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On making a killing field out of an anthill, and other pest control thoughts [Commentary]

When it comes to pest control, I'm not shy, but I like to make sure the only creatures affected by my efforts are the ones I'm targeting.

It would be a terrible thing if the dog's paw got snapped in a mouse trap, or a family member took ill because of prolonged exposure to some sort of high end pesticide.

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When it comes to weeds, I try to stick with stuff that's on the natural end of the scale, and my general preference is for pulling interlopers out of flower beds and cutting them to grass size in the lawn.

Outside, my inclination when it comes to weeds is to follow the lead of gardening guru Jerry Baker. For the uninitiated, Mr. Baker has written books featuring hundreds of potions made with combinations of things like dish soap, soda and water with chewing tobacco soaked in it. They're generally harmless to pets and people — so long as you refrain from drinking them — and the ones I've used seem to work pretty well, though not necessarily very quickly.

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As for pests that get inside the house – and in my case I'm mainly talking about mice and ants – there's something of a need for speed in dealing with the intruders, especially if they're mice.

There's an expression in the business world that says if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Curiously, the standard mousetrap featured in children's cartoons that were old when I was young are still the industry standard for rodent roundups.

Possibly it's because no one has ever built a better mousetrap, and, in my experience, they work just fine. There are some tricks to the trade, though:

• Choice of bait is key. The cartoon standard is cheese, specifically Swiss cheese, but it's hard to secure a hard or semi-hard cheese like Swiss to the trap mechanism. Softer cheeses work OK, but they don't stay fresh. Peanut butter is a modern standard, and it works, but I've had some fairly cleaver mice lick the bait right off the trap without setting it off. Another disturbingly effective bait is bacon. More about that later.

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• A mouse trap is good only for one kill. Once the trap has that smell of dead mouse on it, no bait in the world can lure anything but the dumbest of mice.

• To the degree possible, it's best to find a pathway used regularly by the mice and place the trap along the pathway, that way they don't have to go out of their way to get snapped.

Regarding the matter of bacon as mousetrap bait, it was first suggested to me by a colleague at work when I was lamenting not being able to catch a particularly elusive intruder. I used the bacon and within a day had bagged the little beast, but it wasn't a mouse. Rather a shrew – which as it turns out are meat-eaters rather than omnivores like mice – had made its final home in my garage.

Ants are the creatures, however, that have me vexed this summer. My usual course of action each spring when ants find their way into my home is to figure out where they're coming from and wipe out the appropriate anthills with the laundry additive borax. Finding the source of the ants generally involves letting them set up a pathway to the kitchen. Once they do this, all the ants will follow the same route and it's easy to trace it back to the source.

This year, though, I think they've taken up residence in the foundation, or something of that nature. I found one swarm and was able to wipe it out, putting a dent in the number of kitchen visitors, but they're not all gone.

Borax, by the way, is pretty much the active ingredient in a lot of those little ant traps available in grocery and hardware stores. When you buy it as a laundry additive, you can use it as both ant poison and laundry helper. I think the next step in my playbook will be to mix some borax with sugar and leave it out for the ants to bring to their queen.

Other pests I've been troubled by this season I'm willing to tolerate because, well, they may regard me as a pest. They are deer, fox, groundhogs and, I suspect, a skunk.

As I've lamented before, deer are the reason I've given up on trying to keep a vegetable garden. The grapevines that remain in my back yard still produce grapes, but the moment they turn from hard and sour to soft and sweet, they're eaten by deer. Still, it's nice, in my mind, that though I live in Suburbia, wild deer are frequent visitors to my yard. Same pretty much goes for the fat groundhog that lives nearby.

And I'd think the fox is a good addition, if it didn't sound like someone was torturing a child in the back yard every time it gets lonely and wants some fox companionship.

I don't know of any fox repellents, though.

As for the skunk, I've only gotten the occasional whiff of its presence and I'm not willing to provoke it, as long as it keeps its distance.

On the whole, I'm pretty lenient with my pests until they get in the house. Once they're inside, though, it's time for them to move on to the afterlife.

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