While I genuinely believe that every living thing on earth has it’s purpose —I am a nature lover, after all— there are times when some residents of my garden do try my patience. For one thing —particularly in a rainy year— there are the mosquitoes. It’s bad enough that these whiney bugs buzz my ears and suck my blood, leaving itchy welts all over my skin. But it is also important to keep in mind that mosquitoes carry disease. And beyond the omnipresent mosquitoes, there are the countless other small vampires lurking in the moist, shady corners of gardens and in the tall, camouflaging grass of meadows; gnats, horseflies, deerflies, and those disease-carrying ticks. Bug off, I say ! I am not a mobile lunch wagon! When insects are out in full-force, they can ruin an otherwise pleasant outdoor experience. So what to do? Well, we all know that unless you step into Dracula’s castle well prepared, you will probably be bitten. But how, you may wonder, do you effectively defend against insects without poisoning yourself in the process? Fear not warm blooded friends, you needn’t bathe in deet. There are workable solutions to the bug problem, and many are both organic and effective.
When the weather is warm and muggy, after a period of rain, I almost never work in the garden without netted clothing. Sometimes just a head-net will do, but on the worst days, I pull out the full body-armor. My Bug Baffler jacket has a zip hoodie, long arms, and an elasticized band at the bottom. No, it isn’t much of a fashion statement. But who cares? I wear it in my garden, not to the Oscars. It works. The little blood-suckers may bounce around and whine a bit outside my net, but they can not get in. And although your skin is completely covered, the netting allows air -flow, so you will not overheat inside. The BugBaffler works in cool weather too. I layer it over warm sleeved shirts and light sweatshirt jackets. But, in all honesty, it can become a little stiff with more layers. Certainly this model isn’t the perfect solution for very early spring and fall.
Then, some time ago, my friend Mel introduced me to another jacket designed to foil insects. It is called The Original Bugshirt. This machine washable jacket has a cotton body, net arms, and a zip-open net-hood. In late April, I tend to wear it over a light sweatshirt, or beneath a barn-jacket. It is less stiff than the other design. By June, on cool over-cast days, I can wear it with a t-shirt or tank top. My hands are always protected against insects by garden gloves, and my ankles by light-weight socks. I rarely wear shorts when I garden (poison ivy, brambles, etc) but if you do, both companies make leg protection as well. I think these products are great, and I use one or the other throughout the season, as weather dictates. Oh, and in case you are wondering, these companies have not paid me to mention their products and I do not do paid reviews (promise !).
Effective as my bug-net jackets are, I know that there are times when you can not dress like a walking screen-house. Sometimes it’s just too hot, and sometimes you want to hang-out in just a tank top and shorts. Then what ? For most of us, toxic chemicals are no longer an option, even when sprayed on outer clothing. The poisonous substances used in standard bug spray inevitably end up in the environment; polluting air, water and soil. I don’t put anything toxic on my skin, and after trying many safer products, I have found a few things I can recommend. There is a natural bug-repellent I use called Natrapel Plus. It contains citronella oil and wintergreen oil, among other non-toxic ingredients, and it works quite well. The company recommends you reapply every 4 hours or so, and I think that is about right. Although the spray is safe for children and adults, and can be used directly on skin, it is still important to apply it with caution and to keep the stuff out of your eyes. Natrapel comes in an environmentally- friendlier can, meaning it acts like an aerosol, but it doesn’t contain chemical propellent. I find Natrapel to be effective, and the smell, while certainly not like fresh cut flowers, is tolerable. Repel is also effective in moderately buggy conditions I have often read that because our body chemistries vary, the type of repellent that works for you may not necessarily work as well for your friend. So, you may have to experiment a little to find an organic mixture that gives you results. In my experience, bug repellents are no where near as effective as netted clothing, so I always protect myself with ‘screen-wear’ when the bugs get really serious.
Of course, some people choose the do-it yourself route and make their own bug-repellent. I have tried a few home-brews and I find they can help deter insects, though I haven’t tested them in seriously buggy conditions. My friend Laurie likes to make up her own anti-bug-rub from herbs and oil. Her home recipe is made with a base of almond oil or jojoba oil. To this she adds liberal amounts of essential oils including; lavender, peppermint, lemon grass and thyme. I have used some of her oil when out kayaking with success. Home-made bug repellent, of course has the added benefit of a truly pleasant smell.
As demand for non-toxic, environmentally friendly bug-repellent products grows, I am sure more brands will arrive in the marketplace for us to try out. If you use something that you think is particularly effective against bugs, but naturally safe and sound, please pass along the brand-name or recipe in the comments here, (beware spammers, you will be swatted like flies). Those little garden-vampires shouldn’t be allowed to take a bite out of our gardening fun (yes, know that’s a groaner —sorry— I couldn’t help myself).
Mosquito photo, © US CDC files
Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden
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