Easy and Healthy: Beating Mosquitoes and Ticks

Infographic Shows How Spraying for Mosquitoes Kills Insects Baby Birds NeedMy family is outside in the summer. A LOT.

My husband and sons are the BBQ Guys. They never met a meat group they didn’t like. I’m the Gardener, spring and summer.

The four of us share the yard with hawks, foxes, and 17 resident turtles (to date). Along with them are hundreds of small colorful songbirds, lizards and frogs, who depend on the plentiful insects and caterpillars for food. Over the past twenty years I’ve planted our small yard with layers of native shrubs and flowers which feed and shelter this wildlife.

The health of these animals depends on the presence of insects.

Safe and Effective Solutions for Enjoying Your Yard

Many chemical bug sprays that are ‘safe’ for people (non-fatal in small doses) are lethal to insects – not just the pesky ones, but to butterflies and pollinator bees as well. Our pets, too, are suffering from our chemical use. A mountain of research documents accumulated toxin loads in our dogs and cats at levels much higher than ours.

Most of us recognize that our chemical-dependent pest solutions should be phased out, not increased.

But we want to be comfortable.

For mosquito and tick season, I don’t spray my yard. I’ve found two healthy options that are not just effective for people, but safe for our birds and butterflies – and for the long-term health of the community.

Picardin Bug Repellent for Mosquitoes and Ticks

Picardin is a pepper-like ingredient with all the benefits of DEET and none of the downsides. It’s long-lasting and effective, without the heavy chemical smell or toxicity warnings. I’ve been using “Sawyer Insect Repellent,” which comes in a large lotion dispenser. It has been incredibly effective. The consumer advocate group Environmental Working Group lists insect repellents with Picardin as effective for 8-10 hours against not just mosquitoes but also ticks.

Pedestal Fan to Eliminate Flying Bugs

If you’ve ever been on a beach without a breeze, you know that the biting flies can come out in swarms. Guess what? A tall pedestal fan blowing on your grill or outside table works the same way as an ocean breeze – it drives the insects away. Consumer Reports found that just one pedestal fan (for as little as $20-50) can keep an outdoor space mosquito-free.

During bug season, it’s not hard to pick something healthy – you just have to look.

We can continue to build a healthy community – and not get mosquito bites for our trouble!!

 

For more information, go to

Environmental Working Group www.ewg.org

“Pollinator-Friendly Yards” on Facebook

 

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A Backyard Peeping Tom

Eastern Box Turtles

 

Ecology In the Suburbs: Saving Nature In Your Own Backyard

The coffee was percolating early one morning when I found my husband Michael with binoculars, staring intently into the backyard. Since I stopped using pesticides and herbicides ten years ago, my backyard has become a haven for all kinds of wildlife. I wondered what Michael was staring at.

It wasn’t deer or foxes or birds that had captured his attention. Over the years, I’ve nudged Michael to appreciate the wonders of nature, and he’s become an avid turtle watcher. Ten years ago, Michael didn’t like the idea of letting our backyard go wild. He didn’t like me encouraging the moss on the northern exposure rather than struggling with grass. Now the backyard with its velvet green is the perfect place to spot turtles, making their morning journey from one wooded area to the next in search of breakfast.

Turtles live 50 years, some even up to 100. The Eastern box turtles that we’ve found in our backyard were likely around well before this neighborhood was built thirty years ago.

One box turtle is definitely not the same as another. We’ve come to recognize them by the various markings on their shells. The males have red eyes, the females brown.

This morning we saw something new. Turtles are solitary animals, and we’ve seldom seen more than one at a time. But this morning we witnessed two turtles biting and fighting.

Ultimately, one turtle lost the fight. He actually wound up flat on his back. We watched him struggle for ten minutes, unable to right himself. Venturing into the yard, we saw that it was a turtle we didn’t recognize. Pinky, the victor, was close by.  Michael righted our new visitor and was instantly in good spirits as the turtle ambled off.

He’d saved a life – as a doctor, always a good way to start the day.

While we finished our coffee, I did a little research on my cell phone.

A Smithsonian article revealed something unexpected. What we had seen was less of a turtle fight and more of a turtle tryst. Indeed, the article reported that a male will sometimes die after copulation if he flips over and can’t get right side up again.

This discovery was embarrassing to some degree. Michael and I were not simply nature lovers enjoying the wonders of backyard ecology. In creating a hospitable environment for flora and fauna, absent herbicides and pesticides, attracting bugs and groundcover for wildlife, we’d apparently become something much more insidious, maybe even sordid –

X-rated turtle watchers, spying unnoticed on a tender turtle moment.

I kept this information to myself, unsure of the implications.  Were we nature lovers – or peeping toms?

But Michael was not bothered by the revelation. After I told him what we’d been watching, what most upset his scientific soul was that we hadn’t captured it on video.

We’re still debating on a name for the new turtle he rescued.

We’re thinking, “Casanova.”