Monday, April 9, 2012

What's Buggin' You?

Ah, Spring. She is here. And she has brought us so many beautiful things; warm weather, flowers, vegetable sprouts, adorable baby animals and bugs. Bugs? Eeek! With the warmer weather, many insects and other crawlies come out of hiding to get to work eating, making love sweet bug love and making new bug babies. An aside: I'm just referring to everything that is not a cute puppy or kitten as bugs - bees, millipedes, stinkbugs, ladybugs, butterflies, ants, you name it - as bugs. Technically, the word bug refers to a specific class of insect, but we're not going to be technical like that today. Anyway. So many bugs do a world of good for us. Bees, butterflies, moths, ants, beetles and wasps keep plants - including those that bear fruits and vegetables - alive and well by pollinating them. We need these critters. Other bugs eat other bugs. Spiders eat ants and gnats and even stinkbugs. Those terrifying house centipedes (you know, they are the ones with 6,000 legs and they look hairy and they move so stinkin' fast) actually enjoy a diet of spiders and roaches. Ants eat aphid honeydew (goo excreted by aphids). Ladybugs love to munch on aphids and mites. Some bugs are an excellent source of food for animals. What frog doesn't love a good fly salad? Certain birds dine on stinkbugs, beetles, ants, mosquitoes, etc. Bats rely on a healthy diet of mosquitoes. We all hate mosquitoes because they can spread diseases such as West Nile, heartworm and malaria, but if we annihilate mosquitoes, we will damage the bat population. It's already happening. We've got bugs that are part of the decomposition process - carpenter ants, beetles, flies and their maggot babies, etc. are charged with chewing away at things that are rotted and dead (including flesh) and cleaning up the landscape so to speak.

The point is, even though many bugs can freak us out and we consider them pests, they do serve a purpose. It can be food for other creatures, pollination, population control, decomposition, etc - they all have a job to do and there is a balance in their existence.Does this mean I expect people to just embrace all bugs, hug the nearest roach and build a nice shed in the backyard where all manner of crawlies can live? No, not really. I understand that we don't strive to get sucked on by a mosquito or have a spider terrorize us in the shower. Heck, this EarthChild screams like Janet Leigh in psycho when she encounters most bugs. Now, I respect them. I respect all that is living and I will go out of my way to avoid killing. Yes, I am that crazy lady that will catch bugs in her home and escort them outside. Rather, I am that crazy lady that will scream for her husband to catch bugs in the home and escort them outside. I once had a neighbor frantically knocking on my door asking if I needed police help because a stinkbug landed on my hand as I was typing on my computer. It seems that I screamed like someone being stabbed. In my defense, the stinkbug was really big and I'm quite certain he gave me the finger and threatened to cut me. I should note here that I have five cats. One would think they would provide excellent bug population control. Not true. I once watched all five cats line up on the edge of the couch - tails flickin' like they meant business - to watch a stinkbug slowly meander across the window sill. Sure, one of them would occasionally sniff at the stinkbug, but they would quickly jump back if their nose accidentally brushed up against the beast. So, I don't know about anyone else's cats, but mine are useless in that regard. My house is not some stank roach motel, but we do get stinkbugs, a few spiders (had one the size of a Mini Cooper in my shower the other day - no lie) and the occasional house centipede. Unless you have a home like those on Hoarders, buggies don't necessarily signal a dirty house. Everyone has them.

My ode to bugs over - what to do about them if you don't want them within 50 feet of you? We are all aware that there is no shortage of sprays, pellets, chemical traps, bombs and powders available on the market to extinguish bugs. Some of us are aware that the majority of anti-bug gunk out there is pretty freakin' toxic to humans as well. Lawn and garden pesticides, such as Round-up, are well known for their harmful effects on our health. Pesticides designed for home use, such as Raid, can also be toxic to our health. Some of the known effects of the variety of chemical pesticides out there are simple skin irritation such as rashes, respiratory irritation, endocrine damage, neurological effects and cancer. Pesticides are especially dangerous to vulnerable individuals such as children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It's not an exaggeration to say that we overuse chemical pesticides in this country and that we are, in turn, harming ourselves and the environment due to it. It's extremely frustrating and I believe that we really need to educate the population about the dangers of all of this crap that we are spraying on our lawns, trees and food. Ah, but that's another rant for another day. Today, let's keep it simple. What should you do when you want to keep the crawlies away from you, but you don't want to poison your kids and the environment in the process. Let me share my methods.

I rely on the natural order of nature, plain old plants, essential oils and vinegar to keep the buggies at bay.

