By Chuck Nafziger
Spring 2015 came along with the grand awakening of plants and animals here at the Bear Pond. As usual, ants started showing up on my porch and occasionally in my cabin. In years past, their arrival taught me to pull back the weeds that grow around the posts holding up my cabin, and the infestation would abate. This year, ants even went into Jill's spiffed up home, the studio on the east side of the pond. Jill had only little ants. I also had the little ants and, as usual for my cabin, the huge carpenter ants too.
When Jill mentioned her discomfort living with our little Hymenoptera friends, I went for the plastic bottle of boric acid powder "Roach Killer", that had been under the sink when I bought this place ten years ago. "Controls Cockroaches, Ants, Silverfish" touts the label. Boric acid is fairly benign as far as nasty stuff for killing insects goes, so I kept it around. Pulling the weeds around the posts supporting my cabin had always worked for me in the past, so I had not used the powder, even though I use boric acid dissolved in alcohol to make green flames in fire sculptures.
This year was different. Old age makes life seem busier, and the weed pulling got put off. I had often wondered if the weed pulling just coincided with a natural abatement of the ant problem, or if it actually did stop the ants. This year I got some evidence for the latter.
One morning in the second week of May, after a week with numerous ants being seen and stepped on in the lower part of the cabin, I awoke from a nice sleep in my bed on the loft, and while getting dressed, picked up a tee-shirt from off the bed and found a dozen or two larvae and two large ants tending them. Not wanting to share my sleeping quarters with them, they were quickly tossed outside. I do not like killing the creatures who live around here, but I value my privacy. My privacy seems to rule and I am more careful to do good removal than I am careful in removing the intruders intact. I do not like waking up like that. The ants had been on my comforter which is a plain dark blue, so the white larva showed up very well. I wondered why the ants had chosen that place to rear young. They were much too close to being inside my bed.
Later that afternoon, I found more ant larva on my bed. I again cleaned them off and in analyzing the situation, realized that they had dropped out of the unfinished woodwork around the skylight above the bed. This cabin was not made by an experienced builder and has a lot of poorly constructed and unfinished aspects. It is scary to work on any part of it because I usually start to repair one thing and end up rebuilding ten times as much as I thought the project would entail. The ceiling boards are lapped cedar boards, called cedar channel which are usually used for outdoor siding, and have natural paths of about 1" x 1/2" behind every lapped board, running the length of the boards. The ants could have lived there forever without me knowing it if the ends had been sealed with a trim piece, but since they were open, the larva fell out.
Even in old age, there are priorities. I went out and pulled the weeds from around the posts in the cabin. Then I again cleaned off the new larva from my bed comforter and considered what to do for the night. Finally, I decide to screw in some cup hooks and hang a cookie sheet below the channels where the larva and ants were appearing. Before hanging the ant catcher, I put a squirt of boric acid powder into each of the channels. Success! The next morning, there were only a few larva in the catch pan, and none on the bed.
When Jill asked me how I was doing dealing with the problem, I asked her if she meant the problem of "sleeping with the babies," the ant larva. Sometimes it is best to find cute ways of talking about gross things when living in a very rural area. I enjoy living close to nature. It is fun to share the porch with bats, mason bees and a friendly jay. The cellar spiders, aka daddy long legs, are welcome in my cabin. I would hate to live in a typical hermetically sealed, sterilized cube. I wonder how the Indians and the pioneers dealt with these problems. The next night, I gave each channel another squirt of boric acid powder and left up the ant catcher. No new ants in the morning.
Whether it was time or weed pulling that ended the ant infestation, it very quickly abated. I am no longer sleeping with the babies nor squishing ants on the cabin floor. Next year I will pull the weeds during the last week in April and see if I can avoid murdering more ant friends.