I took mom to her hairdressers who works out of her house.She cuts hair there.Turns out that she is a gardener and she gave me a bunch of plants.Wow.Ornamental grass,hydrangea,herbs,iris,on and on.Whole car load.I had promised myself that this season I would limit myself to only a few new plants in addition to my vegetable garden.The vegetable garden always goes in.Vegetable gardening is my passion.I'm a practical man.I like to eat what I grow.Of course you can eat quite a few flowers actually as Dee Moss points out in her edible flower piece but you know what I mean.
So yes,I was going to limit myself this year as far as perennials and what not as I'm running out of space but this hairdresser forced them on me.Ok,who am I kidding.A gardener can no more say no to free plants than a crack addict can say no to free crack.It is an addiction of sorts.We love growing things and we get a thrill out of trying plants we have never grown before.We know we have almost no space left but we just can't help ourselves.The drunk at the bar says just one more drink and I'm going home and we gardeners say just one more plant and that's it.We're both kidding ourselves and we know it.
Well,as I said,I'm running out of room to plant so I dug up paving stones that I use for a path way to make space for the plants the hairdresser,um,forced on me and when I did I exposed this colony of red ants.I had never seen these type of ants before.Being a gardener I'm quite familar with the various insects in and around my garden both good guys and bad guys but I had never seen this species of ants before.They were quite tiny and when I exposed them by removing the stone they started scurrying around and grabbing up their eggs, as ants do when their nest is at risk.Women and children first kind of thing.Or in this case,just the children.
Well,about 5 feet away these black ants started boiling out of the ground and attacked the red ants.Ants give off chemicals(pheromones) so perhaps the black ants smelled them or perhaps a black ant scout stumbled into them as they were scurring around and ran back to his nest for reinforcements.
At any rate,the black ants just tore into the red ants and all hell broke out.Total war.I felt bad for the red ants as they were half the size of the black ants but they put up a good fight.They used team work.3 red ants would jump on a black ant and rip his head off.Holy Smokes.I pulled up my favourite lawn chair and cracked open a cold one.I had to watch this and it was something to see.Total war.Better than a Canadian hockey fight.At least five square feet was covered in ants and they were having at it.I watched one psycho black ant kill at least 40 red ants.Talk about blood lust.He snipped them right in half.One right after the other.Snip,snip,snip.Than a bunch of red ants jumped him and that was it for him.Ripped him to pieces.Yes,the red ants put up a heck of a fight but they really didn't have a chance.The black ants were much bigger and stronger.Once they got teamed up on,the black ants went total bonkers and really went at the red ants.Complete slaughter.They got so carried away that some of them started attacking each other.That was funny to see.They would bite each other and than back off and say,holy smokes,this fellow is on my team.What am I doing?Than he went running off after a red ant and tore him apart.It was something to see I tell you.
Well,the war raged on for a good half hour but in the end the black ants killed every red ant in sight and dragged their bodies into their nest where I guess they feed on them.But they didn't stop there.They went into the hole where the paving stone was and they grabbed the red ants eggs!Holy smokes.They grabbed them and ran away with them.I guess they didn't want the red ant kids to grow up and get revenge on them.It was a total massacre.Talk about genocide.Wow.Those black ants don't mess around.They took heavy losses themselves but they prevailed in the end.
Some say that man invented war.Not true.The ants were warring on each other before our ancestors even crawled out of the ocean.
As I said before,we gardeners are no strangers to the insects we share our gardens with.We know the good guys and the bad guys.We love Lady bugs because they eat aphids.We crush slugs under our boots with no mercy because they eat our plants.
But what about ants?Are they good for our gardens or bad?Well,according to this article,Ants,The Good,The Bad & The Zanny,ants can be very good indeed for our gardens;
"They eat pests harmful to crops and orchards. They destroy garden pests, killing small larvae and culling aphids before they can destroy the plant they are on. Ants kill 40 percent of newly hatched plant-feeding bugs and 30 percent of flies, making them more effective than some pesticides. One species of ants destroys up to 12,000 larvae a day!
Ants also pollinate while feeding on nectar, and their tunnels allow air to circulate in the ground, which is beneficial to the soil and plant roots. They are useful in creating a stable ecosystem."
Wow!I bet that will make you think twice before you kill ants in the garden again.I have to admit thatI have killed ants in the garden.Quite recently in fact.I plead guilty.I'll tell you why.Did you read the part about how they aerate the soil?That's true but sometimes ant tunnels can be so numerous and large that they can actually dry out the roots of young seedlings and kill them.I and other gardeners lose several plants every year from that problem.This year I lost about ten pea and beet seedlings due to ants tunneling amongst the tender little roots.Well Hells Bells.What's a few seedlings compared to the fact that they eat 40% of newly hatched plant-feeding bugs?Live and learn.I didn't know that.Not that I'm going to let them take over the garden but I'm certainly going to be more tolerant about losing a few seedlings.I can always sow more seeds and once the plants are older and more established,the ants can't hurt their roots.Keep in mind that I'm talking about the average backyard ant not those Fire ants that some of you have problems with.They have to go and I mean now.
Did you read the part in the article about how some ants will herd aphids like cattle?Is that wild or what?And what about how some species of ants will enslave other ants?Holy Smokes.Deb,the Guide to About.com Insects,talks about that as well in her article,10 fascinating facts about ants.Here's a few;
"6. Ants will enslave other ants, keeping them captive and making them do work for the colony.
Quite a few ant species will take captives from other ant species, forcing them to do chores for their own colony. Some honeypot ants will even enslave ants of the same species, taking individuals from foreign colonies to do their bidding. Polyergus queens, also known as Amazon ants, raid the colonies of unsuspecting Formica ants. The Amazon queen will find and kill the Formica queen, then enslave the Formica workers. The slave workers help her rear her own brood. When her Polyergus offspring reach adulthood, their sole purpose is to raid other Formica colonies and bring back their pupae, ensuring a steady supply of slave workers."
Perhaps that's what the black ants were doing when I watched them running off with the red ant eggs/pupae.Raise them and turn them into slaves?I'm glad ants are alot smaller than me or they might drag me into their tunnels and make me do all the cooking and cleaning.Geez.They may be small but they are strong,
"1. Ants are capable of carrying objects 50 times their own body weight with their mandibles.
Ants use their diminutive size to their advantage. Relative to their size, their muscles are thicker than those of larger animals or even humans. This ratio enables them to produce more force and carry larger objects. If we had muscles in the proportions of ants, we'd be able to heave a Hyundai over our heads!"
Well,ants are certainly amazing.Is there anything they can't do?Maybe they invented the internet.No,Al Gore did that.After learning all this I have gained a new respect for them.Mind you,I'm never going to turn my back on them.War,slavery,mass murder and super strength.Nope,I'm keeping my eyes open.
However,keeping their dark side in mind,I learned one other thing about ants that has certainly earned my respect.Not only do ants help our gardens as stated above;they are gardeners!Again from Deb,
"8. Ants started farming long before humans.
Fungus farming ants began their agricultural ventures about 50 million years before humans thought to raise their own crops. The earliest evidence suggests ants began farming as early as 70 million years ago, in the early Tertiary period. Even more amazing, these ants used sophisticated horticultural techniques to enhance their crop yields. They secreted chemicals with antibiotic properties to inhibit mold growth, and devised fertilization protocols using manure."