The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fire Ants & Coffee Grounds

I have been doing an experiment for a while now. We have an over abundance of fire ants. In the past few years they have gotten worse and worse, although this year, there don't seem to be quite as many. We used to have many ticks and chiggers, they were the big problem, but now there are few. Most people think the fire ants have eaten them to the point that there are few left.

The ants are a problem to man and beast alike. They will chew on anything that disturbs them and have made huge ant hills out in some of the pastures that are about two feet wide and a foot or more tall. We have come to realize that if someone were injured and unable to get off of the ground in the vacinity of these ants, it would be a very bad problem, maybe even lethal.

Goggle images

Another problem we have discovered is that the ants will 'nurse' and care for aphids. There were parts of the garden last summer that had bad infestations of aphids, while the rest was fine. It didn't seem to fit the usual pattern of an aphid infestation. What I discovered is that ants use aphids as a food source. They don't eat the aphids, they eat the 'nectar' or residue the aphids produce as they feed on the plants. The ants will over winter a colony of aphids down in their tunnels, caring for their eggs and keeping them alive until spring. Then the ants will find suitable plant life to sustain the aphid population and will transport them to the chosen location. As the aphid population thrives, the ants are fed. Rather ingenious, isn't it? But at the same time, it increases the ant population in my garden. A couple of years ago, it got to the point that each time I went to pick the garden, I came in with a number of ant bites. It was unavoidable.


Now, back to coffee grounds. I ran across this article about ways to erradicate ants. Most of the information deals with 'regular' ants, not fire ants. Fire ants are extremely aggressive when protecting their homes. If you disturb a mound, they will swarm out by the hundreds, or thousands, and repeatedly sting the intruder. Each sting hurts and leaves a small red whelp. By the next day there is a raised area with pus in it that itches. 

Even though the article has several recommendations we could try, some of them are dangerous to pets or animals. The borax solution would probably work well, but would endanger our cats, so it is not an option. What caught my attention was the coffee grounds. Since we drink coffee, we have a ready supply of grounds. The article says, "Ants are extremely susceptible to caffeine. Leave coffee grounds (used works) where the ants are and they will carry it home and eat it. This method takes a few weeks to see."
One of the first places I put the coffee grounds. The ants appear to be gone.

For the past few weeks, I have been putting our coffee grounds around a number of anthills. Some of them seems to be gone, others seem to have just moved their hills over a ways. But I am hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, this will help kill out a few colonies and make it a little safer, especially in the garden. And if it does work, maybe I won't have as much competition from the aphids for my vegetables.
 
A new small ant hill on the left with coffee grounds, old inactive hill on the right.

This is one of those solutions that doesn't require a lot of work or preparation. Just a container for keeping coffee grounds and a few minutes of time. Hope it works. We'll keep you updated.

Until next time - Fern

24 comments:

  1. This information about fire ants caring for aphids is amazing. We have ants, but thankfully we don't have fire ants. I will be trying this on regular ant nests. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was very surprised last summer when I read about the relationship between fire ants and aphids. There were thick patches of aphids on small sections of my okra and purple hull peas. It was a strange pattern. I'm not sure how I found the information, but then I started watching where the aphids appeared in reference to the ant hills. Sure enough, I even found the ants and aphids on the same plants in large numbers. Interesting, even though irritating, literally. It takes a while to see any results with the coffee grounds, but it appears to be having some effect. I hope it works for you.

      Fern

      Delete
  2. I can imagine there could be all sorts of corny jokes about the Fire Ants and their consumption of coffee... maybe they won't be able to sleep at night or you'll find them kicking back in the morning with a cup and schlepping around in house slippers and pyjamas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Joy, that cracked me up. I just hope it finds them kicking back.....permanently.....

      Fern

      Delete
  3. Oklahoma PrepperJune 24, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    Aphids and fire ants! Very interesting! If fire ants and scorpions ever reside together I'm moving north! :)
    y'all have a good day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With the heat and humidity the way it is, there are days that moving north sounds like a good idea.

