Ants in the Compost Heap - and the Lawn!

Dear Martin

I am using the composter but have 2 problems, which I hope you can help me with.  

1. Does Garotta exist any more? I remember using it years ago but can't find it anywhere now. Any suggestions for a substitute?  

2. How to get rid of ants? The composter is full of them.What do I use that will not contaminate the compost? Loads in the garden too, nasty red ones.  



Dear Janet

Many thanks for your recent enquiry regarding the availability of ‘Garotta’ and the presence of ants in your compost heap. I have answers to both questions for you!  

To the best of my knowledge, Garotta is a compost maker – or accelerator – from the J Arthur Bowers range which is made by Sinclair Horticulture. It’s not a product we’ve ever stocked but should be on the shelves of any good garden centre or DIY store which takes gardening seriously.   I’ve never been a real advocate of compost makers or accelerators as during my Master Composter training, and based on experience gathered both before and after the course, it has become apparent that if you add the correct materials to your compost heap then accelerators are an unnecessary expense. It’s true you might get some results but, as I said, if you construct your heap properly in the first place these will be negligible!   

Ants in the compost bin is often a indication that the heap is too dry and contains too much ‘brown’ material such as sticks, twigs, straw and cardboard. I should imagine that the decomposition process is painfully slow as well, but the answer is relatively simple; add some moisture! I’d recommend you try and balance up the ratio of green to brown material you add to the heap – you want to aim to achieve 50:50 – by introducing ‘green’ material such as grass cuttings, weeds and vegetable peelings. You can also pour water onto the matter – nettles or comfrey left to stew in water are ideal – or leave the lid off to allow rain to enter.

The average garden compost bin supports an extremely complex eco-system and as such, I’d certainly advise against adding any form of pesticide for any creatures as it’s very easy to upset this delicate balance – and as ants will not want to nest or live in an active, well balanced heap your problems should be over!  

As for the ants in your garden, the usual advice we offer is to leave well alone, unless of course they become a problem in the house which is not really our area!    However, there are numerous – and interesting - techniques listed below which you may wish to try. Please bear in mind that colonies can consist of up to 300 ants so repeated treatments may be required and the queen can survive for up to 15 years, and after her demise the colony will die out.    The following methods can be used to help control the ants;  

• Mixing boric acid, toxic to ants, with icing sugar makes up a bait which will be taken back to the nest where it should destroy the colony
• Encourage natural predators, such as slow worms and toads, into the garden
• Douse the nest with cold water – boiling water will not do the lawn any favours
• As a last resort, control the ants by chemical means – please check at the local garden centre for the best type of insecticide, but an oil-based treatment is likely to be effective as it will break down the waxy outer coating of the ant, leading to dehydration and death.
However, we have just introduced a new nematode-based ant deterrent - known as No Ants -  which is both simple to apply and completely organic. The nematodes do not actually kill the ants but irritate them to such an extent they abandon their nest and set up a new home a considerable distance away.    

Many thanks once again for your enquiry and good luck with your composting and gardening in general!