Thoughts on fire ants, raised beds and self-watering containers?

lois(PA Zone 6)October 27, 2013

Before we moved in, poor hubby was bitten about 14 times on one leg by fire ants as he was taking pictures of the house. He promptly got the bait poison and it seemed to have resolved the ant issue for now.

His leg looked really bad for about 10 days, with long red streaks where the toxin had traveled down his leg.

Question 1: Is there any medical treatment available for fire ant bites of that magnitude? He never felt the stings because he has an arthritic condition in his spine that causes both pain and numbness in his legs. I am afraid he might unknowingly get stung again despite our keeping the ant poison on hand.

Question 2: If I built raised beds for our future veggie patch, or constructed some big self-watering containers (which have 2-4 inches of water in the bottom that wicks up into the soil in the container above), am I inviting fire ants to come set up housekeeping in the raised bed or container? Or do they just come and set up housekeeping regardless?

Thanks for any advice!

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In my yard they love my raised beds. I hate them. I've used all the commercial treatments. Everything works but new ants move in eventually. By Fall I am sort of desensitized to the toxin but in the Spring they cause a lot of pain that lasts for about a week. Rubbing Worcestershire sauce on the bites takes the sting away but the lingering effects persist. I also find that cold water applied right away helps a lot.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 6:15PM
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Amdro really works for the fire ants. You have to buy it fresh every sping tho.
VInegar straight up will take the sting out of the bites, but mabey you should apply it every month walking around finding the nests, since your hubby can't fell the initial bites very well.
The Amdro does work though, good luck with your raised beds.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 8:11PM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

Thank you so much, I will make sure we have Amdro.

I suppose I don't HAVE to have raised beds, unless I use them as a kind of early warning system (assuming that's where the evil critters would make for first). Do they like cultivated ground just as much as a raised bed?

Does anyone have any experience with self watering containers?

Back in the old country (PA), the little pavement ants loved the raised bed, but never seemed to invade the self watering container. The non-self watering containers were another story; they colonized them like a penthouse, entering in and out through the hole in the bottom of the pot.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 10:02PM
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Perhaps I have jut been lucky, but fire ant mounds are distinctively raised up unlike most other ant mounds and therefore fairly easy to spot except in tall weeds.

I think it might be useful to repost my comment from a couple years ago.

The North Carolina ag extension agents have been giving classes in fire ant removal for a year or so. The gist of the class is the following.

The effective way to remove fire ants is to poison the ants with any of the slow acting types that slowly get carried to the whole colony including the queen. This completely removes the colony AFTER A FEW WEEKS. Generally these are distributed around but not on the hill on a warm day when the ants are foraging. Put a potato chip near the mound if in doubt; if the ants don't show up in 30 minutes they won't be around to pick up the poison until it gets damp and unappatising.
Also important; one should not indiscriminately poison all ants. Other ants are teritorial and will fight to keep fire ants away. They are your friends!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 8:46AM
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I use Amdro in the rest of the yard but not in the raised beds where I grow food - its not considered organic nor is it environmentally friendly. To me, it works the best but can take a day or so to see any results. You often see the results in piles of dead ants at the entry area, they look like tiny coffee colored jewels on the ground. Around food crops I use a similar bait based on the chemical Spinosad which is considered "organic". I think the product I use is called "come and get it". But (and there's always a but) insects quickly develop a tolerance to Spinosad. In my yard it seems to work for a year or so and that's all.

I find that just messing with the colony will cause them to move somewhere else. Often I pretend that they are extra thirsty and need a nice long drink from the hose.

My elderly neighbors laugh at me for using a dolly to move even a one gallon pot across the yard, or a bucket to haul sweet corn the 20 steps to the kitchen door - its all because I've learned the hard way that fire ants like to live inside black plastic pots and ears of corn and heads of lettuce. You don't want to hold anything up against your body.

In the summer I often have one of those large plastic tubs with the rope handles off to the side and full of cold water - something to step into if my bare feet are getting stung.

Fire ants like to crawl up inside your clothing and wait for a chemical signal from one ant then they all start to sting at the same time (they grab ahold of your skin with their mouths but they actually sting you with the other end, like a tiny wingless bee). So loose clothing, no socks and simple sandals mean it is easier to get them off of you if you should get swarmed. Otherwise you're ripping off your clothes while you run to the door and those same elderly neighbors will think you've finally gone crazy.

My yard's fire ants only build the raised mounds if we've had a lot of rain the soil is moist, otherwise they can look like any other tiny ant colony.

Don't worry - a new invasive ant is on its way up from the deep south and it kills fire ants. I believe they are called Crazy Ants. They're bigger and I don't think they sting but they invade houses.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:14AM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

Bad thing I read about the crazy ants is they are attracted to nest in electricals.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 3:43PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

Dottie, fire ants love electrical stuff too! I'm an electrician and I get calls all of the time about so and so not working. I open up the boxes and they are full of fire ants!

I have more electrical failures to repair due to fire ants than anything else!

It costs my company at least $10,000 every year to repair the damage!

    Bookmark   November 7, 2013 at 12:07PM
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