Got fire ants? Invite them to tea…
By our favorite South Austin contributor, Patti P.
Here in Austin it’s kind of the reverse of Cow Plop Bingo…you DON’T want the plops, or in this case mounds (of fire ants) on your “grid” of the neighborhood. Of course your neighbors don’t want ’em on their lawn either.
But if your neighbor works her magic ant herding brew on her lawn before the whistle blows and drives the dreaded red imported fire ants over to your pad when you’re not ready, you won’t be yelling BINGO (unless you have kids under 3 and are really trying hard to clean up your language).
My SW Austin neighborhood (Shady Hollow) has fairly declared May 4-10 to be Fire Ant Week. Which means cancel all vacation plans, move your birthday to June, start limbering up, and get out your favorite ant baits & killer brews.
It’s time to protect your turf from Fire Ants which–if they’re not already there–will be attempting to breach your green stuff from the north, south, east & westerly neighbor’s yards. If you tend to get dizzy from turning full radius, now’s the time to get some balancing pills from your doc; you’ve got to be on an even keel all week–leave a hole in your flank and you’re toast (jam & tea) to waves of evil stinging fire ants.
My sister from Long Island is so terrified of these critters that she mistakenly or maybe aptly referred to them as “snapping ants” on a recent visit when questioning a tour guide in San Antonio…in Long Island accent: “Hey, you, do you have any of those snapping ants around here?” But I digress, back to the battle…
Fire Ants are for real and are a serious problem. They smuggled in to Texas around the 1930’s in soil piled in the bottom of ships from South America to help keep them balanced. Red imported fire ants eat almost any animal or plant and do major damage to electrical systems & mowing, tilling & harvesting equipment. When disturbed (oh, excuse me for stepping on your precious mound) the ants will emerge aggressively from their pile of soft soil around the queenie ant and they WILL sting you. Many at one time often leaving white pustules on your skin. Lovely image, no?
Many a realtor in Austin has battled fire ants while pounding a FOR SALE or SOLD sign on clients’ lawns–seems the vibration of the sledgehammer disturbs close by mounds and up the leg or into the shoes come waves of fire ants. One of my favorite rookie (at the time) realtors did not discover he was invaded by fire ants until he was driving his car up the Capitol of Texas Highway…he reportedly pulled his car over to the shoulder and proceeded to disrobe right there on this busy highway. He drove home in his boxers. I’d say commission earned.
So how do you battle these non-native fire ants? In the case of realtors & brief/boxer encounters, I would recommend bringing baby powder, vinegar, baking soda or comfrey in your tool kit. At the very least, sprinkle a little baby powder on the legs of the sign–reportedly the ants can’t get good traction on baby powder. If stung, the vinegar, baking soda and comfrey can help soothe the sting. Of course, if you’re highly allergic to fire ant stings, get to a doctor immediately.
When participating in your week-long neighborhood mound moving battle, I’d recommend using organic concoctions rather than synthetic chemical brews (which you surely want to keep out of the water system that you brush your teeth with, eh?).
Your local natural organic gardening center will be a good source of recommended baits & brews. Some will offer a fresh compost tea (made from manure that is wrapped in a huge tea bag/pillow case over a bucket of water/ teacup). This “tea” can be mixed with some molasses and citrus oil as a control method. (You can make your own citrus oil by soaking citrus peels in equal ratio with water for 10-14 days…)
During battle week, many Texans swear (often) by the “two-step” fire ant control method.
Step 1 is to spread an organic bait laced with a bacteria called “spinosad” on your yard. Feeding ants will bring the bait back to the mound. The bacteria in the bait paralyzes the nervous system of the ants and they die–sorry, but they are fire ants. (But get this, before you spread the bait, you want to be sure that fire ants are on your property and are ready to eat…because the bait can kill the native (good) ants too. Please don’t kill the beneficial/ good ants unnecessarily because you THINK you have fire ants. A piece of potato chip or (ugh) hot dog left out near suspected infestations will give you direct evidence that fire ants are present & ready to feed if you soon find it crawling with fire ants.) Check out pictures of red imported fire ants on the web so you can be sure in your identification. Then spread the bait.
Step 2 is to directly treat any visible fire ant mounds. On mounds, an organic method is to use “d-limonere” which is an extract of orange oil. The oil reportedly destroys the wax coating of the ant’s respiratory system and it suffocates. Again, I’m sorry but these are Fire Ants.
If you’re from or in Texas, you surely have some anti-red-imported-fire-ant brews and teas of your own. Best of luck using them in your reverse neighborhood BINGO. Hopefully your “teas” are organic and you’re willing to share your most successful recipes. Give us your tea! We’d love to hear from you. Thanks. Patti P.
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