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Termites and hugelkultur ?

Andy Sprinkle


Joined: Jan 09, 2012
Posts: 46
Location: Lexington, Kentucky Zone 6
My house has a poured concrete foundation aproximately 2' above the beds in front of my house. Above that is mortored in stone facade. I am in to process of redoing/making new hugelkulture beds in the front yard but my wife questioned if I could be inviting termites into our house by burying wood within a couple feet of the house? There is wood framing behind the stone. Is this something I need to worry about and not do?
Rufus Laggren


Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
    
    4
As I understand it, everybody not living north in Alaska needs to be aware and respect termites. From 20+ hours of research in the last week I would say there is _no_ "final solution" to this agent of entropy. They're out there, they go everywhere and they do their stuff on the q-t. From my view, the main deal with termites is that they never stop foraging and they go through any holes greater than 1/64". That means that to deny them entry to your home your defenses have to essentially be perfect - forever. Doesn't sound like a good bet. The fall back position is to try to force them to show themselves by crossing a perimeter that you can see and inspect fairly easily every few months. In conventional construction this is the "termite shield". However, it takes some considerable care and regular effort to resist these buggers because they will happily come up through the floor to dine on your baseboards or paneling. (Remember - anything bigger than 1/64" makes an entrance way...) The ground bugs require water, so if you keep the house dry they won't actually live there, just eat and run. The dry-lander breed _will_ come to stay, though; but they don't breed as fast and so don't eat as much and generally give you more time before the house falls down (or the leg of the chair collapses).

In short, your wife has a good point. Whether they will eat your house fast enough to trouble you is an open question, but they're out there looking and they're going to find lots of dinner somewhere. There is no solution, just continuous vigilance, care and precaution.

Rufus
Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
You are right. Burying large volumes of timber by your house is asking for trouble. Im a professional termite person and no Im not a redneck. There is no quick explanation / answer for termite management and control, but in short, hugelkultur beds are an extraordinary increase of risk for termites. However, and just to complicate things, do I have hugelkultur thing going ? You bet I do. Basically, it depends on how your house is built as to what the risk is. basically, I wouldn't let the word termite stop you from doing Hugelkultur, but you should know what you're dealing with regards to termites.
Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
Rufus Laggren wrote: The ground bugs require water, so if you keep the house dry they won't actually live there, just eat and run. Rufus


That is basically totally false.
Morgan Morrigan


Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
Borax powder on the dirt beneath logs?
Spray on logs?
anything that could help?


Get involved -Take away the standing of corporations MovetoAmmend.org
Sandra Ellane


Joined: Nov 08, 2011
Posts: 71
Location: New Mexico high desert Zone 7a, alkaline soils. 9" average annual rainfall.
The houses here in NM are almost always poured slab on grade, but we have termites (and we're definitely in the dry desert). I had a house that got some in one portion, along a brick patio of all places. I think you're wise to keep wood a little ways away from the house.

By the way, termites like drywall too, not just the wood itself. Chickens will eat them though .

Maybe the closer you are to the house, you can modify your hugel bed to not have as much bulky wood. Build it with earthworm-friendly substances to get your soil in a good state.


http://citylivingnaturally.com
A sustainable approach to life in the city
Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
Morgan Morrigan wrote:Borax powder on the dirt beneath logs?
Spray on logs?
anything that could help?


No, no, no. Absolutely no. Totally ineffective.

Basically the potential problem is creating a concealed site for a termite nest, and you must try and avoid this. Termites work in colonies, which means they have a nest as central headquarters as opposed to just running around like a gang of youths causing problems.

It's just the nest thing that you want to stop. Termites feeding on timber beneath the ground is not such a great problem really. After all, they are the greatest soil makers of all if you wnat to take a total ecocentric ethic to it. If its just a feeding site well that's nothing more than what you'd be normally dealing with anyways.

So use smaller logs, no wider than 5 inches, and this wil lower chances of a nest being made to start with. If you just used thinner branches instead of the big logs that would be better too. They will not be suitable for termites to even feed on - well not the dangerous variety anyway. If you throw big cut 1 piece solid logs on there, termites would find that the ultimate thing for making a nest.

No need to abandon your hugelkultur beds just because of termites, just be a little smart about it.

The next big rule is - never listen to what lay people tell you about termites, there's a very good chance its totally false or way out of context and will scare the pants off of you or give you false confidence, one or the other.

