Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
THERE is a good reason why the Mediterranean people have a rest period or siesta in the afternoon, and that is down to the fact that the temperatures are highest then. Hot days sap energy yet we do not know how to handle it and act like the song ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen, Go out in the midday sun’.
Ants in pants
Our energetic gardening time is from spring until around now and with rising temperatures and other interests we tend to waver a bit and diversify into a variety of activities, such as spending some time near the water, with the sea being a big draw as we know the season available there in reasonable conditions is very short. On duller days we might get enthusiastic in the garden again and after the regular watering, possibly feeding, cutting grass and weeding there is not much else urgent to do.
We are possibly tolerant of most insects as long as they do not invade our space and I suppose it is true of many aspects of our lives. These can become unwanted guests in our garden and for a period of time, into our home. The black ant (Lasius niger) is probably the most common and while it is almost impossible to get rid of them all there are a few ways to discourage their summer invasion.
Ants have been around a long time (over 100 million years) and outnumber us by a million to one so I think the best way to deal with them is to discourage them to stay long in your home.
These ‘interesting’ insects come into your home in search of food and moisture and some of this is to be found in the kitchen and bathroom. Older houses have more cracks and crevices where the ants will find easier access, whereas newer built homes are usually better sealed and in this case they will come in the front door or open window. Unlike other creatures they are relatively clean and do not carry diseases so would only be classified as nuisance pests.
There is no point in squashing ants as if a few are left injured as they signal their distress and more will arrive to help their friends. They do not like the smell of white vinegar or lemon juice and diluting this with three parts water to one and spraying the area where they are will discourage their pathway indoors. Mint leaves on their own or made into a tea will have a similar effect. Keep food as sealed as possible and wipe work surfaces with the same vinegar/lemon mix.
Ants in plants
Livestock farmers and ants have a lot in common. As you know, Aphids such as the common greenfly build up in big numbers on plants during the summer and as they feed on the sap of plants they excrete a sugary substance called honeydew, which is what the ants are after and they have evolved to tend the herd of aphids so that there is a steady supply for the colony. The ants do not harm plants but will protect their aphids from other predators and will even move them to fresher plants if the host plant gets weak.
TIP OF THE WEEK
The seasonal strawberries have been ripening for a few weeks now and by mixing your varieties and locations you can enjoy your own fruit for about 6-8 weeks. The way to do this is to plant early, mid and late ripening types and then plant some in a tunnel or in full sun and others with less sun and in a variety of containers or in the ground. The plants will also start to produce runners with new plants at the end which can be replanted to increase your number of plants for next year. If you have any queries or comments you are welcome to share them with me on 051-384273 or [email protected] and if of general interest I will include it in a future article.