Thursday, July 03, 2014

Waging Ant Wars

I, Donis, wish I were lounging next to the lake, watching baby loons along with Barbara (previous entry). But, alas, no. It's summer in Phoenix and there is no lounging to be had. It is hot hot hot. The thermometer on my back porch currently registers 110º, heading for a high of 112º according to the local weathercast. No one wants to spend time outdoors. Not humans, pets, or pests.

It's time for the ant wars.

In the early Twentieth Century time period I write about, what we now think of as strictly food was often used for lots of things other than eating--cream to soothe a sunburn, a strawberry mask for refining the skin, lemon and beeswax to polish furniture, milk to lift stains, black pepper to keep cats out of the garden. Folks knew how to take care of problems without resorting to Max Factor or Weed-B-Gon. Or Truly Nolan.

We've been visited lately by ants in the kitchen, which has afforded me the opportunity to conduct my own field research in natural pest control.

This happens about once a year. They come in around the kitchen window, tiny Houdinis who find openings no matter how many times we re-caulk. Most of the time we live in cautious harmony, the ants and I. If they don't bother us, we don't bother them. There have been a couple of times when a large anthill appeared in the back that was too bothersome to ignore, and Don got rid of them by flooding them, then dumping blended-up oranges, peel and all, into the hold. Did we destroy the den? I doubt it, but he did persuade the colony to relocate, at least, for we never saw that particular group again.

The batch that has invaded this year is insidious. They are teeny-tiny little black things that eat the bait in ant traps and laugh. We lined the sill with sticky paper, but these ants are so small that they just walked right under it. We haven't been able to find the den itself, so after a war council, Don and I decided that the only answer is some sort of barrier between them and our kitchen. Following is a report on how we finally seem to have gotten them under control:

After consulting the 1879 edition of The White House Cookbook, and the 1878 edition of Housekeeping in Old Virginia, we began by laying down a line of baking soda across the window sill. It looked rather like a dusting of snow, and the ants decided to go skiing. No good.

I followed that up with a line of cinnamon, which worked like gangbusters. The ants absolutely refused to cross the line, and the cinnamon had the added benefit of making our kitchen smell like Christmas. However, have a look at the photo and tell me if you want your kitchen window to look like this.  Besides, the ants solved their problem by walking up the wall and crossing into the kitchen above the line. Dang.

Since pungent smells are apparently the answer, Don saturated a cotton ball with eucalyptus oil and rubbed it up and down the window sill. This worked for a while, but the smell fades and ants are patient. So he saturated several more balls, some with eucalyptus, some with rosemary oil, and some with lemon oil, and stuffed the balls themselves in the corners where the window pane joins the wall. It's been a week, and no ants.

One task left before the annual re-caulking party is to wash down the wall outside under the kitchen window with a bleach water solution to get rid of their chemical trail. We hope. It's worked before.


Eileen Goudge said...

I used to have that problem when I had a house (as opposed to a city apt.) Those little devils are hard to get rid of, no doubt about it. Eucalyptus works wonders on fleas, too, by the way. I once had a flea infestation and, on the advice of someone in the know, placed eucalyptus branches all around the house,left the windows open a crack. A day later, no more fleas

Donis Casey said...

I'll remember about the fleas! Lavender is good for repelling critters, too, Eileen--especially scorpions!

Irene Bennett Brown said...

Entertaining, informative, intrigueing -- about ants?! Only you could write it, Donis! You lighten my day every time.