Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spraying Sugar on Pastures, Honeybees, Hollow Trees, Bio Char, and the Long Arm of the Law

I have a little broadcast sprayer that I usually use in my never-ending battle against the blackberries around the farm.  I'm close to declaring victory in that war, so I've been thinking about finding some other uses for that little sprayer.

Recently, I've read some interesting articles about spraying raw milk, sugar, molasses, and compost teas on pastures and cropland to both help build the microbe levels and increase the Brix readings of the forage being grown.   
Sprayer mounted on my little John Deere tractor
I'm always interested in making my land more productive, so even though I'm a little skeptical about some of the claims made about spraying raw milk, sugars, or compost tea, I'm willing to experiment and I decided to start simple by spraying some sugar in a pasture.  One of the reasons I decided to start with sugar is because it is also supposed to help control insects and ants.  There are a few large areas (up to 1-2 acres) in some pastures that are covered with ant hills and in a drought period those ants seem to kill almost all the grass in those areas.  I don't have anything against ants, but if spraying some sugar might limit how far those ants expand their anthills, it would pay to spray them once in a while.

There is a whole lot of information online about spraying sugars on pastures, gardens, cropland, as an additive to herbicides, etc.  The quick summary of what I found is that you can use ordinary white sugar (or brown sugar), corn syrup (Karo syrup, etc.), or molasses (there are more types of molasses than I realized).  The typical suggested rate of application ranged from 1-5 lb. of sugar per acre.

If you are interested in treating a smaller area like a garden, one source recommended using 1-3 TB of sugar per gallon of water.

Another source used 1 qt. of corn syrup per acre combined with a herbicide application and 1 gal of corn syrup combined with a liquid Nitrogen application.

Yet another source said to use 1/2 gal of molasses per acre in monthly applications, while someone else suggested 5 lb. of sugar per acre.

At about this point, I began to wonder if any of this sugar hocus-pocus would even work, but I decided to grit my teeth and push on with the experiment.  I managed to round up a few bottles of corn syrup, mixed it into about 15 gal. of water and sprayed about 1/2 acre of anthills, which worked out to a little bit over 1 gal. of corn syrup per acre.

Since I was just spraying a sugar solution, I didn't have to worry about any skips, overlaps, spray drift, etc., I just turned on the sprayer and sprayed the heck out of those anthills (a lot less stressful than spraying herbicides).
After I finished spraying, while I was washing off the sprayer (it did seem to get a little sticky), I noticed some honey bees on the sprayer going after the sugar solution all over the sprayer.  It might be hard to believe, but I have a wild honeybee hive in a big hollow tree in the barnyard, the bees just showed up about four years ago and made themselves at home.  After every winter, I think they are probably gone for good, but they always start to come out when it warms up.    I have a garden on the farm, and it always seems like I get better tomatoes, squash, etc. up there than I do at the other garden at the house because of all the bees.  If I ever decided to grow something like soybeans, canola, or sunflowers, it would be nice to have even more bees to help pollinate those crops.

Seeing those bees going after the sprayer made me wonder if spraying sugar on the pastures or cropland might be more likely to encourage the bees than anything else.  Or, if I could encourage the bees to show up more often at my other garden if I sprayed some sugar on it.  So many experiments, so little time is the story of my life.
I tried to get a picture of the bees going in and out of my hollow tree bee hive (that tree is about 2 feet in diameter and it's about 10-12 feet up off the ground), but no such luck.
Since it was Earth Day or something similar, I just had to make some more bio-char and happened to get a picture of the flames coming out of my little TLUD, which I still think would make an impressive light show after dark.  I also happened to notice while looking at this picture how much my twin TLUD setup might look like a still to the naive and gullible, and if I scrounged up some copper tubing and ran it between the two TLUDs I might come close to fooling someone driving by into turning me in to the gubment so I can get my fifteen minutes of fame on the local news.

