Archive for the ‘Pest Control’ Category

Every spring, for the past five years, I am amazed at the mounds of fire ants that develop in our yard and garden areas. Almost overnight (not really) it just suddenly seems like they are everywhere.

I definitely have a love-hate relationship with fire ants (also known as red imported fire ants – solenopsis invicta). Love and hate are both pretty strong words to associate with fire ants, maybe it should be more “like” and “dislike.”

Fire ants 1

It is hard to have any nice and tender thoughts about fire ants when a few of them have attached themselves to your ankle or leg, and are stinging away. The fiery pain from the sting is finally reaching your brain and you are swiping them off you.  As you hop around, stamping your feet, chances are a few not so pretty words might escape from your lips.

In reality the fire ant bite isn’t what causes the pain, they bite you in order to hang on and get a good grip so they can insert their stinger and get the venom in you…. that is when you start feeling the fire. Unlike the honey bee, the fire ant can sting you repeatedly and then get back to what ever it was they were doing.

Fire ants 2I will admit that I have taken great pleasure in wiping out mound after mound of fire ants using a locally made organic product called Anti Fuego that is made by Gardenville. The product is a concentrated mixture of things like molasses and orange oil (and a few other things) and it is designed to drench and conditions mounds and soils….. but it’s main purpose, for me, is to kill fire ants. After all, who wants fire ants around?

Well, I am going to ask you to have an open mind here. If we wipe out all the “bad” insects and bugs there will be nothing for the good guys to eat thus creating an unequal balance in the greater scope of things. I have understood that principle for many years, but fire ants? Come on! Really?

Yes, fire ants do have a purpose in life. That is really hard believe when you are being stung!

So, why would anyone want to keep them around? Fire ants voraciously consume populations of fleas, ticks, termites, cockroaches, chinch bugs, mosquito eggs and larva, scorpions, etc. That seems enough to persuade me to keep them around (within reason!)

I try to peacefully co-exist with them, and that isn’t always easy, but it is worth it for the good work that they do. I will let them do their work as long as they don’t take up residence in the walkways through the yard or in the gardens. It is an ongoing battle. This plan works for us , but that doesn’t mean it will work for others. Fire ants cause severe damage to cattle and wild life, and their mounds can cause terrible damage to farm equipment.

Fire ants 3In our yard, a few of the places that the fire ants love to take up residence are in my piles of composted horse manure, dirt/compost piles and under anything that lies on the ground (like a floor mat, garbage can, piece of plywood.) When I am loading my wheelbarrow with manure to take to the garden, I am very aware. When I go to the ranch to pick up piles of manure, I am even more aware. It is really no fun to be an hour from home, standing in a mound of fire ants while loading my truck with manure and have no way to treat the stings.

When a fire ant stings you, you will feel immediate sharp pain that just seems to continue to burn and eventually will start to itch. Within 24 hours a raised white pustule forms and remains for several days. This isn’t an infection, but if you break it open you are increasing your chances of that area becoming infected (fun stuff huh!) People with diabetes or compromised immune systems have the potential for other problems, especially if they have been stung numerous times. While a few strings do not usually constitute a major medical emergency, there is a small percentage of people that develop allergic reactions to fire ant venom. These vary in intensity, but in the most extreme cases even a few stings can result in the life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis.

Fire ants 4

I manage to get stung several times a year, usually around 3-7 stings at a time. They are always on my ankles and hands/wrists and are just plain bothersome. For me it is the sting and itch that feels OH SO GOOD when you itch it, but you never get any relief from itching it, just more sting and itch. I have tired several home remedies like baking soda paste, meat tenderizer and clear nail polish with no results of relief what so ever. So far, the only remedy that I have found that gives me any relief at all is Vick Vapor-rub! When I head out to pick up a load of manure or dirt I always make sure I have a jar of Vicks with me. I have the best results if I can get the Vicks on the sting locations immediately; if I wait just 5 minutes I will develop the red swelling bump, pain and itching, granted it is much less that it would be without applying the Vicks. In the photo above, I was stung 2-3 times and there is hardly a mark left because I applied the Vicks immediately!

I would like to work on making my own vapo-rub. Vicks active ingredients are camphor, eucalyptus and menthol and as I think about making my own fire-ant relieving variation, I think about rosemary, thyme and eucalyptus essential oils as a possible combination, maybe even some tea tree.

I don’t see fire ants moving out of our area any time in the near or distant future, so I will try to co-exist semi-peacefully with them and keep a jar of Vicks on hand until I can make up some of my own variation.