Natural Order of Nature

I spoke about this somewhat in the paragraphs above. Bugs are prey critters. Just about every bug has something that will eat them. So, a method at reducing the bug population is to keep the environment friendly for those who eat the bugs. Attracting birds, beneficial bugs and bats to your yard is a great way to keep pests at bay.

Birds are relatively easy. Have a bird feeder? You have birds. Bird feeders are available at most stores that sell garden and yard supplies - even grocery stores - but you can also make them. Search around on google or Pinterest and you'll find ideas for crafting bird feeders from wood, leftover soda bottles, used milk jugs, used orange juice containers and more. You can also offer suet and place it in a suet cage or on a platform. Heck, I have even just placed leftover chunks of suet on the ground in my garden the birds seem fine with it. Suet is generally made up of solid animal fat (ew) mixed with seed, oats, nuts, raisins and the like. It attracts birds who also love, love, love insects; bluebirds, chickadees, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, wrens, catbirds, robins, titmice, nuthatches, tanagers, warblers....oh, there are so many. So, they'll come for your seed and suet cakes, and will stay for the bugs. Getting the kids involved in making feeders, filling feeders and watching and identifying birds is always a bonus.

Bats provide plenty of population control. They enjoy a delicious insect entree, with mosquitoes being among their favorite. I know bats freak a lot of people out, but they can be incredibly beneficial. I understand if you prefer to shy away from attracting these incredibly adorable rodents to your home. However, if you would like to increase your bat-friendly backyard status, I encourage you to research bat homes. These are flat wooden boxes that you can hang high up on the side of your home or an old tree. You can buy them at some nature centers, garden stores or you can even find tutorials online for building them on your own. Don't worry, you won't have a billion bats flying around your head. They are typically only active for a few short hours at dusk and dawn. Night blooming plants (think Four o'clocks, Evening Primrose, Moon flower) will attract them. Having a bat-friendly yard is an important step in conservation and a wonderful lesson for children in regards to environmental stewardship. Nearly 25% of the world's bat population is currently threatened and that number is expected to rise. Not only do bats provide pest control, but they are also pollinators. We need them.

Another important step is to keep standing water off your property. If you are going to have a bird bath, make sure birds actually use it everyday. If it just stands out there alone and untouched everyday then you might want to get rid of it. Also, change the water daily. Standing water is home to the larval stage of mosquitoes. Eliminating it is a major step in keeping them away. Ponds are popular, but be aware that they can turn into a nursery for infant mosquitoes. You may want to install a fountain or a filter that will keep the water moving. Be sure to clean up kid's toys, flower pots, garbage cans and other things that may collect standing water.

Ladybugs. Get ye some ladybugs. These adorable little guys will chow down on aphids and keep your garden healthy. And if the ladybugs get out of control? Well, the birds that you're attracting will eat them. The circle of life. Now, I know you can order ladybugs from garden centers and online stores. That is not part of my expertise, so I won't comment on that. I do know, however, that you can attract ladybugs with flowers and herbs. There's a large variety of plant life that will attract them - some of the most common are marigolds/calendula, tulips (they really enjoy cup-shaped flowers), dill, cosmos, dandelions, chives, alyssum, chamomile, lavender, feverfew and fennel just to name a few. One thing I rarely notice mentioned when talking about attracting ladybugs is milkweed. Milkweed is often grown to attract monarch butterflies as it's an important food source for their caterpillars. Milkweed is often attacked by aphid. If you've got aphids, you'll attract ladybugs.


There are a large number of plants who, typically by virtue of their scents, repel all sorts of insects. The best part is that many of these plants have other uses, such as in food or homemade medicine. Many of them can be grown both outdoors and indoors. Growing them outdoors can keep bugs away from your children's play area, your picnic table or anywhere that you like to hang out in your yard. You can also grow these plants in order to make your own cleaning solutions, herbal preparations or balms to apply to your home and body.

Mint - anything in the mint family will usually repel ants, fleas, aphids and even roaches. They despise the smell of mint. Mint plants will also deter mice and, sometimes, mosquitoes. Be careful as mint plants can spread quite a bit. I grow mine in little pots. I also dry and crush the leaves and sprinkle it around baseboards when I'm out of peppermint essential oil. Peppermint will also repel mice.

Rosemary - this happy little plant will repel mosquitoes, flies, moths, ants, slugs and beetles. It's also good luck to plant by your front door.