Rufus Laggren


Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
    
    4
Hi Philip

>> Rufus Laggren wrote: The ground bugs require water, so if you keep the house dry they won't actually live there, just eat and run. Rufus

> That is basically totally false.



According to what I read (extensively) the subterranean termites require a certain amount of water and they cannot find enough in the structure of a normal house. that means they don't colonize the house, but return to the ground to hydrate.

So enlighten me about "totally wrong". Please.


Rufus

Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
Rufus Laggren wrote:Hi Philip

>> Rufus Laggren wrote: The ground bugs require water, so if you keep the house dry they won't actually live there, just eat and run. Rufus

> That is basically totally false.



According to what I read (extensively) the subterranean termites require a certain amount of water and they cannot find enough in the structure of a normal house. that means they don't colonize the house, but return to the ground to hydrate.

So enlighten me about "totally wrong". Please.


Rufus



With pleasure Rufus. Termites do need moisture and do need contact with the ground for it. True. However, under these conditions they can still make a nest in your walls, generally called a secondary nest. They like to build them in between timber wall studs. The termites will have contact with the ground and have a nest in the driest of walls.

Secondly, its almost irrelevant if they colonise your house or not - by that we're referring to having a nest in your house. A termite infestation is a termite infestation, it doesnt matter if the nest is in the house or not, its just the same - same amount of termites; same amount of timber destruction.

It is a wide spread myth that people think if one keeps the house dry everything will be fine. It is not the case at all.

Other myths that exist re termites inculde: black ants will keep them away - wrong; Chooks eat them - irrelevant.

Its often a case with termites - dont believe everything that you read. Often these things are written by people who looked something up in a book, extrapolated the infromation and wrote in their book and then someone else read that book and put it in their book. And its all a little off the mark. The other source of this information is people extrapolating simplistic point form information. You will always read, keep the sub-floor area of the house dry to deter termites. This is true. You are best to try and keep it dry, it will lower the risk a little. But it will not in any way stop termites getting to the house. They leave that last part out.
Rufus Laggren


Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
    
    4
Philip

Thanks for your info. I have read about nests in walls, but was unclear on what part of the termite cycle they represented. It sounds like the "dry nest" won't survive w/out constant and active connection with the soil, right? I didn't mean to imply that dryness alone would solve a termite problem, by the by; just that the subterranean bugs need ongoing connection with the earth in homes that don't have chronic and severe moisture problems. I _think_ you would agree with that?

It looks to me like the best/only hope for subterr. termites is to break the ground connection (or using it to distribute effective poison) while keeping the building normally dry. Easier said, of course, but conceivable I think. Because no fix is in any way permanent, even expertly applied poison; this means inspecting regularly from now until you and the building part company. And giving yourself a chance to actually do a complete inspection would greatly benefit from building (especially the earth contact areas) with termite inspection (and exclusion) specifically in mind.

That's about the sum of what I know about subterr. termites. Where I live I hopefully won't run into the dry wood type. Hope, Hope...

Rufus
Joshua Finch


Joined: Apr 23, 2012
Posts: 55
Location: Helsinki, Finland
    
    1
Philip,

What would you consider to be "a little ways" from a house?

I say this because our last load of wood mulch from the city had a small termite nest in it. I managed to kill almost all the termites by squashing them (or feeding them to gold fish). Suspect shovel fulls were spread out very thin along the ground so they would be exposed to the sun. This was all about 20-30 ft from the nearest house. I did use non-infested mulch (we inspect every 3 shovels for trash and termites are hard to miss) right next to the house in new beds we prepared. About 3-4 inches deep of wood mulch. I've been a little worried that we are inviting trouble.

It is a good thing we are transitioning to green manures instead of wood mulch. Our garden is starved for carbon (like most suburbanites) and wood mulch seemed to be a good way to get started, but after meeting those termites we are glad its not a long term thing for us. Needless to say, I still worry about them getting to the house.

So, what are your thoughts on wood mulch near a house?
Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
Joshua Finch wrote:Philip,

What would you consider to be "a little ways" from a house?

I say this because our last load of wood mulch from the city had a small termite nest in it. I managed to kill almost all the termites by squashing them (or feeding them to gold fish). Suspect shovel fulls were spread out very thin along the ground so they would be exposed to the sun. This was all about 20-30 ft from the nearest house. I did use non-infested mulch (we inspect every 3 shovels for trash and termites are hard to miss) right next to the house in new beds we prepared. About 3-4 inches deep of wood mulch. I've been a little worried that we are inviting trouble.

