Pest Control Ideas

Controlling Ants? Here Are Some Alternatives

By Frank Niccoli

Have you fallen into the habit of purchasing and using the usual sprays to control ants?  Well I would like to give you a few alternatives.

Boric acid is poisonous to humans so be careful with this.  It is very effective against ants.  Here are a couple of strategies for outdoors.

1 tbsp. of boric acid
1 tsp. of sugar, 4 oz. water
Cotton balls.

Mix boric acid, water and sugar in an empty tuna can. This can be poured over a cotton wad in a small dish or bottle cap. Keep this from drying out for continued effectiveness. Place cotton balls in path of ants.

Here is another weapon against ants.
The right proportion of boric acid to sugar water is your key to a successful control of the ants. If the mixture is too weak, it won’t kill the little invaders; and if you make it too strong, it will kill the foraging ants before they can get back to the queen and bring the poisoned food to her. Here is my recipe:

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons boric acid

Place the sugar and the water into a kettle and heat it until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and add the boric acid.  Do not put the boric acid into the kettle.  If you do you cannot use this kettle for cooking.  Put the sugar mixture in a jar clearly marked as poisonous and then add the boric acid.

Put a few drops of the mixture in a shallow lid.  An old pill bottle cap works great.  You want something into which the ants can crawl.  Position the caps in an area where the ants can get to it.    I put 3 or 4 of them in the middle of the long lines that ants seem to form.  You need to make sure they’ll find it. Remember that boric acid is far less poisonous than most chemical pesticides, but you do not want kids or pets ingesting this chemical. Place the lids of your attractant where they cannot get to them, and store your mixture where they cannot reach.  Label your storage container so you do not forget what is in there.  The ants will graze on the sweet mixture, and more importantly, they will take it back to the queen.

In about 3 days, you should see a significant drop in the ant population.   I then take my soap spray and spray it into the ground where I suspect the nest might be located.  The nest is easy to find.  Just follow the trail of ants and they will lead you to it.  The soap spray will make that nest uninhabitable for another colony.

This one can be used indoors and out.  It is very safe and made from the peel of citrus.  D’Limonene is a non-toxic insecticide that can be safely used around children and pets. Its greatest use is in the kitchen. The active ingredient D’Limonene works by stripping a protective waxy coating called the cuticle from the exoskeletons of insects. Spray it directly on invading ants, and then spray it into the cracks of crevices in which they are entering.  In a day or two, you may see that they have entered in a new spot.  Spray that area.  A couple of sprays with this very safe spray and you stop them from entering. D’Limonene has a residual action that lasts about a week.  Use it to directly kill ants, fleas, cockroaches, silverfish, and pill bugs.  Spray it on your pet’s bedding to control fleas.

It can be used as a perimeter spray around the outside of your home.  Spray window frames, air vents, doorways, or anywhere that you suspect that insects can enter.  Spray your garbage cans and your recycling bins to keep the ants away.


Many Little Hammers

By Frank Niccoli

We are all familiar with the analogy of how continuously dripping water on a stone will eventually crack the stone.  That same process applies to managing pests with integrated pest management tactics.  We use many little hammers to suppress plant problems by minimizing the conditions they need to survive.
An elegant method of progressively using stronger tactics is illustrated in the IPM Pyramid developed by Penn State.  At the base you will see the least toxic of tactics, and as you go away from the base to the tip of the pyramid the prevention decreases as the intervention increases. As you read this, please refer back to the pyramid to understand how it works.

And as a favor to me, read this article twice before you put this aside.  Somewhere between the first and second reading, you will have an “Aha moment.”

Cultural Tactics or The Hammer of Thought

Let us start our journey at the base of the pyramid with the cultural methods.  This tactic works by minimizing the conditions necessary for the pests to survive.  Plant selection is key in the part of the pyramid.  Select plants for the conditions.  Don’t install or design for long-term problems.  If the plant is susceptible to Phytopthora, don’t plant it next to a lawn.  If a plant is susceptible to powdery mildew, look for a cultivar that is resistant.   If a plant needs good drainage, don’t install it in the clay soils.  Don’t plant lawn around oak trees, not even near them.  This is the most blatantly violated and the simplest rule here. And don’t use drip on natives.  It kills them, period.  Call me or E-mail me if you want to know why.

After the correct plant is installed, give it the conditions it needs to survive.  Strong plants resist diseases, are less susceptible to insect attacks, and will outgrow the weeds.

Physical Tactics or the Hammer of the Corporeal
Physical methods include traps, barriers, mowing, tillage, or any other method that physically removes the pest. Hand weeding to suppress seed formation, trapping insects in pheromone traps or by using “sticky foot,” vacuuming white fly with a dust buster, putting in snail and slug traps, and using trap plants are all viable and worthwhile strategies in this category.

