Friday, March 09, 2007

A Nonpolitical Garden Post: Ants

The Diligence of Ants

Ants were the major role models for diligence in my childhood story books. These compared ants favorably to other insects such as crickets, never to gardeners. If gardeners had had their say the moral of the stories might have been different.

Although it is unclear just what this moral might be. The diligence of ants doesn't endear them to gardeners, because much of it is directed against the garden: Ants keep aphids which weaken plants and spread disease, they dig tunnels under plant roots which often kills the affected plant, and they build anthills, usually in the focal point of the garden.

All ants are an annoyance in the garden and some, such as fire and carpenter ants, are clearly more than that. But excluding the dangerous types, should gardeners declare war on ants? I don't think so. Life is too short for such a fight. And even if it weren't, what would we use for weapons? The only advice I have found on this that is acceptable in its effects on nature and other animal life is to pour boiling water on the anthills. I couldn't do this, not because I am squeamish but because I detest all kitchen chores.

In any case, the diligence of ants may benefit us in ways unrelated to gardening. Ellen Sandbeck notes in her book Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles that ants in the yard keep termites away. If this turns out to be true, multiple anthills in the garden will become a status symbol and a cause for rising property values.

Status symbols or not, multiple anthills are what I navigate around in my daily gardening, and I have reached an uneasy peace with them. After all, things could be much worse: my garden might teem with diligent deer.