Do you have any secrets for dealing with fire ants in your area?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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No, I’m not talking about the Hormel tinned “meat” product made from what was formerly known as ham (Shoulder of Pork and Ham). No, I’m not talking about Society for the Publication of American Music, the Space Planning and Management, or the Solar Powered Area Monitor. What the heck am I talking about?

I am talking about the SPAM that you get on your blog in the SPAM box.

No, this sunflower doesn’t’ have anything to do with this post at all. It’s just pretty!

If you look in a dictionary you will find two definitions of SPAM:

  • “A tinned meat product made from ham”
  • “Inappropriate or irrelevant messages sent via the internet to a large number of users”

“Inappropriate” and “irrelevant” pretty much covers most of it. And most of the time, it is just plain frustrating to see all that SPAM. From time to time I will find a legitimate comment that was routed to the SPAM folder. Aside from that, it is was it is… SPAM. Do they really think we are going to approve their comment with a link to something totally inappropriate and unrelated on all levels? Really? I don’t feel the need to advertise a certain Canadian Pharmacy that is selling certain enhancement drugs for amazingly low prices and I really am not interesting in pursuing the real estate in _______ (fill in the blank with what ever place you want to.)

In my book, there is a third type of SPAM comment – the one that can really lift your spirits and make you feel good (even though it still truly is SPAM!)  These people take time out of their busy day to say words of encouragement and send me a link to their website  – where I might find such helpful things as real estate, or where to buy gold or silver or even find pharmaceuticals in Canada. And let’s not loose that link to buying plastics on line or a certain special dating service in the Netherlands.

I must say, the encouraging words are so nice to read, but completely make no sense when you look at what post they have comments on…. “you have awesome ideas that you know how to express in so easy way” posted on Sunday Photos: Red! Well, I am glad photos of “red” made sense to you and that you think I know how to “express” it in such and “easy way.”

Not only do we (the wonderful contributors at NDIN) have such awesome ideas, but we get a lot of “thank you’s” and “appreciation” from these Spammers:

  • “Thanks to your post I can solve some of my problems, thank you”
  • “This is an awesome post, I appreciated it”
  • “Thank you for providing us so many information, I always learn something here” (oh, they learned something – now we’re talkin’)
  • “I really appreciate coming here everyday to see what’s new on your website, and I already told my friends to do the same” (they told all their friends on that “Special dating “website in the Netherlands that I mentioned earlier! So thoughtful, aren’t they?!

We are motivational, we are hard workers, we have great ideas:

  • “You are such a hard worker” – spam comment on my personal blog on this photo post.  Yup, it was hard taking a photo of a flower!
  • “You have awesome ideas that you know how to express in so easy way” attached to this post on the deer that got into my back yard.
  • “I love your posts, but I like this one more than the others, so i read it all over again” – Oh that’s so nice, but it is just photos.
  • “Your motivational words are very helpful to me”

It is so nice to know we are being helpful and informative (and intelligent too):

  • “I’m going to bookmark you here so I will be able to read at your new articles whenever I want. thanks for helping”
  • “A friend recommended your website and I’m glad he did because it is very informative and entertaining”
  • “This text is very well written, you must be a really intelligent person, keep up the good work”

Do you think the spammers think that if they are complimentary and nice in the SPAM comments that I will be smiling and think they are so nice that I should just click on their link to see what it is really about? Aahh, NO! The only reason I skim through the comments is to make sure a legitimate comment didn’t get over there by accident.

Has any of the SPAM comments in your box caught your attention before?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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mustards and kales
With more evidence pointing towards illnesses linked to pesticides, I find it important to teach people how to naturally (preferably organically) take care of their gardens. Instead of a hefty shot of “Wonder Grow” ::cough::, I prefer to use fixes and fertilizers that aren’t so caustic – some that will treat the problem instead of forcing my plants to outgrow diseases and illnesses and therefore leaving the problem in my soil.

Our garden was a “Wonder Grow” garden before we moved in, and the soil showed it. It’s taken me three years to see the results of my amendments, and it’s worth the wait! I can finally say with confidence that I will have product of out my garden instead of just hoping for one or two tomatoes. Plus I know that I’m feeding my family anything better than I can buy because it’s picked fresh and served – nothing but fresh organic goodness.

wasp eggs
The best way to help your plants is to keep all tools and areas clean so as not to spread disease. Tidy up dead foliage and keep weeds trimmed back. Allow an area for overgrowth so that beneficials can make a home nearby. Just remember that if a chemical can harm an insect you deem harmful, that chemical can probably hurt your beneficial insects as well. Keep a toad house and welcome swallows to munch on insects.
moth on mum

My favorite quick fixes and alternatives to boxed fertilizers:

Iron deficiency: make soil more acidic by adding pine needles, coffee grounds, or seaweed extracts. Oak leaves may also be good for increasing acidity.