Pruning is also in this category.  It is as simple as pruning a disease branch before it infects the rest of the plant. Flaming weeds belongs here.  You can make a very effective flamer by using an old golf cart, a propane tank, and some miscellaneous fittings.  It works very well, but make sure that you have a water-based fire extinguisher on hand.

Look back to the pyramid.
We have just passed the threshold of prevention, and we are now in the intervention phase of the process.  As we go towards the tip prevention drops out completely and we are in full intervention.  That is when the problems really begin.

Biological Tactics or the Hammer of Evolution
This category uses predators, parasites, and nematodes in a very targeted way to suppress the pests. Using microbial diseases of pests is a registered method of pest control.  An example of this method is the use of a fungus that kills another fungus.

Using insect releases to attack pest plants or other pest insects is part of the biological tactics.  Everyone has heard of using ladybug releases to control aphids.  Most people don’t know how to keep them around long enough to do their job.  And then they get discouraged because it doesn’t work.

I do know how and I am not telling you here how to do it.  I want to hear from you to see if you are reading this stuff. Email me at frank@thevillagegardener.com.  A look back at the triangle and you will notice that intervention has taken a step up.  

Chemical Tactics or The Hammer of Disruption
Look at the Pyramid.  You will see two distinct delineations in this area.

The first is the bio-rational section.  These chemicals are less toxic and are usually used to target a specific pest or problem.  Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control tussock oak moth, diatomaceous earth to desiccate fleas, Bacillus thuringiensis israeliensis (Bti) to control mosquitoes, pheromones baits used with stick traps to catch insects, pheromones released to confuse the target insect, and chemicals such as neem oil that is so bitter that it makes the plant inedible to the insect.  Most of the chemicals in this category are anti-feedants, repellants, or attractants and are usually very low in toxicity.

The second part of this section of the pyramid is the conventional pesticides.  They are synthetically produced compounds that are direct toxins.  Unfortunately, these same toxins are non-specific and usually kill anything they are sprayed on.  They are chemical missiles that kill without regard.  They are also toxic to bees, fish, humans, and your pets.  These should be your last resort.  Use these very sparingly.

Try one method on the lower end of the pyramid before using this category.  An example of this is trying to control Bermuda grass.  Use black plastic to cover the Bermuda grass before resorting to a chemical. This will reduce significantly the amount of chemical that you need to use.  And by the way, Round-up is not the best chemical to use in killing Bermuda grass.  Guess what. You’ll have to E-mail me to get my method and the name of the chemical. 


Yellow Jackets Hijacking Your Picnic?

By Frank Niccoli

Yellow jackets are social wasps living in colonies containing workers, queens and males. Colonies are annual with only inseminated queens over wintering. Fertilized queens occur in protected places as hollow logs, in stumps, under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities and human-made structures. Queens emerge during the warm days of late February to early April, select a nest site and build a small paper nest in which eggs are laid. After eggs hatch from the 30 to 50 brood cells, the queen feeds the young larvae for about 18 to 20 days. Larvae pupate, emerging later as small, infertile females called workers.

When queens first emerge from over wintering they are very actively foraging for food. This is an excellent time to set out apple juice traps (March, April, and May). During this period, for every queen that is trapped and killed, it means that there will be five hundred to five thousand fewer Yellow Jackets workers in the area!!

After the queen establishes a nest and she has had many workers, she no longer forages for food. Instead it is the workers that search out and bring back food to the ever-growing colony of larvae and young Yellow Jackets. This occurs late April through September.

As you are well aware, the workers are ubiquitous, crawling over food threatening guests, and innocent picnickers. They have no sense of humor, thus some of us feel that they have no place at a barbecue. So trap, trap and trap as many Yellow Jackets as you possibly can. Their numbers are excessively high due to accumulation of human garbage. For every Yellow Jacket worker that is eradicated, there will be 20 less wasps later!! The larvae will receive less food thus hampering growth of the colony.

By the way, watch that soft drink you were sipping on and set down briefly. Some people have been stung in the throat when they drank a yellow jacket that was inside the bottle!

During October, it is again an excellent time to eradicate queens. As the weather cools in October and early November, the new virgin queens emerge and mate with the drones. The newly mated queens then search for an appropriate place to spend the winter. All this frantic mating and searching requires considerable energy. To get that energy the queens become voracious feeders on sweets. At that time it is good to set out apple juice traps and pheromone traps. Pheromones are natural chemicals produced by wasps that attract other wasps. Again, for every queen trapped at this time, it means one thousand to five thousand fewer wasps during the next season.

Remember, no matter how successful we may be in trapping Yellow Jackets, we cannot eliminate them all. We can however, bring their numbers down to tolerable levels.