Lavender - repels ants, mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and moths. If moths are a concern in your home, you can dry lavender and hang it in your closet or place it in your drawers.

Marigolds - these sunny flowers repel aphids, bean beetles, squash bugs, white flies, mosquitoes and even veggie-stealing bunnies.Marigolds are in the calendula family, but you want the cheaper marigolds that give off a very heavy scent to repel insects.

Basil - there a a billion varieties of basil and most will repel mosquitoes, flies and Japanese beetles.

Catnip - great for tea and it repels mosquitoes, ants, roaches, beetles,fleas and aphids. Beware, it also attracts cats. However, I have not had a problem with attracting neighborhood cats by growing this.

Lemon balm - repels mosquitoes and flies. I have actually rubbed lemon balm leaves on my arms and legs to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Tansy - when we first moved into our apartment, I noticed a ton of this growing in our little garden. I almost pulled it up. I'm glad I didn't. This little herb gives the finger to mosquitoes, flies, fleas, Japanese beetles and moths. It does spread easily, so keep an eye on it.

Bay laurel - this is another that takes up space and needs to be brought indoors for Winter. It can grow to about 6 feet tall. You may prefer to just buy fresh or dried bay leaves. You can places dried bay leaves in containers of flour, oatmeal, rice or other ground grains to keep the weevils at bay. Roaches absolutely despise bay laurel. Grinding it into a powder and sprinkling it on the carpets or at your doorways helps keep critters at bay (I seriously did not mean to use that pun). You can also stick bay leaves in cracks and crevices to deter roaches and other pests.

 Citronella grass - this is a giant plant that takes up a lot of room. However, if you have the space for it then you'll find that it repels mosquitoes, flies, fleas and ticks.

Essential Oils and Vinegar

White vinegar is an excellent household cleaner. Be sure that your white vinegar is grain-distilled. Otherwise, it may be derived from petroleum and we don't want that. Vinegar in and of itself will deter many insects, including ants and roaches. You may find that you either can't grow plants or maybe you want an extra boost indoors. Many of plants I listed can be made into essential oils that you can find at your local health food store, Whole Foods and even supermarket (Giant sells a variety of essential oils). Be sure you are getting essential oils, which are made from plants, and not fragrance oils, which are made from the devil's ass hair and other toxins.

My preference is to mix a few drops of essential oil into my vinegar solution. My vinegar solution is merely a spray bottle filled half and half with vinegar and water. The essential oils you add are based on your own preference. In my home, ants are the common visitors and I find a vinegar solution with both peppermint and lavender added to it to be highly effective. I just spray floors, walls, windows, doors, counters and pretty much everything else with this solution. I have also rubbed straight peppermint oil on my windowsills to keep ants at bay. You can place a few drops of peppermint oil onto a cotton ball or a small swatch of fabric and leave it in corners or common entryways for ants and roaches.

Be warned - only try a couple of drops of any essential oil at first. Some people find that certain oils bother them or irritate their senses. Peppermint oil, rosemary and citronella can be especially pungent.

Another method I have used is to wash my floors with peppermint-scented Dr. Bronner's castille oil. We noticed ants in our kitchen last summer, so I washed the floors with some peppermint castille soap and they never came back.

This list is not the final say in pest control, of course. I am hoping this gave you some suggestions for naturally repelling unwanted guests from your home. There are other methods out there, but this lists is what I know best and what I have personally used.

I want to give an honorable mention to diatomaceous earth. Food grade diatomaceous earth is lauded by many as a natural way to get rid of pests. I know plenty of people who use it. I did not mention it here as I have personally never used it or done much research about it. If you know plenty about it, please drop a line in the comment section so readers can use that info as a resource. Thanks!


Bess said...

Thanks for the tips! For the first time I'm trying gardening seriously, in containers, and I am excited to try some of these tips! ALready got my marigolds sprouting indoors and some cat grass (is that the same as catnip?) outside. I like the idea of the bird feeder and helping the kiddos identify birds and what not.

Funky Little Earthchild said...

I'm glad you found this helpful, Bess.

Catnip and Cat grass are different. Catnip is a member of the mint family - it's an herb. Cat grass is grass. It's usually either oat grass or wheat grass.

Good luck with the gardening and the birdwatching. Both are so rewarding.

Mrs. Riccobono (a.k.a. "Mrs. Rick") said...

I've used the earth to get rid of fleas in the house before. We spread it all over the area where the dog's kennel is, left it a day then vacuumed. I was told doing it once would be enough but I did it twice because I am paranoid and I wanted those little bastard's out of my house.

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