It is a good thing we are transitioning to green manures instead of wood mulch. Our garden is starved for carbon (like most suburbanites) and wood mulch seemed to be a good way to get started, but after meeting those termites we are glad its not a long term thing for us. Needless to say, I still worry about them getting to the house.

So, what are your thoughts on wood mulch near a house?


First, keep in mind Im from Australia, so different species, but I do believe the termite ecology / species are pretty much the same in north america.

Termites you find in wood mulch are of no consequence to the sound seasoned timbers of a house. Good news hey? It depends on whether your house is a high risk house or a low risk house as to thwether wood mulch near the house is okay or not. Low risk houses it dont matter a damned hoot; high risk it matters more and probably shouldnt be done really, but I never freak out about it too much.

The dangerous termites are not really interested in fragmented pieces of wood. They want the dry seasoned stuff with grain structure still in place, thats what they need to feed. The mulch tends to feed the ones that like decayed wood in little bits on the forest floor.

The termites you see in the mulch are not actually the nest. That would be extremely rare. Its just some feeding termites, and once broken up they are of no consequence at all. No need to feed them to wildlife or pour petrol on them and light them up - like many do - as they will die anyway, I guarantee you, and even if they didnt die it wouldnt really matter either.

So what constitutes a high risk situation and a low risk? Thats another story.
Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
Rufus Laggren wrote:Philip

.... It sounds like the "dry nest" won't survive w/out constant and active connection with the soil, right?

Rufus


Theoretically, no. But a nest cut from the ground could survive for quite some time, and will also go to great lengths to make ground contact. You cant just assume it will die at all. A nest is a significant structure and once established is quite robust. If termites are just feeding in the house - the most common scenario - the termites will die if broken from ground contact, but if the infestation is large it may also take quite some time to die. This is one of the risks of chemical barriers used as the sole control agent.
Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
Rufus Laggren wrote:Philip


It looks to me like the best/only hope for subterr. termites is to break the ground connection (or using it to distribute effective poison) while keeping the building normally dry. Easier said, of course, but conceivable I think. Because no fix is in any way permanent, even expertly applied poison; this means inspecting regularly from now until you and the building part company. And giving yourself a chance to actually do a complete inspection would greatly benefit from building (especially the earth contact areas) with termite inspection (and exclusion) specifically in mind.


Rufus


There are many different ways fo controlling termites and it all depends on what the situation both environmentally and financially is. But basically you're on the right path, yes, especially the importance of inspection access and actually inspecting. Most people do neither, and when they get them expect you to wave a magic wand around - fortunately I have one, but it mostly does black magic.
Joshua Finch


Joined: Apr 23, 2012
Posts: 55
Location: Helsinki, Finland
    
    1
Thanks for the reply, can rest easier now. Cheers,
Brad Davies
volunteer

Joined: Sep 22, 2011
Posts: 212
Location: Clarkston, MI
    
    8
Rufus Laggren wrote:As I understand it, everybody not living north in Alaska needs to be aware and respect termites.


Wow that's news to me. For some reason I thought we didn't have to worry about them this far north but a quick google search shows your right.

http://www.msue.msu.edu/objects/content_revision/download.cfm/revision_id.498888/workspace_id.-4/01500545.html/

Now that being said I built a large hugelberm right next to my deck off the back, South, side of my house. I left the wood about 1' from the foundation and buried it with a good amount of dirt. I did leave a space between the berm and the foundation so it's not right next to the wall but is pretty damn close. I currently have no problems with termites or carpenter ants, so if I all of the sudden get a problem then the hugelberm might be the cause.

I guess since I already did it, I'll be the guinea pig and report back my findings.
Darren Collins


Joined: May 04, 2011
Posts: 34
Location: Jamberoo, NSW, Australia
    
    1
Philip, you seem to have a lot of knowledge in this area, are happy to share it, and don't appear to have any particular axe to grind or product to sell. I want to commend and thank you for that! It's very much appreciated by all of us.

My question - have you seen or used this type of termite detection/killing system before?

http://www.termitetrap.com.au/

From reading their stuff it all sounds logical and plausible, and developed by an entomologist with pest technician experience. They're not claiming to be 100% effective (who can?!), but it seems to me to have a pretty good chance at success.