      Frank

      Delete
  4. How interesting! We're staying tuned to see the next installment on your results.
    - Katie and Mark

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm hoping on the next installment there will be nothing to show.......because they will be gone.

      Fern

      Delete
  5. We do not have fire ants but we do have earwigs. I wonder if coffee grounds will effect them? avoiding chemicals and pesticides has both its good and bad...but we really prefer earwigs to Glyphosate!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are not familiar with earwigs. We've heard of them, just haven't had to deal with them. I guess it's worth a try, Fiona. Let us know how it works out.

      Fern

      Delete
  6. When you get them out of the garden ( & away from precious roots), a medium size pot of boiling water two days in a row will kill so many of them that they will be set back for quite awhile. I used to do it at once a year in Florida and that usually kept them on the property edges, away from us and dogs.
    Jan in NWGA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are folks around here that have used boiling water, Jan. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. We've also heard of people trying cornmeal, cream of wheat or a mixture of vinegar, dish soap and borax. I think the coffee grounds may be setting them back as well. Time will tell if they are actually gone. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

      Delete
  7. We have the exact same problem! And I've tried a lot of the same natural solutions. My concern with vinegar and borax is their pH. I'm afraid the pH change might not be good for some of my plants if used for too long. Will definitely try the coffee grounds. Multiple ant bites every day take the fun out of gardening.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes it's hard to find a natural solution to some pests, and you just have to grin and bear it. I'm always glad to run across a new technique to try out. I really hope it works for you.

      Fern

      Delete
    2. Another natural way we tryed in Georgia, two shovels. Two colonies, take a shovel full from each colony and swap them into the nests. They will kill each other off. Took about a day for the two we had in the yard.

      Delete
    3. Really! That is very interesting. Thank you for sharing your experience, we will definitely try this out.

      Fern

      Delete
  8. Coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen as well. Our blueberry bushes love them, and I have seen no ants around them! (Ha!). We go to Starbucks and pick up the coffee grounds and they are FREE! Great in the compost. This is very interesting. I hope this rids you of this pesty problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a good source for coffee grounds, and the price is right. I didn't know they were high in nitrogen, but have used them before around plants that like acidic soil. Good information, Kelly, thank you.

      Fern

      Delete
  9. Ok, now I have to follow your blog just to find out if the coffee grounds work for you!

    Last year we had a horrid problem with ants (regular ones) farming Aphids. I THOUGH I'd gotten rid of them in that bed back in early spring by pouring boiling water on that bed before planting anything. But they're back. So far no aphids, but I'm not willing to wait to find out that they're there too. I'll be putting out coffee grounds now.....if they're not gone by the time I've gotten all the produce out of the garden I'll be doing the borax thing though, I can keep the dogs out of the garden easily enough.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ruth. I'm glad you have joined us. I would also be interested to hear if the coffee grounds work for you as well. So far this year, we haven't had near as many ants as we have the last few years, but I've seen a few new hills around lately, one in the garden. Time to sprinkle some more coffee grounds. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

      Delete
  10. What a great idea. Does it work on other kinds of ants as well? I need to try this - thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure if it works on other ants or not, Karla. The article I read didn't mention fire ants, just ants, so it might. The link to the article is in this post for more information. I hope it works for you.

      Fern

      Delete
  11. I am so thankful to have found this. I've noticed an astronomical amount of Aphids on my sunflowers and calendulas this summer! So bad the stalks/leaves were almost black with them. We have ant mounds all over the place. Have tried the borax solution. It seemed to be doing something but not completely eradicate them. Will keep that up and try the coffee grounds too!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH for the correlation. I had to spray my plants fire hose style to try to get rid of the aphids. They just kept coming back.

    Any remedies on aphids would be helpful if anyone has them. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, aphids are very difficult to get rid of. Sometimes we take a water hose with a sprayer and try to blast them off, and we've also used a solution of liquid soap and water, about 1 tablespoon of soap to 2 quarts of water. We've had moderate success with that.

      So far the coffee grounds around the plants have been the best shot at keeping the ants from planting the aphids. Hope it works well for you. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

      Delete