Nitrogen deficiency: composted manure, blood or alfalfa meal, fish emulsion. Weed and manure teas. Add comfrey as a mulch or compost. Underplant or cover crop the bed with clover or other legumes.

Phosphorus deficiency: compost, leaf mold, bonemeal, colloidal or rock phosphate.

Potassium deficiency: kelp meal, greensand, wood ashes (use only a small amount).

Powdery mildew: spray plants with a mixture of 1 tsp baking soda to 1 qt water.

Blossom end rot: add finely powdered eggshells or oyster shells and lime which can help the uptake of your calcium source. Keep soil evenly moist.

Damping off: keep soil evenly damp. Sprinkle with cinnamon, or use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. Be sure seed starting mix and potting supplies are sterile.

Thrips and Aphids: use ladybugs or wipe leaves with a gentle cloth and a combination of 1c alcohol to 1 qt water.

Corn earworms: add a drop of mineral oil to the top of the corn once the silk has wilted.

Slugs and other soft bodied insects: sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants and on leaves.

Simple Recipes

Manure tea: fill a bucket or large container 1/8 with manure (composted 8 or more weeks, chicken manure for a year or more) and fill with water. Let steep for about two days before using. This is a concentrate and must be watered down until it is a light red/brown color prior to use.

Compost tea: mix 1/8 bucket of well composted material and water. Let steep for 5-7 days. Strain and dilute before using. Molasses Spray for Leaf Miners: 1 part molasses to 5 parts water

Rodale’s All-Purpose Spray: (discourages leaf-eating pests) 1 garlic bulb, 1 small onion, 1 tsp powdered cayenne pepper 1 qt water 1 Tbsp liquid dish soap. Chop onion and garlick in blender then add pepper and water. Allow to steep for an hour before straining. Add dish soap before spraying. Can be stored in refrigerator for up to a week.

Soap spray: 1 tsp pure bar soap shavings 1/8 cup boiling water, 7/8 cup water. Dissolve soap with boiling water then add remainder of water. Spray insects by getting both top and bottoms of leaves. Best applied in the evening.

References: The Frugal Gardener: How to Have More Garden for Less Money, Erler, Catriona T., 1999. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, edited by Ellis, Barbara W. and Bradley, Fern Marshall, 1992


You can find Jennifer over at Unearthing This Life blarging about her daily activities in rural Tennessee.

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When walking through my gardens all seems so lovely…

Blueberries are blooming…

Spinach is up and thriving…

Chives are a bloomin’!

Yet there is trouble in paradise, let’s go over to the pea patch…

I have critter issues…I’m presuming the are field mice, which would be appropriate since we live in the middle of a big former cow pasture!  They seem to love peas the most (although I have seen them cut off a tomato seedling and try to pull it down their hole!)

In years past I have tried keeping mouse traps around the garden, they were very effective but I can not tell you how much I hated taking the little corpses out of the traps, discarding of the bodies, bating and resetting the traps.

This year I hung these on the pea fence hoping the racket would keep them at bay…

They were effective keeping the birds from getting the pea seeds but as you can see by the arrow that the mice weren’t bothered at all by them.

Our cat is a good mouse but with 10 acres to patrol he only is marginally effective on the garden area.

Besides he tends to poop in the new beds…yuck!

So here is my question this morning…any of you have some advice on how to deal with mice in the garden?

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she is raising organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and…a camel!

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Compared to previous years, it has so far been a summer free of bears here in the valley. Friends visiting have been disappointed to see none on the hour long drive from the foot of the hill down the valley to our community, and I’ve heard of no home or chicken shed invasions since late spring. One theory is that this summer’s forest fires have spooked them all back up the side valleys; if that’s the case, maybe we should organize for a controlled burn every spring!

Not that there haven’t been close encounters. My own was in July, when my dog was more than usually vocal one night. Usually she’ll bark off an intruder once or twice a night, while I lie in bed judging the size of the attacker by the distance Tui moves away from the house towards the perimeter fences. If I hear her echoing against the forest in the distance, it’s a fox, while if she stays close to the front porch and whines, it’s a cougar.

This night it was an in-between barking distance so I knew it was a bear, whose size I didn’t know until dawn when I went out to free the turkeys, laying chickens and meat birds from their respective barns. The stucco wire fence and gate adjoining two of them had been broken down, probably with one swipe of a massive paw, dragging a rail along with a six inch nail away from a wall (see photo).

