Fire ants, goats and old dirt

Oct. 14, 2011

Fire ants, old dirt can get your goat growing organically

What do fire ants, old dirt and goats have in common? They are the subjects of questions or items in the news recently. Here goes …

Reader response: I am fed up with ants! I lost more sweet corn to ants this year than to ear worms. Today I pulled out all my cornstalks and cleaned out my (Jim’s plot 4×8) raised beds and wound up doing an ant dance. What can I do to drive these painful visitors from my garden? What is a good cover crop for areas that have not seen the light of day for 60 years; I am purchasing and tearing down the house next door to create a larger vegetable garden.
First off, the ants:
There is an OMRI-approved fire ant bait called Garden Safe Fire Ant Killer; it’s sold at some Walmarts, but I haven’t seen it lately. You may have to order it online. It’s safe for organic use and works great. Also, there’s Eco-Sense from Ortho. Both are spinosad products; the active ingredient is derived from a naturally occurring soil dwelling bacterium called Saccharopolyspora spinosa.
Such treatment is good for large areas; for individual mounds, if you prefer more “natural” methods, try pouring boiling water or dumping coffee grounds on them.
Second: the “dirt” being exposed.
I’d plant it right now in crimson clover. That will put nitrogen in the soil and will hold moisture.
In spring, you can use your tiller to create strips in the clover for planting, and perhaps overseed it with some other type of cover crop, like buckwheat (which all kinds of pollinators love).
Next year, you might want to try planting fava beans, which add nitrogen to the soil and can withstand cold temperatures.
The point is to put vegetative matter in the soil while also building fertility and restoring helpful fungi and bacteria. These cover crops are often referred to as “green manure” because they grow (are green) yet fix nitrogen from the air in the soil.
Good luck!
•Foraging, online: Here’s a place that offers wildcrafted gourmet food in
I wonder if a wildcrafting restaurant would be successful here?
•In honor of the State Fair , here’s book to get your goat … so to speak!
I thought Brad Kessler’s book was THE goat book (Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese, Scribner, 2009, $24), but I was wrong. My new candidate: The Backyard Goat: An Introductory Guide to Keeping Productive Pet Goats by Sue Weaver (Story Publishing, 2011, $16.95).
As you may recall in a previous column I praised Kessler’s lyrical book as perfect for anyone who has dreamed of buying a farm, raising goats and making cheese. That still stands. But now, Backyard Goat seems a good rival for hobbyists or would-be homesteaders. For example, there are sections on:
•”Think Like A Goat,” what explains, among other things, why goats fight (they have a pecking order).
•”Why Goats Climb on Cars” (“The hundreds of breeds and types of goats in the world descend from mountain goats”).
•”How to Choose a Healthy Goat” (showing drawings of “good udders” and “bad udders,” among examples).
•Even witty sayings about goats you can drop into conversation (“Do not mistake a goat’s beard for a fine stallion’s tail” – Irish Proverb).
It also includes diagrams on milking, shearing and cheesemaking.
Very cool.
Mark your calendar
I’ll be speaking on Backyard Organic Market Gardening at The Mississippi Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference & Trade Show from 2-2:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Vicksburg Convention Center in Vicksburg.
For details about the conference, see

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit

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