Long-term, Venezuela’s economic crisis is already almost ten years in a row now. Inflation is harder and harder to control, and the value of the currency is dropping almost every day despite the efforts of the responsible power groups, making necessities like food and medicine inaccessible to the average person. Amidst all the disorder and the threat of the recent pandemic that terrorized the country and claimed many lives, threatening to kill many more, we have settled down and are looking for a way to make a decent living within our limited resources and means. Little things that might not mean much can be devastating in our situation. Even things such as ants in the garden.
But, what can we do? How can one take control of the situation and survive? Well, one of the possible solutions I have been working on lies in Hydroponics and Aquaponics. These seem to be a good future in my “survival” retreat. However, not everything is a smooth ride. We identified some issues, most of them referred to natural elements that could generate losses in the short-medium term.
Controlling insects without increasing the cost of production is hard. This is the story.
I am growing carefully a crop of sweet pepper plants, a highly sought-after spice in this region. However, only one plant survived, now only 30 centimeters tall…the victim of an ant infestation.
Sweet peppers are not so easy to grow.
I learned that the resulting peppers will be hot if pollination of sweet pepper plants occurs with hot pepper pollen from other plants in the vicinities.
Hot peppers are better suited for making spicy sauces than to add heat to dishes. Unfortunately, many sweet peppers sold in local shops are contaminated and mixed up (and sold) with hot pepper. The producers often recycle the seeds once and again without caring about the risk of cross-pollination. As a result, only about 30% of the shop-bought sweet peppers are not hot or spicy. Caveat Emptor!
I plan to stop buying sweet peppers from shops and start processing our excess peppers into a paste once our plot has reached a decent size. This could be a good source of income, as everyone buys these peppers and byproducts as commercially produced paste (it’s not cheap!).
But my plans were waylaid by tiny creatures.
Ants are social insects that live in colonies consisting of workers, soldiers, queens, and males. They are found all over the world, and there are over 12,000 different species. Ants are important to the ecosystem: they help control (other) pests, pollinate plants, and decompose organic matter. However, they can also be a pest in gardens, as they can cause significant damage to plants we need in our daily diet.
The ants that predate crops in this region live underground. In the deep jungle, there are varieties that even jaguars and anacondas avoid, known by the jungle people as Marabunta. Warm weather favors them a lot, as they are ectotherms, meaning they cannot generate their heat and must rely on the ambient temperature to stay warm. In other words, they are a potential plague. There are many varieties of ants, and most of them are very destructive for most of the plants in a homestead if not controlled.
Some plants, such as lime and lemon balm, are delicious to ants. We have these plants for medical purposes and cannot allow them to get sick.
I will combine several methods, including planting companion plants, neem oil, setting traps, and going hydroponics with organic fertilizer. I am confident I can save my plants and produce a good crop of sweet peppers this year. In my literature review, I learned this plant can grow with hydro or aquaponics, which is a goal for the future.
Damage caused by ants in the garden
Ants can cause damage to gardens in many ways. They can:
- Eat plants
Ants can eat leaves, stems, and roots of plants. They can damage flowers and fruits and can even kill young plants.
Ants are especially harmful to young and growing plants. They can chew leaves and stems, which can lead to the death of the plant. Ants can also feed on plant roots, which weaken the plant and make it susceptible to other pests and diseases.
- Spread diseases
Ants can spread diseases from plants to other plants. They can do this by transporting fungal and bacterial spores on their bodies.
Ants can spread diseases such as mold, rot, and blight. These diseases can cause serious damage to plants, even death.
- Attract other pests.
Ants can attract pests to the garden. For example, leaf-cutter ants can attract scale insects, which are a pest that sucks the sap from plants.
Ants can also attract pests like scale insects, aphids, and mites. These pests can cause quite serious damage to plants.
Severity of ant damage
The damage that ants can cause in gardens can be very severe. Ants can:
- Reduce fruit and vegetable production: Ants can eat fruits and vegetables, which can reduce garden production.
- Damage flowers: Ants can chew flowers, which can ruin their appearance if we intend to sell them as ornaments and impede pollination by other agents.
- Make garden maintenance difficult: Ants can make it more difficult to care for the garden, as they can clog hoses and sprinklers.
- Repulse people and pets: Ants can be a nuisance to people and pets.
- Be a health hazard: Some species of ants can cause painful bites or allergic reactions. Like the infamous “24” down here in the South American jungle.
Some native species of plants have strong compatibility with ants, and they nest in their roots until the plant dies like the “Ixora”. Ants nest in the soil, building caves, and can be a real pain to get rid of.
What can we do about ants in the garden?
However, this is a list of things we can do to prevent ants from destroying our hard work.
- Vinegar: Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution directly on the ants and their nests. The vinegar will kill the ants and deter them from returning. (Here, you can find further instructions and what vinegar to use.)