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

He or she (I suspect it was a she as each year I meet a mama grizzly in our yard with her cubs at some point) was probably excited by the smell or sound of our turkey flock, several of whom perch on the open window sill behind stucco wire, to take advantage of some cooler night breezes. If the bear had been insistent (as we had seen on other properties) our plywood walls would not still have been standing, but they were. I walked thirty meters along the fence line to the forest edge, the bear’s normal trail and entry point into our property, and sure enough, there was the flattened trail in the same place as previous years.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

I began taking my windfall apples and dumping them there as peace offering, but they haven’t been touched in three weeks. This hot summer has meant a good year for wild berries, and now the creeks are full of writhing salmon, so we may be spared any bear predations this fall.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to give myself or you the impression that the bears aren’t around. My friend Clarence told me just the other day that his daughter, who lives across the highway from his place ‘on our side’ (as he put it ominously) stepped out from her back door last week midmorning to confront a grizzly only meters away. And when I went to pick blackberries in Clarence’s patch last week in the last of our heat, I was un-nerved to come across a maze of flattened vines and grasses. I suddenly felt I was in the middle of a vast alfresco restaurant, with various intimate nooks where bears had lain in the shadows and feasted on the berries hanging off the ‘walls’ in all directions. It was strange to think that a giant paw may have recently brushed over the very berries I was now tenderly plucking. Clarence confirmed the fact by complaining that there is a mama black bear and cub that have been frolicking in the blackberry patch “flattening it and making a mess”.

While picking I was always on the lookout for the mama ‘just in case’. My theoretical ‘bum-per’ sticker says ‘I brake for bears.’

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I have a friend, she has a lovely garden with blooming flower borders, lacy trees for shade, a darling garden house, a huge play-set for her grandchildren, and this…


A vegetable garden that has taken many of her gardening issues and solved them…permanently!

You see as a teenager she broke her neck, she has had serious neck issues ever since.  This precludes her from being able to bend over to tend her garden.  These raised beds have solved that for her.


She also has many deer that call her neighborhood home.  These hoops are affixed permanently to the sides of each bed with bird netting over the top to keep the deer from nibbling on her produce.  They are also used in the early spring and late fall for frost protection.

I am wanting to do something like this to my raised beds.

She has even gone to the extreme of pouring concrete around the beds to keep down the mess which our rainy Washington weather is known to make.  She also has noted that the concrete helps make for a micro climate the warms sooner and retains heat. 


Here is her celery crop all tucked in nicely to their bed, covered and protected.

I am tired of trying to solve the same problems year after year, I really want to make smart decisions that will solve these issues once and for all.  So over the last bit of summer and into the fall I am going to try to implement some solutions that will make gardening easier not just for now but for the long haul.  I will keep you updated on this…

Now here is my question for you, as well as myself

What are you doing in your garden to permanently solve some of your garden challenges?



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That’s it…I’ve had it!

I have one unplanted row in my cane berry patch.  I plan on planting it in the spring.  I have weeded it, mulched and weeded it again and again till I’m completely sick of it!

Yes I could cover the whole thing with black plastic but I want to kill, destroy, and otherwise annihilate the weeds, especially the thistle.

So I’m going to bring out the large artillery…I’m going to solarize it!

Solarizing is a method of essentially cooking any weed seed and lurking diseases in your soil.  It is cheap, easy, and very effective.

First I’m pulling out all the weeds…I have mostly thistle and blackberry.

Then I will lightly work the soil,  level it as much as possible (this was sod just a few months ago so it is still ‘lumpy’)

Next you need to wet the soil thoroughly…to approximately 1 foot in depth.

Cover the whole blooming thing with clear plastic…

And let the sun cook the life right out of your weed seeds…and any remaining weeds that are hiding there!

According to my research this method is supposed to help with the release of nutrients in any organic material in the soil.  It can also raise the temperature in the ground enough to kill wilt and root rot fungi.  I really just want revenge on the weed seeds…that is all I’m asking!

I have used this method often in the early spring to warm the temperature of the soil for heat lovin’ plants like peppers…in fact I left the plastic on over an extended hot streak this year before I planted out my pepper bed and have wondered all season why this is the one bed I have had very few weeds in…this must be the reason!

Anyway I’m going to leave the plastic on the rest of the summer (4 weeks is the minimum you can leave it on to be effective) and this fall I will plant the row with a cover crop.  Next spring after tilling in the cover crop,  my newest cane berries should be happy as can be in their new…hopefully weed free…garden row!

So go and take advantage of the sun and let it zap those weeds before they even come up to make you grumpy next spring!


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