Wednesday, September 20, 2017  

Mosquitoes and Ticks and Chiggers, Oh, My!
The Bugs of Summer  

Remembering Dorothy, the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man, chanting “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My” while skipping down the yellow brick road seems a far reach from July and August in Virginia with BUGS!!

But maybe not! Not too long ago we were inside the house, with cold winds, dry skin and even some of that white stuff falling from the sky.

We were dreaming of the day that we could be out in the garden, poking around in the dirt. Well guess what? We are there now. Not only are we in the dirt, but we are breathing all that wonderful warm air and walking on the soft grass and tending the plants and shrubs.

Only we are not alone! There are bugs! All shapes and sizes. They buzz, bite and sting. They make you spend weeks itching and watching for tell tale signs of some dreadful transmitted disease. They chew on our beloved plants. They take bites out of our wonderfully ripened fruits and vegetables. They ruin a favorite flower, usually the night before we had planned to display it at garden club or use it for a centerpiece.

Echoing the confidence of Dorothy and her companions, we can learn to deal with the annoying concerns we may experience, one step at a time.

Pests can be divided into many cate­gories by scientists engrossed in, well, the Science of Entomology. I would prefer to divide insects into categories of Bother.

Some bees are buzzing around my flowers but those large black buzzy ones that only attack the wood your house is made of and only come out in the early spring…I do not get all that hot and bothered by that. You can devise your own technique to handle them. I have heard everything from batting them down with a badminton racket to a friend whose dog leaps out and gobbles them up. By the time you decide about what technique to use, they are gone, leaving you to patch up the holes and look forward to their arrival next year.

There is some very good information concerning the need for honey bees and pollination of flowers and the benefits of honey. Bees are a little like children, you seemingly determine the degree of trouble by the sound…or lack of it. Too much, you may have a fight on your hands and too little, they may be into something.
If you actually get stung, you just flick the spot with a credit card to remove the stinger and run for the epi-pen if you are allergic. Ice to the affected area helps as well.

All insects have a season. The May flies, which around my house haunt us from late April until June and not just May, can be very annoying. A home remedy that suggests the use of a drier sheet tucked into your hat, seems to work somewhat. Or, just stick out a naked limb, wait a minute and then swat them dead when they land. In my experience, the run-and-wave-your-hands technique does not yield any gain but rather tends to excite the mean critters into a frenzy. This may also cause a rise in blood pressure for the runee, or could be considered beneficial exercise…or not.

Early spring, high on the bother scale are the ticks. It seems that some are more serious than others. We have not only taken over the habitat of the deer, but they seem to be thriving, reproducing at a remarkable rate. So we live in their back yard, or is it that they live in ours? So deer ticks are present and a concern. These insects can carry several serious diseases. We are all aware of Lyme disease and its symptoms. This is not a disease of the south, but rather emanated in Lyme Connecticut.

The Center for Disease Control and your family physician are excellent sources of information. These insects are not only a serious concern regarding the potential of disease, but high on the bother scale. The itching lump left from a deer tick bite will continue to itch…seriously, for a solid month following the determination that the target rash is not coming. The other bother issue is the creepy things are so very, very tiny you can easily miss them until they have been attached for long enough to cause some trouble.

The next annoying relative to visit is the Japanese Beetle. These insects are really quite colorful. They have colors of purple (my favorite) and brown and seem somewhat iridescent. But not on my hydrangeas, thank you very much! Some control can be accomplished with the use of bacteriological powders, but if your neighbors do not comply then they just stroll…or rather, fly over and help themselves. They hide in the ground (as grubs) and hatch just when your hydrangeas or hollyhock or another of their favorite foods is in full glorious bloom. They certainly can cause a lot of damage to horticulture, but I have never seen a human attacked by them. Traps seem to attract beetles from all the neighboring properties in droves. I have heard of serious gardeners just hand picking them into cans of water and I know from personal experience that they flick off fairly well.

Then there are the slugs. A slug seems to be a small snail that has misplaced its shell. They like to hide around the base of plants in moist plant material. Keeping your garden tidy will help in the effort to discourage them. I know of one home remedy that has been recommended. Place a saucer of beer on the soil of your garden where you have seen them or their damage. They must be Scottish or German by heritage, as they like to climb in and guzzle overnight. Now what you are supposed to do with the saucer full of drunk slugs is beyond me!

Chiggers are very high on the bother scale. These tiny reddish mites hide in all brush in the warmer weather. The tiny bites appear in the more sheltered interior areas of your body…areas covered by clothing, inner legs and arms and especially around the middle, behind your waist band. Even if you remember and shower following some summer foraging in the bush, they may have done their damage. Usually the itchy and I do mean ITCHY!! bites are their worst a week or so after the infestation. The home remedy I am trying this year is the application of vinegar to my sock-pulled-over-pants part before going out into the yard for some gardening. I have it on expert dermatology advice that the cure of applying clear nail polish over the bite kills the little buggers, as they tunnel beneath the skin…is FALSE. The red itching spots are reactions to the bites and nothing more.

