Monday, August 10, 2009

Are bugs bugging you?

For several years, our area has been on a drought list. Seasons came and seasons went with no appreciable rainfall. The forests, near our home, were dry and brown ... and water levels, in nearby lakes, were at all time lows. While this was a bad situation and communities were scrambling to make sure that households had enough water to drink, the one positive was that bug populations ... those that need water to breed and live ... were down.

Then, the rains came ... the reservoirs filled and we have officially been removed from the drought list. Great news ... except ... more rain and higher humidity means that there are also more bugs ... specifically mosquitoes which breed in water and ticks which thrive near water.

Mosquitoes and ticks, in addition to being obnoxious little creatures who bite, can carry diseases such as Yellow Fever, West Nile Encephalitis, Lyme Disease, etc. These are dangerous diseases which can be life threatening. So avoiding bites is important!

If you head out to your local market for mosquito and tick repellent, you'll probably find products containing DEET. DEET works ... no doubt. But, it is a chemical pesticide ... a solvent which can melt synthetic materials and even nail polish. It is toxic to our environment, getting into waterways and killing fish. If you've ever used a product containing it, you'll know that DEET has an unpleasant smell and doesn't feel real good on one's skin. It can cause rashes, headaches and even seizures. Personally, I'd prefer not to use the stuff.

It seems like a "no win" situation, doesn't it? I mean ... which is worse, the illness or the prevention. Well, it turns out that there are other, safe ways to keep those nasty bugs at bay. Here are some ideas:

  • Mosquitoes breed in standing water, especially the stuff that's been sitting for awhile. So, remove standing water in puddles, plant containers, etc. For things like pet bowls and bird baths, be sure to change the water frequently ... clean water isn't as appealing as dirty water. Rather than water your garden frequently, opt for watering deeply and less often.

  • Wear light colored clothing ... mosquitoes are drawn to dark colors. Ticks aren't color sensitive but, if one hitches a ride on your clothes, he'll be easier to see and remove if the clothing is white.

  • Cover up. Bugs have a hard time biting through material ... so wear long sleeved shirts and long pants to minimize skin exposure.

  • Fans are a great deterrent ... mosquitoes have a hard time negotiating through wind. So create a breeze with a floor or ceiling fan.

  • Love the scent of floral perfumes and soaps? So do mosquitoes! Opt for "fragrance free" during mosquito season.

  • Make your own repellent: 1o to 25 drops essential oil plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel (optional). Mix well and dab some on skin and clothing. Oils to try are: Rose Geranium (ticks hate this one), Pennyroyal, lemon balm, thyme, lavender, and eucalyptus. One note ... for best results, apply often ... essential oils don't repel for long durations.

  • Add some plants to your garden that naturally repel mosquitoes ... try catnip, rosemary, marigolds and lemon grass. Catnip has been shown to be 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes. And here's a tip ... one can take the leaves of these plants, crush them and rub them on skin and clothing ... no more mosquito bites.

  • Attract insect-eating birds. Set out feeders and birdhouses to attract swallows, chickadees, wrens, bluebirds, vireos, etc. They'll be fat and happy ... you'll be bug free.
With just a little care, one can enjoy the outdoors ... bug free and earth friendly.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!