All winter long here in New England we wait and dream about spring and summer, about being outdoors and enjoying the warm weather. When it finally gets here, we do….but the insects around here are doing their best to ruin it. Our cool and wet spring has made it a banner year for the bugs. While our crops are growing slowly, waiting for more heat and sunshine, the bugs seem to be multiplying rapidly.
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Mosquitoes, Ticks, and Black Flies, Oh My!
Gardening season is fraught with little biting black flies, which come out of the dirt whenever you move it around. They are supposed to wane down as summer approaches, but then the mosquitoes take over. Ticks also come with spring, but once the weather heats up, we don’t see nearly as many. At least that’s how it’s supposed to go. It hasn’t this year. Tick populations seem to have exploded this spring; we have never seen so many. The black flies have been sticking around much longer than usual, but the mosquitoes still showed up on schedule!
Luckily the black flies don’t seem to bother dogs much, which is a good thing. Luke hates bugs and it’s almost an obsession with him. If you’ve dealt with ticks, you know about the “tick willies”. That’s what I call it when you find a tick on you, pick it off, and then spend the rest of your day feeling like you have a whole bunch of them crawling on you. Luke does that too!
If a tick crawls off him, or he thinks he’s scratched one off, he sniffs around wherever he was laying looking for the creature. He’s shown me where one is many times! If there’s any need for a bug detecting dog out there, I think we’ve got one. The only problem is that he has an unhealthy paranoia of them, and if I try to pick, or even just brush, one off him, he freaks out. The only thing we can do is to get them off before he knows they are there, or to be very ninja about it.
Regular readers know that I garden organically, and that I make organic and all-natural products (visit our shop!). I do not want to put pesticides or chemicals on myself or on my pets. That makes keeping bugs off us far more challenging.
In case you think we’re crazy for going the all-natural route (and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that), let me just tell you that my hubby is not on that program with me, he uses sprays with DEET in them. However, he’s had two tick bites so far this year and has picked many more than that off himself after working in the yard. Just sayin’.
Here’s how we battle the bugs all-naturally, and I’ll be the first to admit that some days I feel like it’s a losing battle. I second guess my decisions constantly, and there are days I feel ready to get all those chemicals out. Then I remember the declining bee population at our old house. I had one year where all my squash simply withered on the vine because it wasn’t getting pollinated. I also think of all the pets we’ve lost to cancer. Are pesticides and chemicals the cause? Who knows? But the thought of side effects and seizures scares me too.
Deterring Insects Around the house:
Read our review of Earthkind natural pest control for your home. Those products are helping a lot to keep other bugs like ants and spiders out of the house.
#1 tick control: The farm birds! Chickens and guinea hens eat ticks and many other insects. The running joke around here is that there have been so many ticks to eat, they are getting sick of them and that’s why we still have many. I dread to think how bad they would be without the birds.
Standing water/tall grass: Getting rid of standing water will help to keep mosquitoes from breeding so much. We’ve had so much rain this spring, and we have so much land, that it’s impossible. We have wet areas everywhere. The grass and vegetation which ticks love are out of control, but with 17 acres, we can only do so much. We try to keep brush down and lawns mowed in areas closest to the house, plus we try to keep clear trails for walking. But we’re only two people with a lot of projects, we can only do so much!
Insect Control For the Humans:
The problem for me with natural insect repellents is that most are specific to a different type of bug. I have one for the black flies, one for mosquitoes, and one for ticks. I have sensitive skin, so I’m pretty hesitant to combine them, so I mostly try to spray my clothes when possible.
Repel for mosquitoes. Repel is a plant-based, DEET-free insect repellent made with lemon eucalyptus. It works great for me, and even hubby uses it sometimes.
Rural Remedies, made by a New Hampshire company, has two different products, one for ticks and another for black flies. I also sport the dorky look of tucking my pants into my socks when we walk in the woods. The simplest thing for the flying biters is just to cover as much skin as possible. But that’s tough when it starts to get hotter, plus those suckers aren’t scared to fly right under your clothing either! The ticks just crawl right up you until they find their way to your hairline too. Yesterday, I found two at the base of my hair on my neck, and that was after finding one biting my side! I think I picked those up when scouting the yard for hidden nests. Not only are our birds slacking in the bug eating department, they’re slacking on laying eggs. We found one of their secret nests, but I’m convinced there’s another somewhere. You know what they say about curiosity!
I swear, if there is an inch of your skin that doesn’t have repellent on it, that’s where the bugs will find their way to and bite you! That goes for all the biting insects, especially the mosquitoes and black flies. My hubby rarely complains about bites from them, but I seem to react badly. Some bites can itch and swell for several days!
