Battling Aphids and Ants – Part I

I planted my tomatoes in May or June (honestly, I can’t remember), but it was sometime in the late spring.  I bought four heirloom tomato seedlings from Jimmy Williams at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.  I followed Jimmy’s advice and didn’t trim off the “suckers” and  let the tomatoes run wild, only picking off leaves that looked yellow and unhealthy.  Before I knew it, a month or so later, we had gorgeous tomatoes that were delicious.

But then I got BUSY. I was working 50 hours per week and didn’t check my dear tomatoes every day or so. While I was driving away on the I-10 into Hollywood to work, the aphids were moving in.  And then the ants followed.  Not good.  Ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship. The aphids feed on the plant and excrete “honeydew” which the ants WANT. The ants are so obsessed with this honeydew that they will fight off aphid predators and actually bring the aphid eggs into their nest to protect them. The ants will then transport the aphid eggs to a new plant location.  This situation doesn’t bode well for any crop. My tomato plants weren’t looking happy, their leaves were yellowing and the fruit yield tapered. The ants and aphids had also attacked my artichoke plant.

I first attempted to hose off the aphids. They wash off really easily as they are delicate little critters. You can even wipe them off with your fingers. But, the next day, the aphids were back. So I got my organic aphid sprays and tried different ones over the next few weeks.  They were all effective for the aphids, but no match for the ants.  I then bought ladybugs.  They stuck around for a while (a sign that there is food like aphids for them), but then they took off. The ants were incorrigible.  Ugh! Was I frustrated and my poor tomatoes and artichoke were suffering.

I went to the Good Foods Festival in Santa Monica and met Christy Wilhelmi of gardenerd.com.  She is extremely knowledgeable and she told me that I MUST get rid of the ants to get rid of the aphids. She recommended Terro Ant Baits which are safe for organic gardens. You can find them here.  I purchased a pack and I’m still waiting for the results.  I’ll get back to you and let you know how it goes.

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