Ants in organic gardening

Dear AntWeb,

I am curious about ants and I'd like to know If they (like Formica rufa) have potential to keep caterpillars or other "pest" away from cultivated vegetables. I guess yes, though there must be some difficulties to move the ant hill from one place to another, it might be restricted by laws or the ants might not like the new place as is. If it is possible to move them, or there is a way to do so, please tell.

Thank you your answer in advance,

Dear Ferenc,

Thanks for contacting us!

Generally, we highly encourage organic gardening and think it's a great idea to pursue your gardening projects without any artificial pesticides. However, I do not suggest moving an ant colony closer to your garden to help them fend off caterpillars. You are absolutely right that ants can provide a defense for plants as they might chase off herbivores either by preying on them or through there mere presence. This may or may not work depending on the ant species you find and how well they are recruited to your plants. The ant colony might also just not make the transfer and you did all the work for nothing. Also, the opposite of a positive effect for your garden might happen. Ants often herd aphids in order to feed on the honeydew that these herbivores secrete. This might then introduce a problem with aphids in your garden. Instead, I would just remove caterpillars manually or improve the quality of your backyard for natural predators such as birds. Setting up some nest boxes might help already! Birds consume high numbers of caterpillars - in particular if they are feeding their offspring. There is also an organic pesticide that you can make yourself. You just place stinging nettles in a big barrel and top it off with water. It takes about a week and you'll have an effective tincture against all sorts of herbivorous insects. You can spray this on your plants and there won't be any negative effects. Beware though as the smell might not be pleasant.

I hope this helps and good luck with your project!
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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