[permaculture] of ants and aphids

Lawrence F. London, Jr. venaurafarm at bellsouth.net
Thu Dec 10 23:50:30 EST 2009

Dieter Brand wrote:
 > I have seen many examples of how ants nurture aphids, but what I saw 
today still surprised me.  The ants had built mud structures around my 
artichoke plants (stalks and leaves) so that whitish ants that normally 
only colonize the roots could feed on the plant’s green parts even in 
cold weather.  They built delicate earth walls around the stalks to 
about a foot above ground and started to plaster the artichoke leaves 
with mud to a height of two to three feet. In the part they had 
completed, there was a narrow hollow space between the plant and the mud 
walls so that the ants could circulate freely for milking the aphids.
 > The ants also already nurture colonies of aphids on the citrus trees, 
something they normally only do in March or April when the weather gets 
warmer.  They also collected much of the wheat I had broadcast into the 
fields.  Normally, I can broadcast seeds without soil cover from 
mid-November because the ants stay underground during the winter.  I 
have never seen ants that active by mid-December.
 > Looks like ants and aphids are adapting well to climate change.

That's an amazing story. Here's a fascinating page at Rincon-Vitova 
Insectaries website on ants.
<...>"Aphids, mealybug, soft scales, and whitefly, among other 
plant-feeding pests, develop fascinating mutually beneficial 
relationships with ants and our allies the predators and parasites are 
not invited."<...>

 > Are we?

I don't know yet how I will deal with the drought we will probably have 
in my area next Summer. I have thought about it and have decided to 
plant crops only on areas I can properly tend and water instead of over 
several acres, after tractor weeding, tillage, hilling and bedding. Like 
I will only plant what areas I can work with hand tools. This should 
work out fine. I have adequate cover crops covering the entire site.
When the ryegrass matures and sets seed it will lay over and form a 
dense thick mulch, protecting the soil from drying and hosting 
successive crops of weeds, maybe volunteer vegetables. I can plant 
squash in this area with great success. I left thick beds of ryegrass on 
fields this year with planting any crops there. They look great now, 
succession weed crops look to be quite manageable. Of course the huge 
numbers of ryegrass seeds lurking under the mulch are always a problem 
for future cropping, but a manageable one with shallow tillage, careful 
bedding and observation.

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