Mulch and Pest Management

Thanks to Martha Battle Jackson, Chief Curator of N.C. Historic Sites, CREST member, and C2C instructor extraordinaire, for this guest post.

Spring has definitely sprung, and with it comes a variety of insects.  (I have just been bitten by a mosquito while sitting at my desk!)

Earlier this month I met with Dr. Mike Waldvogel and Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice (NCSU entomologists) to examine some of the buildings at Duke Homestead.  Site Manager Jennifer Farley thought one of the buildings had termite issues.  While Dr. Waldvogel poked around the buildings, Dr. Rice had a fun time knocking over logs and examining ants.  She found several varieties—rather gleefully, I might add.  In fact, she likes ants so much, she’s written a book that is free—for now.  It will be published soon, and then it won’t be available, so go ahead and download it for your files.  If you have an I-phone or Mac, it’s interactive; otherwise, it’s in a pdf. (For one of her briefer discussions of ants, click here.)

BTW: In the book link, there are some other rather intriguing projects listed on the right side, including “Belly Button Biodiversity” and “Armpit Life”.  Can’t say these folks don’t have a sense of humor!

Although ants aren’t typically “heritage eaters,” termites are and can damage collections along with the buildings that house them. Someone recently asked if it was okay to put mulch around a building.  I didn’t think so as I’ve heard it attracts termites, so I asked Dr. Waldvogel.  Here is his response:

Cedar mulch – years ago, I did a project with Eleanor’s major professor where we found that ants did not like to set up nests when the area was covered with cedar mulch.  However, as those volatile cedar-smelling chemicals are depleted, the ants will move into the area.   As for termites, [they] will inevitably get into any wood mulch and reduce it to organic waste.   The big thing is that I would not let it touch the building.  We recommend keep mulch 6-12″ away for several reasons (including mice).  In the bigger picture, you’re better off with gravel closest to the building, although that gets very expensive.

The good news for Duke Homestead was that Waldvogel did not find evidence of termites in the building. There were some in a log about 10 ft. away, and staff has since removed it.

If your NC institution has questionable pest activity, contact the NCSU entymology department, as Martha and Jennifer did. The experts there can identify pests and offer advice if you provide them with good images.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on May 13, 2014, in CREST, guest bloggers, historic sites and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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