Monday, June 23, 2014

Bugs are Gross: The Yoga of Gardening

(Warning, this blog post does have some photos of bugs... but I've tried to intersperse some pretty garden photos to make up for it)

I am not a fan of bugs. I'm the person that will squish a bug without hesitation. Release it outside so it can crawl back in? No thank you. Once, during my speech therapy visit at a daycare, while sitting as part of their circle time, I saw a spider crawling amidst our preschool singing fun and in front of all the children, squished it with gusto. The teachers were not impressed.
LADY SLIPPER! This flower is endangered in NS. It's illegal to pick them- I was yelled at by a park ranger as a child for picking one- they only flower every SEVEN years! A true treat.

I thought these gorgeous purple flowers were weeds, until they bloomed! Good thing I resisted pulling them up!

Unfortunately, our new house appears to be built on multiple giant anthills. Trillions of ants surround us. I swear. For the past few months we have fought the fight of the Ant. Tiny sugar ants that roam the kitchen floors (and sometimes counters- ew!) by the dozens. When they found their way upstairs in our bedroom I drew the line. No more Ms Nice Nature Loving Yogini. I was going to kill them all. Or at least find a way to keep them out. After a month we're at somewhat of a stalemate with periodic Ant Attacks (today dozens of sugar ants found their way into the kitchen under the cupboards, like jerks).

Pretty magenta lilac bush- who knew they could be this colour?
The following semi-natural approaches have (kinda) worked:

  • Diatomaceous Earth: Much of our house has this white powdery substance lining the baseboards. It looks like crap, but ants can't walk over it. It's seriously cruel actually, the Diatomaceous earth cuts at the ants and dehydrates them until they die. I know.'s natural and won't harm our cats if they try to eat it (which they haven't). They do tend to alternate course and try to find another point of entry. So a two-pronged attack is necessary:
  • Borax and sugar water: This came from my dad's suggestion to get liquid Ant Raid, specifying that we needed a 7% borax ratio. Which made us think- why purchase liquid ant poison, if it's just the borax that kills them? We have borax, we can make our own liquid solution and we'll know for sure that it just has borax, sugar and water. 
Our cat proof ant trap
Borax Sugar Water Ant Poison:

1 part sugar
4 parts water
Boil the water and sugar together, allow to cool. Add slightly less than 10% of the volume in borax. Mix and keep in a glass jar out of reach of children and pets. 
Using jam jar lids (or pop bottle lids) add liquid. Leave it outside or inside where you see the ants and keep away from pets and children. Allow the ants to leave with the solution (they bring it to the nest and it kills more of them that way). We used an old yogurt container with small holes cut in the bottom, put the jam jar lid with the borax solution inside and sealed it away from the cats. 

My new hummingbird feeder spot. We shall see...
These awful little bugs have even invaded our hummingbird feeder. For the third time tonight, I had to clean out the feeder since it had become cloudy with ant remains. WTF ants? Don't MESS with my bird feeders! I have been forced to place the hummingbird feeder on the clothesline next to the finch feeder. It's a bit ghetto... but this is serious business. Plus at least I resisted putting legit ant poison all over the hummingbird feeder.
These little white flowers are so cute. I thought they were wild flowers, since I found them nestled in the middle of a little wild plant section- but have since discovered they were planted their on purpose some time long ago!

The epitome of bug grossness, though, was this weekend:
ew ew ew ew ew ew ew
OMG the entire stem is covered. took these photos tonight. We should really spray the lupines with water tomorrow...

Saturday I decided that I would cut some of the beautiful lupines and lilies growing in our yard and make a bouquet for our kitchen. I was super proud of my Secret Garden Flowers (each bloom is a surprise!) and posted a photo on Facebook to prove it. The lupines and lilies smelled amazing and I did a happy dance each time I walked by the evidence that to no credit to us, we had an awesome flower garden.

And then Sunday I noticed dozens and dozens of seafoam green little crawly things ALL OVER OUR FLOOR. I nearly lost my mind. Yelling for Andrew to come over, we spent frantic moments searching and squashing this little buggers and flushing them down the toilet. They looked eerily like wood ticks, only green and I had a (shameful) moment of panic: "WHAT IF THEY'RE BABY TICKS????" (If you don't know what ticks are- good for you. They are awful and currently are a problem and lyme disease carrier in Nova Scotia. Each evening after our garden inspection we do full body tick checks). In order to kill ticks you need to burn them or cut them in half with something sharp. They don't squash.

