If I can get rid of ants, anyone can.
As those of you who read this blog know, we live in the jungle. I’ve often said our kitchen is one inch from nature; one inch is the thickness of our single-wall constructed house and our native hardwood flooring.
The One Inch precept has made me a fastidious housekeeper. Leave one blob of mayonnaise on the counter, and bugs will arrive to scarf it up. Leave the dishes unwashed overnight in the sink, in the morning they will be crawling with little crawly creepy things like cockroaches, or worse, ants.
I hate ants. I’ve examined my aversion to them, because I don’t hate nature in general; in fact, I am the one who will capture a bug in a glass jar and remove it to the out-of-doors rather than kill it. I have no animosity toward spiders, scorpions, or even wasps. But show me an ant, and I start obsessing about how to exterminate it. I think it is their unremitting self-determination I find so daunting. Frightening, really. That, and their violent relationship with other ants, which reminds me of us. Humans.
I recently heard about a scientist researching cancer, how he based his treatment to target it. Because cancer cells divide rapidly, and tend to hide within the normally dividing human cells, he focused on organisms that use swarm intelligence, and specifically ones that never give up. Ant colonies. Place anything in their path and they will find an alternate route. They are the squirrels of the insect word.
Last year we had an ant outbreak that just about drove me insane. I scrubbed the counters within an inch of their lives, sprayed them with ammonia or Clean Green. All of which had the effectiveness of water. Ants scattered out over the my counter tops casually bumping noses and sending messages, no doubt about some delectable food find. Every morning, when all I wanted was a peaceful cup of coffee, I did battle them for fifteen minutes or more. I eliminated bacon from our diet—not a bad thing, I suppose—because the grease attracted them in throngs. Bacon has also become outrageously expensive in Costa Rica, but that is for another post. Or, read my friend’s blog on the subject of increasing taxes on food and other items.
I moved the small compost container (with snap-on, air-tight lid) from the counter to the kitchen table. I quit using the countertop by the stove to prepare any food. And still ants ran roughshod over those work surfaces. I’d find them coming up the side of the counter. I sprayed. I applied poisons— I know, I know—between the counter and the wall. A few days would pass and there they were again like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
I’m baaack! Heeeer’s Johnny! [Note: this has been edited due to mass cultural confusion, mixing up Poltergeist’s, They’re Baaack!–my original post– with Nicholson’s cry from The Shining. Just trying to be accurate here] Anyway…a thick stream of them coming up the side of the stove, panning out like river deltas, covering my counter. When I began thinking of things like flame throwers to kill them, I knew I needed a permanent fix.
I went to my trusty Macbook and googled ants + eradicate + traps. Countless sites (here, here, and if you prefer video, here) referred to a mixture of boric acid and sugar. It was purported to work, but I was despondent because I’d tried that a couple of years before and it didn’t work for me. However, I realized, I had made a liquid mixture, as recommended. Hmmmm, maybe if the mixture is dry the ants will track the boric acid to their nest and infect the whole mess of them.
What the hell, I thought, I’ll try it. So I mixed the boric acid and powdered sugar in a 50/50 dry mix and made cocaine-like lines along the back splash of my countertop. It took a day, but I noticed the ants began to focus on the bait. In fact, within two days they attacked it like addicts, snorting up my little lines of white powder. They ate so ravenously I had to replace the thin lines almost every day. I said to my husband, “Well, if this is a far as we get, I’m happy to have them away from my space.” I was able to prepare food on the same countertop; the ants stayed with the bait at the back of the counter, eating and tromping around in the mix. They trailed back up the back splash, through a crack, and disappeared behind the counter.
I left them alone.
The method is not fast, but it has been impressively effective. Within two months I had little to no ants. And because the mixture was up on the countertop, I did not have to worry about the dogs getting into it. This is something to remember: boric acid is poisonous to children and pets, so if you use it, keep it away from them. You can do that by putting the mix in a jar and punching holes in the lid, but my outbreak (and mental wellbeing) required the ants find the bait post-haste. It would have taken too long for them to find it inside a jar.
How does it work? According to Debbie Hadley in her About.com article, How to Make and Use Homemade Ant Baits,
“Boric acid works primarily as a stomach toxin on ants. The worker ants will carry the bait food, loaded with boric acid, back to the nest. There, the ants in the colony will ingest it and die. The boric acid seems to interfere with their metabolism, although scientists aren’t exactly sure how it does so. Sodium borate salts affect an insect’s exoskeleton, causing the insect to desiccate.”
I don’t know about that, but I know it works. Hadley and others recommend the liquid mixture, but, as I said, it did not work for me. The dry mix is easy to control, and, once the ants focused on it, I increased the amount of boric acid in the mix. Eventually it was a 3:1 mix, more or less (this is not rocket science), and the ants never stopped going for it. They loved it. I removed the bait when they appeared to be gone. When I saw another small outbreak–probably a new hatch– I replaced the bait. Four months later, none. Zero. Zip.
We haven’t had an ant problem now for about a year, but I can never get lax in my housekeeping. The other day I left some chicken scraps on the counter after making a chicken sandwich with mayonnaise (always a magnet). When I came back after lunch there were about ten ants orbiting the countertop. I squished them with my thumb and then sprayed the counter and the back splash with vinegar, which also works; I’ve written about its excellent properties before.
No more ants…. for now. But I am always aware that they lurk a mere inch from my kitchen.
13 natural remedies for the ant invasion by Kimi Harris
How to Stop an Ant Invasion WikiHow
Getting Rid of Ants The Frugal Life