By Lisa Jansen
Discovering my orange oil ant killer was a triumphant epiphany after a lengthy battle with ants.
I’m an old farm girl. As a child, when on our way to the family cabin at Lake Tahoe, we’d sing, “The ants go marching one by one hurrah, hurrah.” Good thing this is an article and not a recording. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. The song went on, “the ants go marching two by two, the little one stops to tie his shoe…” You get the idea. Where there is one ant there is two and most likely 200 or 2,000. I’ve rarely seen a single ant. I live in the Tahoe National Forest today on my own little micro organic research farm and the ants are still marching.
I feel like Bill Murray in the movie Caddy Shack at times. The last couple of years I became obsessed with how to kill them. I am living in an old RV now because my home burned down, and I’ve not yet replaced it with a permanent structure. There are so many types of economically sound and environmentally wise ways to go, I’ve not yet finished the research part of that project. This RV was given to me because it is old and in poor repair. The folks that owned it were throwing it out. It is serving its purpose without cutting into my home replacement budget, however, it is full of entry points for ants, spiders, mice and more. I don’t mind living with the wild life, flora, and fauna, but I don’t care to sleep and eat with them. Looking over my freshly caught and cooked trout to a stream of ants makes me mad. I’ll tell you how I avoided camouflage and dynamite in the ant wars.
I don’t have just one type of ant. Oh no, that would make it too easy. I have at least four kinds. There are more than 22,000 species of ants. Wikipedia reports ants as 15 to 25% of the terrestrial animal biomass. That’s lots and lots of ants. If you want to avoid ants altogether you’d have to move to Antarctica. I have a feeling farming would be a bit more challenging there so I’m stuck with this battle. I have ants on apple trees, small black ants that are attracted to sugar, large black carpenter ants, small red biting ants and large red biting ants. Some of the larger black ants seem to be attracted to grease or protein, so I may have two species of large black ants. The carpenter ants live and breed in rotten stumps and fallen trees. My forest is full of potential ant apartment complexes. Wikipedia also says ant colonies range in population size from a couple ants to millions. You can even get ants in a beehive. Bill Murray didn’t know how easy he had it.
Ants don’t eat garden vegetables you may say. They don’t bother my flowers. Wrong you are! While studying plant propagation in college I learned that ants carry aphid eggs, mealybugs, white flies, scale insects, and leafhoppers, which eat both flowers and vegetable. Well, technically aphids suck the moisture from the plant and will eventually kill it. Personally, I don’t want to have to buy a boatload of organic insecticides or plants that repel bugs naturally, to stop what ants have started. I don’t want to spend hours battling bugs and eat and sell poor quality, bug-gnawed fruits and vegetables. The war is on. There are a number of weapons to choose from before I discovered my orange oil ant killer; let’s open the arsenal.
Conventional Ant Killers
My grandma Jansen used old-fashioned ant stakes in her garden and they worked. Ant stakes are still on the market and are rather cheap in comparison to the many types of ant traps. Grandma went off label, so to speak, and used them even in the kitchen. She taught us they were poison and not to touch them. I’m not sure what was in them in the old days, but I suspect it was a stronger poison than is allowed today. Grandma didn’t fool around.
I confess I tried ant traps inside the RV. I prefer organic methods, but after waking up with ants in my bed and finding ants in my food it was time to try heavy artillery. A popgun was not gonna get it! I purchased three different brands of ant traps over the summer and was disappointed with them all. They were poison, expensive and had a short life of effectiveness. They also took up too much space in the tiny RV and were dangerous to my pets. At the best, they reduced the amount of ants coming in, but never eliminated them. What a waste of money for me.
One website advised putting all foods in glass, plastic, or metal storage containers. The containers need to be snug and air tight. Plastic bags will not do because ants can chew right through them. It continued with instructions on cleaning the entire house with bleach to remove food residue on counters and in cupboards. Lastly, it said to put out cornmeal mixed with insecticide. The ants eat the cornmeal and are poisoned to death. Oh, goody! I like the dead ant part, just not the poison on my counters and cupboards part. I put food on those surfaces. In my mind, food and poison don’t mix. The bleach is to be used again to clean off the dead ants and poison, I guess. This method also required that the entry points be found and sealed. That’s not going to happen in my RV. It has no sealed areas, even the door does not latch. Furthermore, in the home that burned down, it would have been just as impossible. The walls had open spots big enough for small mice to enter. It was an old cabin built by semi-skilled hippies with site milled cedar. Carpenter ants nest in cedar.