Gross creepy crawly talk break- these are my favourite flowers in the whole garden. Originally they were among the half dozen I thought were weeds- specifically I thought they were grass gone to seed until they flowered! They're still pink and puffy weeks later!

Anyhoo... Andrew in his calm manner looked our creepy seafoam green bugs of death and informed me that in fact they are aphids. Not ticks. Also, they have a fairly short life span. And they love lupines. A quick look... and to our horror the lupines in my beautiful bouquet were COVERED in them. Cue second panic attack. ("what if they fly????" "they don't fly, Lisa").

Since neither Andrew nor I wanted to touch the flowers, we put the entire bouquet, vase and all, out on the deck and left it there overnight.

Andrew threw the flowers out in the compost this morning.

(pretty plant photo to balance gross aphid photo. Also- I have no idea what this plant will become- any thoughts? A weed or a flower?)

Lessons learned:

  1. Dunk flowers in a bucket of water prior to bringing them in the house (thank you Teresa for that tip!)
  2. Rip up all the front lupines in the fall. 
  3. Learn to love lady bugs.

These are herbs our of control in the front garden- the herb on the left has actually grown into the lawn- so every time you walk over it, a delicious smell wafts up!


  1. We tend to get aphids on our roses. We mix up a little dish detergent with water in a spray bottle and spray them. I forget where I learned it, but I think it does something to their shell/skin/whatever. Sometimes I need to do it a few times but it seems to cut down on their number a fair bit after just one spray.

  2. Yup, a little dish detergent and a little water in a spray bottle applied several days in a row will fix those aphids up good and proper - and if they DO turn out to baby ticks at least they'll be clean ticks.


    The mystery plant looks like a weed to me.

    The pitcher plant is gorgeous.

    The white flowers look like lilies of the valley to me. I always love to see them growing because my grandmother had them in her garden. That, and the fact that I cannot hear the word "Lilies of the Valley" without thinking of John Wayne's wonderful western BIG JAKE in which he finishes up in a barber shop shower and exclaims "I smell sweeter than Lilies of the Valley!" right before he gets around to shooting somebody.

  3. nice flowers! we have had ant issues too and i have tried both your methods. what worked for us last time was cinnamon. basically we put a thin line across all the points of entry to the house and it worked better than the DE. our pets sneezed a few times and then avoided the cinnamon. i am in the city of Saint Louis so no ticks, thankfully. Ticks, fleas and mosquitos are the worst! happy gardening.

  4. Oh my gosh, I hear you. This is our second summer in our home, and we hoped last year was a fluke due to all the rain, but no. Here, apparently, summer is the Season of the Fire Ants. They invade in droves, building hills all around the property, swarming walkways and porches, and coming in under doors every time it rains. I keep them somewhat under control with DE in the important places (inside chicken coop and kiddo's playhouse, for example) but nothing stops them for long.

  5. you are more than welcome for the tip. The purple flowers (second picture) are Columbines. I love them. They bloom every year. The little white flowers are Lily of the Valley. The will grow wild and the smell is amazing. Interestingly enough Ants and Aphids go hand in hand. The ants will actually 'farm' the aphids (google it , I'm serious). The borax works. Also, if I find a nest I pour boiling water down it. A non-toxic way to get rid of ants.

  6. Ants really are a pain in the butt. We usually get inundated by ants this time of year because they begin to separate into new nests when theirs is too full, which means little ants all over my kitchen, and flying ants all over outside. And here is the kicker.... if you have ants, chances are you are going to have aphids, because they love the sweet substance they secrete. They are actually considered aphid farmers.

    Here's my advice, for what it's worth: ants are sorta gross, but other than getting into things, the little honey coloured ones don't harm us. In fact, they help aerate our soil, giving it lots of oxygen to make it healthy for our plants. Learn how to keep them at bay in the late spring / early summer, then they stay in their place. With aphids, have learned that I will never be rid of them either. There are some plants they particularly enjoy, and I have sadly stopped growing those (or just watch feverishly for evidence of them). I love growing quinoa, but they were absolutely incrusted in aphids and that really did gross me out. I have methods for keeping their numbers down when I see them (the soapy spray, not planting plants they think are super delicious), but I also know that in my garden the lady bugs arrive and start doing their jobs. Nature in balance.

    I have learned that, other than learning some tricks for keeping their numbers down, I have to accept their appearance in my garden. I call it the zen of gardening. They are, and I am. If I want to irradiate them then I have to fall into the trap of using toxic products, which is a no go for me.

  7. I think the little white flowers are lilly of the valley. My parents had them planted at our house when I was a kid.

    Good luck with the bugs!


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