The backyard of my house is pretty much what you would expect for a family that has young children: It’s spacious, fenced and home to an array of toy dump-trucks, bouncy balls and plastic swords.
There’s a Fisher Price slide, faded from the sun and rapidly becoming too small for my boys, a red wagon full of sticks and other found “treasures,” a couple of trees suitable for climbing and a lawnmower that blows bubbles when pushed.
For the adults, we have an archery target in the back corner, a fire ring for the occasional gathering of friends and a grill.
The fence that surrounds the yard is seasonally covered in morning glories and passion flower vines that make the place feel like some sort of secret garden.
All in all, it’s a lovely place to entertain, hang out or otherwise relax in. Or, it would be if it wasn’t for the other thing that likes to call my backyard home: fire ants.
Let me tell you about these bastards …
Those dusty mounds start poking up from the grass like little harbingers of doom and as the seasons grow warmer, they become bolder — straying away from the fence line and building colonies wherever their queen demands. Over the years, they have successfully conquered my land and my big, beautiful backyard has become suburbia’s equivalent to the DMZ — landmines everywhere.
They are so bad, last year we couldn’t even let the boys go out back to play and to try and mow the lawn was to take your life in your hands. More than once my husband fled the scene, making a break for the garden hose to get them off him as they swarmed.
This year, I have declared war on the fire ants and am determined to reclaim my yard from these invaders. There’s just been one problem: They are surprisingly difficult to kill.
Wanting to solve the problem without toxins or chemicals if I could, I first began my counter-attacks with an old Southern remedy: grits.
People around here swear by it: Have fire ants? Sprinkle some grits on the mound and they’ll eat it and the grits will swell and kill them. Works every time!
Except, it doesn’t. If anything, the mounds seemed to get bigger. I had the sneaking suspicion I was just … feeding them.
Still unwilling to resort to chemical warfare, I decided to try pepper. I heard if you sprinkle cayenne pepper on an ant mound, it will drive them away. And, to the credit of whoever came up with this method of defence, it worked. Kind of.
The pepper drove the ants roughly two feet away, where they promptly built another mound. Spraying them with dish soap yielded similar results.
I saw an intriguing video on YouTube where melted tin was poured into ant mounds which not only destroyed the colony but resulted in a neat piece of art that showed all the little tunnels and chambers deep underground. However, lacking a smelter and with no experience handling molten metal, I reluctantly dismissed the idea.
I was losing my ant war and it was time to raise the stakes. I poured gas on the mounds and resisted the impulse to toss a match.
At first, I thought I had them beat, the gas certainly seemed to kill them. But — like with the pepper and the dish soap — it wasn’t long before more mounds popped up in different places, leaving little scorches of dead earth in their path.
I gave up playing nice. Local ecology be damned, I put the nuclear option back on the table and I bought the most toxic, destroy the environment, pesticides I could find.
My initial concerns for staying natural and sparing the honeybees went out the window — I straight up nuked my yard.
It’s still a bit too soon to celebrate and declare victory, but it’s been two weeks now and I’ve yet to see a new outpost arise from the dirt.
I’m cautiously optimistic.
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Sentinel-Progress and can be reached at [email protected] Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the newspaper’s opinion.