I often wear a head net* when gardening. Black flies are especially pesky about buzzing around your face and ears. That is SO annoying.
One of my issues has also been that I’m in and out all day. If I’m only going outside to check for eggs or check on the birds, why would I load up with bugspray? If I’m going to work in the gardens or outside for extended periods, I do. Repel lasts pretty long though, so after being covered with bites and having to take Benadryl because I was so itchy at night, I’ve started putting it on in the morning before the first time I go out with exposed skin. (honestly, this year has been so cool I’m usually pretty well covered with clothing in the morning anyway!)
Truthfully, with ticks, the best prevention is to constantly check yourself. I do it morning and night, or whenever I’m changing my clothes. Most of our ticks are American dog ticks, which don’t carry as many diseases here in NH that others do. We do also have deer ticks, Lyme disease carriers, though. But if you get them off soon enough, you’re supposed to be safe. That’s why the constant checks are so important.
By the way, I have been bitten by a deer tick, and I live to tell about it and am healthy. I panicked at the time, but we had just lost our health insurance, so I wasn’t going to run to the doctor if I didn’t have to. I know that Lyme disease is in our area, I know both people and dogs who have had it, but I also don’t believe we need to panic every time we get a tick bite. Watching the area for a rash, and watching for symptoms is what is key. It is treatable if caught early.
Gosh, when I was a child, we never even knew what a tick was. We did not have them in New England. Little was known about Lyme disease when that was a new thing; so much more is known now. Dogs are tested routinely, and vaccines are available for them if you so choose. We stopped getting the vaccine for ours, because our dogs had adverse reactions to it.
Insect Control for the Dog:
What he wears: Luke has a flea and tick tag from Only Natural Pet*, which is made to work with his energy system to repel the bugs. I’ve never seen a flea since starting to use these, and have not noticed mosquito bites on him. But we do still see ticks and I worry about the mosquitoes and the diseases they carry too, so want extra protection for him. So he also gets sprayed in the morning with Wondercide* flea & tick spray, which repels all of those. It especially works well for mosquitoes I think.
Considering the fact that we often find ticks crawling on our bed or in other places in the house, I feel pretty strongly that those things do help keep the ticks off him. The hope is that they get off him before biting, though he has had some bites too. Back in the days when we used the spot-on pesticide treatments, our dogs got bit too, so I don’t believe anything is 100%; which is another reason I haven’t caved into that yet.
Avoidance. I’ve honestly considered giving up on walking completely because of the ticks in our woods. But Luke can get them right in his yard too (we let the birds into his yard every so often in the hopes they’ll eat the ticks there).
We have found one trail loop in our woods that doesn’t seem to have many ticks. I miss walking our other trails, but if we’ve tried it and I’ve seen more than one tick on either of us, we’re avoiding those trails until things dry out more and we get deeper into summer. Hopefully as the weather heats and dries up the ticks mostly disappear as they usually do in the summer (we have to be aware that they do come back in the fall though). The trail we use has a bit less vegetation and wet areas than the others, I think that’s why it’s better. We also go on the road if it’s a quiet time of day, another good reason to walk early morning. (Luke’s fear of strangers being the reason we avoid the road, though not many of our neighbors walk much, especially not in the morning).
Constant checks. As we walk along, I can spot ticks on Luke easily at least in the areas of his white fur. If he’s distracted with smelling something, I can usually just brush or casually pick them off before he catches on.
I also check him when we get home, but he’s onto that routine now and it’s tougher. In the photo below, he wouldn’t let me take his leash off because I had tried to pick a tick off him. Yes, he’s that crazy. He doesn’t like the ticks on him, but he won’t let us take them off. I don’t get it either, but that’s one of Luke’s quirks.
That has really made me want to give him one of those chewable preventatives, but after recently hearing that those can cause seizures in some dogs, I’m too paranoid (Luke is not the only crazy one around here, just ask my hubby. LOL) I don’t like the fact that those last like 3 months or something. What if your dog reacts, how do you ever get it out of their system???
I know many do not agree with how we do things. As I said, I question myself about it every day. But we do what we think is best for Luke, and I think a natural life is. He gets homemade food and dog treats, fresh veggies and herbs, many natural supplements, and we are lucky that so far he has been a healthy dog. He enjoys his walks, and I won’t take those away from him even if it means more work for us.
We are finally getting some nice weather, hot and dry, at least for a couple days, so I hope it continues and that the battle of the bugs will at least die down for a while. I haven’t been as itchy lately and both Luke and I were tick free when we got home from our last walk. Maybe we can finally get to start enjoying the summer!
Are the bugs awful where you are this year? What do you use? If you have any natural treatments that you love, do tell in the comments below! I am always open to trying new natural products.