Managing Insect PestsApr 13th, 2012 | By Cecilia | Category: show tips, the show
If you don’t have a shred of optimism in your body, then you’d do best to avoid planting a food garden–especially in Texas.
The deck is automatically stacked against Lone State residents from the git go.
Mother Nature promises nothing less to Texans than heat, drought, and pestilence, and she always keeps her promises.
Those of us who insist on growing food in this climate cannot do much about the heat or the drought. We can, however, do a little something about the pestilence.
I asked Elizabeth “Wizzie” Brown, an entomologist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, if she could provide a few tips for managing pests in the garden, and she obliged:
- Choose your plants wisely- right plant in the right location;
- Water and fertilize properly;
- Monitor plants regularly for insect activity- know your pests and beneficials;
- Conserve beneficial organisms’
- Try non chemical means such as row cover, traps, collars, handpicking, vacuuming; and,
- Make wise pesticide choices- decide if a pesticide is needed. if so, target the pest and/ or area that needs to be managed.
Fighting off Fire Ants
The red imported fire ant deserves a pest category of its own for the intense damage, pain and frustration it inflicts on gardens and the gardeners (not to mention other living things). According to Texas AgriLife’s Houston based Horticulturist, Skip Richter, fighting off fire ants isn’t hard–it just takes a two-step approach.
There are also home remedies that gardeners are always trying. Why would they do that when there are plenty of commercial ant killers available? Because most are looking for methods that do the least harm to the environment while doing the most harm to fire ants.
Before I go into the treatments, as much as I hate to admit fire ants have some redeeming value–they do. They will keep flea and termite populations down, as well as chinch bugs and sod webworms. But they will just as easily take a hunk out of you as a chinch bug, so I say they must be dispatched.
I have personally had great luck using soapy water. Not commercially available insecticidal soap, but actual soapy water from the kitchen.
- 1 Gallon of water
- 1/4 cup of dish soap
- 1 teaspoon of orange oil (optional)
Mix well. To use the entire gallon to drench the mound, starting from the outside and working toward the center. This kills the ants it comes into contact with pretty quickly, and will soak into the soil and kill a few more. It’s not a permanent solution, but it will diminish their numbers for awhile. I especially like to use a soapy water drench in a compost pile when I find fire ants there.
I have never tried this, but it is one of those treatments someone tried and now swears by.
You need to be careful if you decide to use dry ice. It’s a scary product. To treat a mound, use a long wooden dowel or metal rod to bore into the fire ant mound. You’ll need to work fast, because you will be ticking off thousands of six legged devils. Remove the boring device, and into the hole you created, drop the dry ice–making sure to use tongs or heavy duty gloves. Apparently the extreme cold kills ants that have the misfortune of being home at the time the Iceman Cometh.
Dig and Drop
A method that can be effective is the dig and drop method (I made up the name). You dig up ants from one mound and dump them onto another mound. At that point they’re like the Montagues and Capulets and duke it out to the death. The problem here is that some colonies are so enormous they can cover a sizable portion of the yard, and the various mounds you see belong to one colony. But if you are fast and can use a wheelbarrow to run shovelfuls of fire ants across the yard to dump on other mounds–more power to you.