From the Garden with Fi Morgan: The Ants Are Farmers

In this week's From the Garden, Fi Morgan discusses how the simple ant can assist us to keep our plants healthy.

When you are out wandering through your garden keep an eye out for lines of ants marching up and down a plant. This is a classic sign of an aphid or scale infestation. If you haven’t spotted the plague of pests on the plant yet, you’ve gotten in early.

What are aphids and scale? They are small animals that feed on plant sap. Think of them as the vampires or leeches for the plant world. They are about the size range of midges to large fleas. Scale are oval and flat and tend to adhere to the plant and look like innocent bumps. They are often black or a rust colour. Aphids have small legs and usually no wings. They are often green or black. But both come in a huge variety of colours – white, yellow, green, orange, red, brown, grey, black. As you can probably imagine, one or two of these tiny sap sucking insects isn’t a problem. But en masse they will bleed a plant to death.

What has this got to do with ants? Ants are farmers of aphids and scale. I kid you not. It gets weirder. They pick them up and carry them to juicy feeding spots. And no they don’t eat them once they are fattened. Both aphids and scale shit a sugar syrup. True! Ants love to eat this. Which is why they make sure their herd are well fed and protected from predators like ladybirds. And when the ants realise a particular plant is keeping their ‘honeydew’ producers happily munching they line up their army and carry the sapsuckers to the feast.

How to get rid of them? Scale are best rubbed off by hand. Spray aphids off with water or squish them. There are some chilli, garlic etc concoctions that some people swear by but don’t use insecticides as these will kill the predators that are on your side – unless your plant is in urgent need of ICU.

Not all ants farm like this on your plants so don’t necessarily take your frustration out on the ants that make hills in your lawn. Have you noticed how they hill up before it rains? They’re a pretty reliable predictor of wet weather on the way.

Join us for our first episode! The Bello Food Growing Podcast is starting Thursday July 30 at 4pm.

We will be talking spring planting because, believe it or not, it’s almost time! That’s right, August is the month to get your spring seedlings going.

Our guest expert is Pete Bufo of the community gardens fame, who is very generous with his lists of what to plant in which month for this area. And I’ll be chipping in with Bellingen Seed Savers ‘what to plant when’ knowledge too. We’ll be talking about the common things you probably know about and want to grow, and quite probably a bunch of easy-to-grow things you may never have heard of.

As this is a live Zoom call, we can show pictures of the plants we talk about and you get to ask live questions and clarifications. Much better than TV or radio!

Then we have an open Q&A for your seasonal growing questions, and community announcements related to food growing (spare seeds? Looking for something?). Yes it will be recorded if you can’t make the live session.

The plan is for this to be a monthly live Zoom call (sorry, I know we’re all a bit Zoomed out but it’s the best solution!). Last Thursday of every month. 4pm during winter. Put it in your diary. The first two episodes will be entirely free. Ongoing will be a pay-what-you-can model to cover running costs.

Go here to register for the Zoom link & friendly reminders.



Just in case you’ve missed Fi’s previous tips ‘From the Garden’………

A Few More Things About Citrus

A Few Things About Citrus

Edible Weeds

Last Chance for Snowpeas

Pigeon Peas Are The Go

It’s Time for Fruit Trees

All Things Brassicas

Planting for Winter in the Bellingen Shire

Where to Place Your Veggie Bed

Building a Garden

Feed the Soil Part 1

Feed the Soil Part 2

What Grows Well in Pots

And don’t forget to check out Fi’s stunning artwork- the Garden Series HERE

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