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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Ants in the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101

A very common complaint is ants in the kitchen.  Now we have been extremely lucky in that over our married life of more than 30 years and spanning a total of 19 kitchens including our RV and vacation home, ants have not been a major problem.  I dealt with one small infestation of very tiny ants in a bag of barley I had just brought home from the grocery store.  In our last house I dealt with a very small infestation of carpenter ants last year and surprisingly it was over as quick as it started.  Our new house sat basically empty with a full cupboard of open foods (eg. crackers, cookies, etc.) that we tossed when we moved in but not in time to prevent the small sugar ants from invading.  In some areas though, ants can be a huge problem.  I remember visiting my husband's aunt and uncle in the Florida Keys where a very busy line of ants could be seen coming and going over the counter and up the walls.  The problem with ants in the kitchen it two-fold.  First that is the most likely room of the house to attract ants and second, insecticidal sprays should not be used anywhere that food can be contaminated.  There are several natural methods of dealing with ants in the kitchen but first here are a few basics.

Controlling ants in the kitchen needs to follow the same basics for any pest control - knock down, seal out, eliminate food source, prevention.  Ants have a tendency to come indoors just before a rain so they are good weather predictors.  If you have the black carpenter ants in your house it is a strong indication of wood rot and/or moisture damage so be sure to investigate further and correct the problem before you have a very costly repair.  Ants have no problem getting into open boxed foods, breads and sugar costing you considerable dollars in some cases.  Discard any contaminated food then put all dried foods in glass, metal or plastic containers with tight sealing lids.   Now ants are smart critters in that they leave a scent trail for all their brothers, sisters, cousins and friends to find their way to the newly found food source.  It is very important to observe where this trail is then wash the trail away.  Soap and water will work or if you want something a bit stronger use a cleaner like Pinesol.  Go through and thoroughly wash any cupboard ants have been in before putting your protected food back inside.  Get out your trusty vacuum cleaner to clean up any crumbs on the floor, behind appliances, under stove burners and anywhere else that crumbs may be lurking.  If you don't have a hand held vacuum cleaner buy an inexpensive one for under $20.  This will be a very handy addition in your kitchen for cleaning up crumbs and eliminating crawling beasties.  Once you have completed all these steps, you are ready to move onto the most important step - prevention using natural control:

  • white vinegar -White vinegar is a fungicide with antibacterial and insecticidal properties.  Spray white vinegar where you have seen ants.
  • cinnamon  - Cinnamon acts as a natural ant deterrent and they smell good.  Place cinnamon sticks in patio door or window tracks and behind appliances.  Powdered cinnamon will work too if placed in a container that won't get tipped over.
  • garlic cloves - Garlic cloves are not as pleasant of a scent as cinnamon but they are quite effective at deterring ants.  Peel and slice the cloves then place where ants have been seen.
  • mint - Mint affects the ants' sense of smell acting as an effective deterrent.  Plant mint around your house but be warned any member of the mint family can be quite invasive.  I recommend planting in pots then placing them strategically around your house, indoors and outdoors.  You can use dried mint or mint essential oil as well but my experience is while the dried mint is effective it is a dust collector.
  • black pepper - Black pepper is a very effective ant deterrent.  Watch for ants then sprinkle with black pepper.  The ants will scatter immediately to their point of entry.  Treat that area as well with black pepper.
  • boiling water - If you have an ant problem in your home pour boiling water over any ant hill near your house.  This can be a very effective knock-down method but be warned should not be used around vegetation as the boiling water will kill it also.  
  • cornmeal/cornstarch - Ants cannot digest cornmeal or cornstarch yet they will eat it as well as carry it back to the ant hill, effectively killing them off.  Place cornmeal where you have seen ants.
  • borax - Borax will kill off ants.  Place it where you see ants or sprinkle over any ant hills near your house.
  • bay leaves - Place a couple of bay leaves where you see ants and along their trail to deter them.  Bay leaves have a lovely deep, savory smell as well.
  • salt - Ants will not cross a salt barrier.  The salt crystals are sharp, cutting into the ants' exoskeleton much the same as diatomaceous earth, another natural remedy for ants outdoors.  Food grade diatomaceous earth is available for use indoors but it can be hard to find.
  • ginger - Ants do not like ginger so it acts as a natural deterrent and like cinnamon will make your kitchen smell nice.
  • lavender - Grow lavender around your house and/or indoors to deter ants.  Dried lavender works indoors as does lavender essential oil.  Just place where ants have been spotted.
  • coffee grounds - Used coffee grounds have a lot of uses in gardens and they are effective at deterring ants indoors.  Just place the wet grounds in a small bowl (eg. dipping bowl) and place where ants have been a problem.

3 food lovers commented:

LindaG said...

I found out about the vinegar thing last year when I had a problem that I couldn't figure out.

I've had the little 'sweet ants' every once in a while, but last year they were really bad. We don't even use sugar, so not sure what attracted them, but wiping everything down with vinegar seemed to help.

Something else I just learned about mint is that it is a natural deterrent for mice. I knew it was... invasive, but our next trip to the retirement property, I plan on planting it around the house. Maybe pots sunk in the ground or not (that would be the least of the invasive problems); but until we can get moved in to the house, they are a problem. We currently pay Terminix to put out traps for them.

Thanks for the rest of the tips. Great post!

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Linda :) I think sweet ants will go for anything starchy as well since starch breaks down into sugar. I know they will go after sweeteners like honey, molasses and even artificial sweeteners. In fact, the artificial sweetener in the blue packet is good for killing ants. One packet can wipe out a whole ant colony.

I plan on planting mint along the wall of our house facing the field and along the back fence.

It would be great if you could eliminate anything like long grasses or English ivy that provide a habitat for the mice. I don't know what Terminix charges but you can buy rodent bait for about $12. A box of those baits scattered about the outside of your house will really help take care of the problem.

LindaG said...

One blue packet to an ant colony. I love it.

And am glad I don't use it! Wow.

Thanks again, GG!