I'm looking to find ways to minimise the risk to my house and shed, on an acre in a termite-prone area (Jamberoo NSW, if you know it).


http://Green-Change.com
Philip Hyndman


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 15
Green Change wrote:Philip, you seem to have a lot of knowledge in this area, are happy to share it, and don't appear to have any particular axe to grind or product to sell. I want to commend and thank you for that! It's very much appreciated by all of us.

My question - have you seen or used this type of termite detection/killing system before?

http://www.termitetrap.com.au/

From reading their stuff it all sounds logical and plausible, and developed by an entomologist with pest technician experience. They're not claiming to be 100% effective (who can?!), but it seems to me to have a pretty good chance at success.

I'm looking to find ways to minimise the risk to my house and shed, on an acre in a termite-prone area (Jamberoo NSW, if you know it).


Well yeah I know Jamberoo, I live just around the corner kind of. I even make loud guitar noises in those valley hills occasionally / regularly.

This stuff is called termite baiting. Its a generic thing / form of termite control these days. Ignore the big claims of professionalism, this is marketing hype trying to make it look unique. I hate that stuff, sorry.

The system you are looking at there is nothing unique. The commercial bait has been around for about 12 years now. Theres been this recent thing of these people actually supplying bait with it, whereas previously this was the domain of the pest controller. Im not sure what the active ingredinet is in the bait they supply, but commercially it is an IGR type chemical (insect growth regulator).

Aside from buying these things with all the generic advertising gunk attached to them, you can actually go even more authentic DIY, just stick a couple of timber stakes together into the ground. Thats all a termite lure - which is the pole plastic thing there - is, a bit of timber, termites quite like it. Old fence pailings are the best, groups of three, into the ground about 20 cm and 5 cm sticking out. Keep in mind, termites dont like plastic and thats basically what you are buying there. The plastic stuff is totally unecessary. Nor do you need some 'fancy' termite indicator thing like those ads always seem to blow the horn about, its very easy to see if termites are in a lure.

But overall, its not a bad system that particular one. Much better than the others there. The big fault of all of them is lack of actual lures. 6 is not enough. You need at least 20 - 30 getting about generally. Its just like fishing, more hooks in the river the more chance you have of catching a fish. The other big thing is the price. DIY is much much much cheaper. I even supply and install 20 - 30 of them for less than their 6.

The other big problem with all this is it aint as easy as the glossy pictures make it look. Trust me on that one. Ignore those testimonial things. Termites can be fickle little buggers and not play by the rules.

basically i could rave on for hours about baiting its pros and cons, but I'll try not to. take this information - stick some loosely coupled timber stakes in the ground about your structures, about 2 metres apart as a rough rough guide, and check to see if there's mud between the timbers every couple of months or so.

Then what you do from there is another story.

Also bear in mind, termite baiting is in no way some fix it all solution. You really need to know what risk your house is proposing - and reacting appropriately via management through that analysis- rather than just having some termite lures about. But monitoring for termites in the ground is a pretty wise start.

Also ignore that 10 year protection tick they put on there- what nonsense. Basically, these things are pretty bad value, you can do it yourself pretty easy, but then again, I pay a mechanic to change my oil in my car when I could easily do it myself I guess. Then again, to have it done professionally if everything goes all sweet and hunky dory like it syas it will on the glossy brochure, you'd have it done for less than $1000 of their 'big daddy' system there. Even though you're in my target area there, I have no axe to grind at all. I'd rather make hugelkultur beds than chase termites and Im the worse business person in the world - thats why Im not flogging the same thing on the internet.

Hope that all makes sense.
Darren Collins


Joined: May 04, 2011
Posts: 34
Location: Jamberoo, NSW, Australia
    
    1
Wow, thanks for the awesomely detailed reply Philip! You've given me some great ideas. Interesting that we're in the same area - might have to catch up sometime.

Good to hear that the trap product isn't smoke-n-mirrors, but just a "productised" version of a sound idea. I'm now convinced I don't need to pay $220 for 6, though!

It reminds me of a story in the book Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance - some people will pay a fortune for a genuine BMW-supplied handlebar shim for their motorbike, while others will simply trim a piece of aluminium can to size!

There's always a market for shiny, plastic, shrink-wrapped off-the-shelf solutions, I guess.
 
 
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