- Citrus: The smell of citrus is repulsive to ants. Cut lemons, oranges, or limes in half and place them around your garden. You can also sprinkle citrus peels around your plants. Lemon or lime juice mixed with water and sprayed in the area can also help.
- Coffee grounds: Ants hate the smell of coffee grounds. Sprinkle coffee grounds around your plants to deter them.
- Diatomaceous earth: Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring substance that is made of the fossilized remains of diatoms. It is a desiccant, which means it dries out the ants and kills them. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around your plants and the perimeter of your garden.
- Neem oil: Neem oil is a natural means for killing ants and repelling future infestations. You can also get this as an organic product.
Here are some other tips for getting rid of ants.
- Keep your garden clean and free of debris. Ants are attracted to food and water sources, so it is important to keep your garden clean and free of debris. This will help to reduce the number of ants that are attracted to your garden.
- Seal up any cracks or holes in your home or garden. Ants can enter your garden through cracks or holes in your home or garden. Seal up any cracks or holes with caulk or sealant.
- Use ant baits and traps. Ant baits are a good option if you have a large ant infestation. Ant baits contain a poison that kills the ants when they eat it.
Plague control and low water usage methods
With the increasing threat of plagues and animals, it is important to find innovative solutions to combat this issue. Currently, the state of plague control in Venezuela is not an exact science, as reliable statistics are hard to find. This is where hydroponics and aquaponics come in. By using these methods, small-scale farmers can grow crops without soil, using only water and essential nutrients. Not only does this save space, but it also saves water, and the crops grow faster and healthier than in traditional farming methods. Without ants having easy access to the plants, infestation is less likely to occur.
A parenthesis here: our method is to grow the seedlings down in the big house, where there is not too much space but water and sun are abundant, and once the plantlings have a determined size, we transplant them to the cabin for them to start their productive life cycle.
Easy, isn´t it?
Hint. It´s NOT.
The role of new technology in plague control should not be put aside. By using advanced systems to monitor and regulate the conditions of the crops, we can increase the security level needed to ensure the crops are pest-free and healthy. Not only single variables like humidity and temperature monitors but active pest control like this.
This not only saves time but also helps farmers in enhancing the quality of their products. However, implementing hydroponics and aquaponics can be a challenge. The initial investment cost could be as high as you want, which can be difficult for many farmers to afford. Furthermore, there is a lack of awareness and knowledge about these methods, which makes it hard for farmers to take the first step. Despite these challenges, the advantages of hydroponics and aquaponics over traditional farming make it a viable solution for us down here. With the ability to produce a reasonable amount of food in small spaces, save water, and grow healthy crops faster, these methods can help us combat the plagues more effectively. Being new “farmers,” this is an added value I am willing to try out. The fact we can get some tilapia in the same space is quite attractive, too. People living in those mountains can´t get fresh fish. The only alternative is a can of sardines or tuna, so I believe this will be a good idea to have.
With the economic crisis in Venezuela, the need for solutions to the plague threat is more critical than ever. We can´t rely upon agrochemical products that may not be available in the future.
Hence, sharing knowledge about the advantages of these methods is essential for plague control in the country. The more people that use these methods, the more self-sufficient and resilient everyone becomes.
Additionally, as more farmers adopt these techniques, the spread of plagues is reduced.
Don’t underestimate the power of innovative/creative solutions amidst a crisis.
Some commercial endeavors looking for profit have not been successful. I find this reasonable, as their benefit reduces to a mere financial profit. However, in our context, the value of harvesting products is an intangible that can´t be easily measured.
I believe in trial and error. Practical experience has shown to be the best course of action. There is already enough data to predict the outcome of these initiatives. If you have the space, it´s worth it a try so you can get decent results before something happens and you could suffer the impact of things not working as it was intended.
I plan to get some geomembrane and thick boards of styrofoam to repair my water tank in the cabin. I already have bought a heat gun to weld this geomembrane and build the needed layering for the inner. The idea is to keep rainwater and make a floating “garden”, like a “raft” for the plantlings where they will keep the roots in the water.
Stay safe, and keep tuned!
Have you ever dealt with ants in the garden?
Have you ever dealt with an ant infestation in your garden? Did it destroy your plants? How were you able to get it under control? Do you have tips to prevent this or get rid of ants in the garden?
Let’s discuss it in the comments section.
Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has an old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Jose and his younger kid are currently back in Venezuela, after the intention of setting up a new life in another country didn’t go well. The SARSCOV2 re-shaped the labor market and South American economy so he decided to give it a try to homestead in the mountains, and make a living as best as possible. But this time in his own land, and surrounded by family, friends and acquaintances, with all the gear and equipment collected, as the initial plan was.