Safer’s Soap and Other Organic Solutions
In a fit of rage, I went out and grabbed my Safer’s Soap. I use Safer’s Soap on some vegetables and flowers but found further disappointment. Safer’s Soap does not kill ants. Then I remembered a friend who was very sensitive to pesticides. She used diatomaceous earth. A line of the exoskeleton scratching and drying powder makes a barrier. If the ants cross it they are injured, dry up and die. Kind of like crop dusting—cool! You’ll find the body count in the morning. It was a cheaper solution but messy and again took up too much space. The little buggers just seemed to find a way around it anyway.
At this point, I had a taste for death. I wanted to see them suffer and die. They violated the sanctity of my home. They slept in my bed. The little creeps crossed my last strong hold. They touched my dessert.! They attacked my strawberry rhubarb pie! Time to turn to the big guns. Chemical warfare.
I am a bit of an absent-minded professor. My background is as a lab rat. I worked in agricultural research in labs, libraries, and fields. I was a clinical lab technician and best of all, a phlebotomist (the person that draws your blood). Yes, I enjoy torture. Oh, in the right setting that is, and only for the better good. Like the good of my vegetable garden, my fruit trees and my pies. Really, you can check my greenhouse and barn. I have yet to create any Frankenstein-type plants or animals, but the temptation is there. Flubber might be a possibility.
While messing around with massage oil recipes I created garden “Agent Orange” oil ant killer. There’s probably something on the market like it, but I didn’t check. I live very remotely. I can’t just hop in the car and run down to the corner garden shop. Besides, why spend the money when I can whip it up in my lab, I mean kitchen? I took mandarin peels, some rubbing alcohol, cloves and apricot oil, put it in an empty bottle and stored it in the cupboard for treating sore muscles. Additionally, I crushed the mandarin seeds and popped them in the bottles. That was an absent-minded professor afterthought—I wanted the strength of the orange oil, the essence. That was last winter.
Fast forward to spring. I went to the greenhouse to start propagation for the summer vegetable garden and found ants. Not just a few. I heat my all-solar greenhouse with compost. Waste vegetables from a local store go into three small compost piles inside the greenhouse. In other words, I heat my greenhouse with ant food! My greenhouse is a geodesic dome. It has a wooden frame with an 18-inch high perimeter framing member that makes a perfect highway to all three compost piles. The walls are covered with sheet metal 18-inches high also. I’m not sure but I think some ants are nesting behind the sheet metal. It is a warm, moist and sheltered wooden area that ants prefer for colonies.
I stomped back to the RV and the well house complaining about the ants, and my brilliant leban gotte (that’s German for live-in man) said to try the massage oil. He’s a very smart and resourceful man. I knew that orange oil is acidic and kills bacteria, so I took his suggestion. I put approximately one-quarter cup of the concentrated oil in a two-quart watering pot. That is likely stronger than it needed to be, but this is war and as my mom always said, “All’s fair in love and war.” I marched to the greenhouse with pure ill intent! It was simple and lethal! Sweet success. It was immediate. It was grotesque. Just what every garden warrior craves and lusts for. Their little bodies flopped over, curled up and died. Rigor mortis set in before my very eyes. I rubbed my hands together and rumbled with satisfactory laughter. My eyes gleamed with pride at the watering pot. The ultimate weapon. Oh, I forgot to mention, I also worked in pathology and as a firefighter and EMT. I’m a bit of a ghoul, too. And, my garden and fruit trees and especially my pies are safe. Farm girls need to eat. We work hard. I won the war against ants and so can you.
Garden “Agent Orange” Oil Ant Killer
• One orange peel
• Crush all seeds from the orange and add to a small bottle. Brown bottles are the best, but any type will do in a pinch.
• One cup almond or grape oil
• A few whole cloves, crushed
• A tablespoon rubbing alcohol or witch hazel
Put it all in the bottle and store in the dark for two months or until needed. When needed add 1/4 cup of “Agent Orange” oil ant killer to two quarts of water. I keep a special pot for homemade insecticides and use it for nothing else, thus eliminating killing a plant while watering, by mistake. I poured the water directly on the ants and in the seam where the sheet metal met the perimeter beams in the greenhouse. I’ve only seen one small ant since then. There were no ants for over a month. The orange oil ant killer soaks into the unfinished wood and seems to last well. I’ll retreat when I see more than one ant.
Have you used an orange oil ant killer? Have you tried making your own? Let us know!
Bibliography and Other Sources of Information
~ Carrots Love Tomatoes by Riotte, Lousie (Available from the Countryside Bookstore)
~ Sunset Western Garden Book, Norris Brenzel, Kathleeen (Editor)
~ Sunset, Time Home Entertainment, Inc. 2012
Originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.