Seems a fairly simple arrangement doesn't it. It's one that's called a symbiotic relationship and if we could all just get along like these two insects then the world would be a happier place.
At a recent workshop by Sustainable Gardening Australia to launch our council's booklet called Home Harvest, Helen from SGA kept us all in stitches as she went through her very entertaining presentation on sustainable organic gardening. You know you have reached your comedic peak when very polite Asian gentlemen go from polite giggles behind their hand to laughing uproariously like everyone else.
As usual, its not the structured presentation that you hear all the good bits. Its the "in betweens", the conversation over cupcakes and the questions and answers that came fast and openly throughout the 5 hrs. So during a discussion on the need to water our gardens during winter and create biodiversity to allow nature to take care of nature, Helen asked the question. "Do we have ants in our garden"? Well Yes, i actually do but what has that to do with moisture? Well, here's the drum. There is no such thing as a low water veggie patch or fruit trees for that matter. They can be made more drought tolerant or water aware but if you don't water them then the plants will be weakened and be open to predators and disease and the harvest will lack flavor. That's it. No way out of it, you must water your garden. All year. Here is the big 3 - Airate your soil by forking the soil, use gypsum powder regularly (for those of us who live on clay flats), water deeply and mulch, mulch, mulch. While you are at it, throw in some mushroom compost from Soilworx (Hoppers Crossing and Deer Park). This is an unpaid advertisement. It really is good stuff and you might get the odd mushroom popping up.
The most common evidence of lack of moisture in your garden will be the presence of ants followed by an outbreak of aphids. Hello! That would be my veggie patch last season. Aphids everywhere. I didn't really notice the ants as they weren't the ones chomping away at my first ever crop. I can tell you that they were there anyway because where there are aphids, there are ants, working away together to destroy all your hard grown produce. What a team.
Ants don't do anything for fun. There is no fun for ants, its all work work work. So when you see them very busy running up your trellises or up your trees and veggies they are usually taking baby aphids that they look after in their nests in the ground, holding them in their pincers, to deposit them on the new fresh growth.
So what's in this relationship for the ant? Its called honeydew and it is excreted by the aphid and used as food by the ants. Honeydew is like crack for ants. They cannot get enough of it. So they not only transport the baby aphids to the their food but they will protect them by fighting off all aphids predators. This honeydew also causes Sooty Mold which looks like dusty charcoal on your plant.
|Ant on Crack - Honeydew|
There is an old wives tale that if we see ants running around like mad that it is going to rain. Its true. They cannot build their nest where it is wet. They have to move.
|Lightbulb Moment - 1|
Ants will tell you whats going on in your garden. They are like the canary down the mine shaft. If you manage the ants you can get rid of a lot of common problems in the garden.
I went to the big green warehouse (inside joke) and asked for Tansy. They didn't know what it was. I explained what my Horticulturalist/Soil Scientist presenter extraordinaire told me and they just looked at me blankly. Hence, i am still looking for a Tansy plant.
|Lightbulb Moment - 2|
Another way to get rid of aphids is to squish them and drop them on the ground in the bed. The dead aphids will tell the other aphids that this area is death valley and they will move on. Makes sense, doesn't it?
Hint- This smell of death also works for possums. Hang a stocking sock in a tree or from rafters filled with blood and bone. They respond to smell. This also works with Lapsang Souchong Tea (chinese herbal). Apparently it stinks so brew up a strong brew and spray it along the access path (along top of fence, or tree branch). Apply either method for 4-5 weeks and their habit will be broken and they will go elsewhere. Where? Who cares.
Hint 2 - Bats are difficult to get rid of but try hanging CD's as it affects their sonar. It bounces off the CD and affects their depth perception. Heavy Metal works best i am told. Personally, i would put the country and western ones out (if i had any) as they are not much good for anything else. (Just my opinion - its MY blog)
I did tell you that all the good stuff comes out all over the place. Such a wealth of knowledge. I guess if you run a nursery, frequently do presentations to budding gardeners that propose all manner of questions and can back that up with a few degrees, then you are going to know some stuff.
Other Methods of Aphid Control
Lace Bug Control Lacewing PDF
Check out link as you can buy punnets of Lacewing Eggs that you release at the beginning of the growing season. I'm not sure if introducing a bug that's not normally in your environment is a good idea but check it out. I am not an authority on this subject, so Google it.
Ladybugs - there are over 400 varieties of ladybugs in Australia and they eat aphids voraciously. So how do you get ladybugs or lady beetles in your garden? Do not use pesticides in the garden and provide them with plenty of food like flower nectar and pollen. The presence of aphids will keep them there.
Soap Sprays - use horticultural soap or soap made of vegetable oils. Helen was adamant that the sprays that many make up with dishwashing detergent and garlic should never be used as they contain surfactants (the degreaser element in detergents) that harm worms and other good bugs that breathe through their skin.
Lime Sulphur for serious outbreaks. Please Google. PH of 11 - so be very careful.
So, there you have it. All i know about ants and aphids. Though i don't want either in my garden you got to love the way nature works.