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Ancient Remedy

We had an ant problem last summer. We tried a protective boundary of pellets around the outside of the house and a slew of those ant traps that are supposed to allow the ants to carry poison back to the nest, where they can destroy the whole population. One or both of the methods worked a little, but not very well; the ant invasion dropped off, but didn’t stop, and even that dropoff happened slowly enough that we had to suspect the oncoming autumn had some part in it.

The ants returned a couple of weeks ago, and we took some online friends’ recommendation of boric acid, and it worked great. Where I poured a line of the stuff, the ants stopped coming in. When they tried another entrance, they found a homemade syrup of ordinary sucrose and B(OH)3. They didn’t come back for seconds. Soon, no ants were coming by even for firsts.

Advanced chemistry is capable of minor miracles. But sometimes the old, simple chemicals work best. Strange, then, that it took some searching to find it. Two groceries and a small, local hardware store carried only the slicker-looking but ineffective traps with active ingredients I couldn’t recognize. Home Depot had it—a few bottles tucked low and out of sight. With a small additive so it could be marketed as a brand-name product instead of merely “boric acid.” I guess you can’t charge as much for generic, no matter how much better it works than the fancy stuff. Another breakdown in the myth of the perfectly informed customer…and of the myth of the free market that depends upon one.

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