That would be a tough way to be a celebrity, but the older I get, the less options I seem to have to achieve that unachievable goal.


  1. That's an interesting experiment. I've only vaguely heard of spraying sugar before. It certainly can't hurt to try. I'd like to control some ants around here... today I found that some have infested my rhubarb.

    The flames look pretty neat coming out of the burner. I'll bet it looks awesome at night.

  2. Definitely give an update if this works. I have fought ants over the years and the only way I seem to effectively get rid of them for a period of time is to hire a pest company that sprays them with nasty heavy duty chemicals. Once I treat them, they typically stay gone for a few years. All the stuff I can buy at the local home improvement store the ants just laugh at and go on their merry way. Fortunately this house I don't seem to have any ants living close to the house so I just let them live.

    Is it illegal to make your own liquor anymore as long as it is for personal consumption? I never got into the beer making fad but I wouldn't be opposed to trying to make some of my own whisky someday with time to burn.

    1. I'm not a moonshine lawyer, but I would guess that making your own moonshine is probably illegal in most states, or at the very least, it's going to be pretty difficult to convince the law that all those jugs of moonshine you just made are for your personal consumption.

    2. I believe it falls under Federal regulations, and as soon as you distill you have to have a distiller's licence (here's a thread about it)

      A person can, however, ferment 'wine' without any license, for personal use, up to 200 gallons per year from what I've read (not advising anyone to do anything here -- check current ATF regulations to be safe).

    3. I can't believe it is still federally regulated if for personal consumption. I would have thought it fell right in there with wine and beer.

    4. Legal or not, when you are dealing with pressure vessels, alcohol vapors, and open flames whenever you are distilling something. Things can go from fun and games to KAAA-BOOOOMMMmmm in a hurry with that sort of combination.

      At one time, I was interested in homebrewing, and studied up on all the methods and techniques, but I've never pulled the trigger and actually brewed my own beer (not yet).

      So, I'd much rather try to make some interesting beers, meads, and wines, and avoid the whole possibility of blowing everything to kingdom come.

    5. I've contemplated doing wine. I can't go to a store and buy a bottle that I actually enjoy drinking and I've given it more chances than most. My brother however did it for awhile and I loved everything he made. I just haven't pulled the trigger either.

    6. About ten or fifteen years ago, there was a vineyard and winery frenzy in OK because the law changed about wine distribution and winery tourism (that frenzy fizzled out a long time ago).

      I happened to taste some wine made by a local winery that was the best wine I've ever tasted (which might not be saying much, since I haven't really made a point of seeking out good wines). This wine was a modified type of "ice wine" similar to an ice wine made in Canada which is made by picking the grapes in the winter and crushing them while they are still frozen so that the sugar is more concentrated (since the water is frozen, etc.)

      I don't know what was done to make this wine or what type of grapes he used, but he was an artist because it tasted almost like a fine brandy and spoiled me from drinking most of the other rot gut that passes for wine. It was one of the only times I've came close to believing some of the local food movement hype, and it also made me wonder if I might be able to craft something that was close to this wine.

      So if you ever serve me wine, don't be offended if I don't rave about it, because I've drank wine that was like ambrosia.

  3. I have to admit that I'll be surprised if it kills all the ants (I tend to be a cautious pessimist at times), but it's pretty easy to spray a couple of acres at a time in a pasture so it's worth the effort to see if it might work.

    From what I read, you have to spray each and every ant hill in the area to keep them from just coming back from the ant hills you didn't happen to spray (the ant hills are usually all inter-connected or something).

    There are a lot of ants around the barnyard, and I'm going to go around and spray each hill with a strong sugar solution instead of broadcast spraying the entire yard to see if I can control them that way.

    I did happen to do some more reading online about controlling ants and read that you can attract beneficial insects like ladybugs by spraying sugar on your garden or pastures. I'm not sure if it makes sense that it would kill ants while attracting ladybugs, but attracting lady bugs might be worth more than killing the ants.