinkled some on the counter closest to where the ants always emerge from, coming from a gap that’s too wide to seal between the cabinets and the wall.

Ant Tribute

I know they will return, and find the tribute, and I can locate it in a place that’s not in my kitchen.  Hopefully that will keep the truce, for a little while.

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Comments

Abby

March 2, 2010 11:50 am

This is fascinating. We have been waging our own ant war since we moved to California in August and I found your sight when I was googling for (yet more) solutions. So in putting out something for them to find, in the kitchen, and then moving it outisde, they seem to have no problem finding it again? Has that been the case for you even if they seem to be coming from an inner wall of the house rather than an outer wall?

I am really excited and curious to try this. I’ll be crossing my fingers that this works. You are so right that east coast ants like to stay outdoors. We moved from Florida and although we had to watch out for fire ants in certain places outside, they never really bothered us INSIDE.

Matt Stevens

March 11, 2010 11:50 am

Ants – touch one – good luck! Nice blog BTW

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