Last year at this time, my wife found carpenter ants in the corner of the garage. We got a quote from an exterminator, but the only option they’d consider required a one year contract with monthly “treatments.” Net outlay would be $300 for the initial treatment plus another $450 for one year of followups.
I had several problems with this:
- It seemed like a lot of toxic shit was going to be sprayed each month, even when the ants were dormant, as they are half the year. (I can only assume that a licensed exterminator has access to a much deadlier arsenal of unpronouncable chemicals.)
- There was no guarantee that they’d actually get rid of the ants, only that we could call them and they’d come by and spray again.
- At the time, they also had a bulletin board whose comments were mostly disgruntled customers unable to get followup visits. (Don’t bother checking, it’s gone… I’m really surprised they had it there in the first place.)
- Our garage is unfinished, meaning there’s plastic sheeting covering the insulation. The contract required me to remove all this so they could spray behind it, then I’d have to put it back. That’s a lot of work on my part and I’d have to pay them money on top of that.
- They weren’t willing just to do a one-time treatment for the $300.
So for $21, I bought a pound of boric acid and some pre-mixed spray at Home Depot, removed the plastic and insulation, and coated the walls where we saw a definite nest. I followed up the remaining permiter with the boric acid. That seemed to fix the problem…
Until this evening. As I was pulling in the driveway this evening, I noticed my wife was hauling stuff out of the garage. She’s visibly upset, and eventually I figure out it has something to do with the ants streaming along one of the garage walls.
I spoke with a guy at Home Depot at great length and came away feeling that the only way to rid my home of carpenter ants was to spray around the perimeter very thoroughly, squirt boric acid behind the outlets, then, the following week, go after nearby food sources like tree stumps.
They recommended a $35 bottle of Ortho-Klor, which has bifenthrin. According to detoxourhomes.org, this rates a “yellow,” which I assume is worse than Boric Acid (a “green”) but not as bad as chlorothalonil, an organochloride. The labels on all of the products you’ll find in the store are very scary, and I have strong reservations about using them. However, at this time, it’s too late to put up a sign: “The aphids are better next door.” Ants can’t read.
After the garage was cleaned out, I pulled off the plastic, donned my long-sleeve shirt, respirator, goggles and started mixing more ant toxin. I have to say again, that I really have concerns with using this stuff. It’s not just the “toxic to fish and wildlife,” but also it being absorbed by skin. And the math… the recommended mixture is 1 tablespoon to one gallon, unless you’re going after termites, then it’s 6 tablespoons to a gallon. (So a one-quart bottle will do about… 64 gallons! My God, that’s like two bathtubs.) The labels claims it kills ants for anywhere from four months to five years. five years?!
I spent most of the evening spraying in corners and especially saturating areas where I saw ants. I tried to keep it very close to the house so the kids would be less likely to play in it, but I can’t help but feel the earth is scorched. (Can you tell I’m really worried about the toxicity of this?) After the stuff dries, I’ll put the insulation and plastic back on, then slowly restock my garage. I guess this is incentive to get rid of all the junk I’ve acquired, eh?
Strangely, our other two “pests” don’t bother me.
- Spiders — Western Washington is called “Spider Heaven,” and my house supports this claim. But you know, I don’t mind! Not only do they generally stay out of my way, but they also eat other bugs. (But they don’t eat wood.) When they get big and juicy enough for my spouse or kids to make a stink about them, I’ll try to scoop them up and let them go outside.
- Slugs — there are more varieties than you care to know about. The yellow, banana slugs are native to the area and quite beneficial. We leave them alone. The others eat gardens. Although they’re a little gooey, they don’t move quickly and jump out at you, nor do they bore into your walls.