Just remember when you are in the south in the warm weather, do not forage into the brush without expecting an itchy few weeks to follow.

Now speaking of itching and high bother, No-See-Ums are high on the list. Just when the weather is warm and lovely and you want to fish on the dock. These are again, very tiny insects…why yes, “No See Ums”!! They have a preference for your hair and scalp and exposed extremities.

The itching dissipates in a relatively short time and you are no worse for the wear. The standard insect sprays, containing the active ingredient deet, seem to help and some use bath oil as a deterrent, but I find they are not as easily deterred as I had wished.

Now enough of the high bother rated buzzy things. Like politicians the ones that misbehave are the ones that get all the press.

The value of insects for pollination, entertainment (as in lighting bugs), and benefit to humans such as the praying mantis and lady bugs that eat harmful insects is endless. Even spiders are very handy to spread their webs and catch those gnats, mosquitoes and flies that get in the door or by the screens. Their value as food for the many and varied birds is immeasurable.

Butterflies, lovely and varied, color the garden. One of my favorite annual additions to my plantings is bronze fennel. I am even noticing that last year’s crop overwintered. I do not think I have ever used it for culinary purposes, but oh my, what it can do for your garden.

When it grows up to about 1–2 foot, you will notice small green worms appear. Do not pick them off or spray them!

These worms grow with such vigor. Following a week or more, they disappear to form their chrysalis. So I generally whack down the fennel shorter than the damage caused by the worms. It responds by growing vigorously. And you got it, more worms appear. If you watch the whole scenario, you will notice this process has not gone on unnoticed by surrounding gold finches and other birds. Shortly, following the absence of the second set of worms, your yard seems to swarm with black swallow-tail butterflies. What a treat!

Some like to allow their parsley to go to flower and seed for the same reason and the results are beautiful.

Whenever you grow cabbage or broccoli, it benefits you to inter-plant with radishes. Allow the radishes to go to flower and seed, a nice whitish bloom, and then go to seed. The cabbage moths are much more attracted to the flower than the cabbage growing nearby. The other added benefit is that in the fall when you are cleaning out the garden, you have a nice new crop of radishes.

Other companion cropping can be of great benefit as well as esthetically pleasing. Think of tall sunflowers, with cucumbers growing up them. How about purple (did I mention my favorite color) hyacinth beans growing up a tower, surrounded with marigolds which are supposed to discourage nematodes. You do not have to purchase expensive towers for your plants. Just poke in three tall stakes, slant them inward and cap with an inverted flower pot. This works well in the ground as well as in containers. Just be sure that the height and size of the poles are appropriate to the scale of the pot. The pot can even be painted for a more whimsical effect. Children enjoy being a part of the creation of gardens and are wonderful with paints. In the garden if you make your towers tall enough and allow beans and morning glories to climb it, just leave a small space in one side and small children can use it for a fort.

When using companion cropping, you have the added benefit of combining aromas. Some insects like one aroma and others another, so explore the aroma that your favorite insects like and concentrate on that.

A friend has encouraged me to always plant garlic by my roses to discourage insect damage. The structure of the garlic seed head with the roses is wonderful.

Now we can not forget the charming lady beetle, or lady bug. These insects feast on mites, scale and aphids that may otherwise harm our plants. They are considered beneficial insects. They are cute in their red coats dotted with black and do not sting you or cause itchy red bumps or possible disease. They can be purchased through gardening catalogs or carefully moved from any interior space and put carefully under a leaf in your garden.

Now for several years I notice the asian lady bugs are rampant. They are lighter in color, somewhat yellowish. In early spring the interior of our screen porch is covered with their little flying bodies. Sometimes they even work their way into the house. I am not aware of any damage they do, they may cause some minor clean up, but there is a wonderful control at my house. Just when they are busiest, a few skinks (small harmless lizards) wiggle their way under our screen door and have a feast. Of the original millions of tiny bodies, they manage to clean up the majority of the mess. The skinks just scoot back out when they are finished.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides an excellent “Citizen’s Guide to Pest control and Pesticide Safety” booklet (EPA 735-K-04-002) www.epa.gov.
This booklet is a handy simple guide with chapters such as “Preventing Pests, Using Non-Chemical Pest Controls and Using Chemical Pest Controls.”

The emphasis is on prevention through cleanliness, education and safety. When using pesticides as in any chemicals we bear the responsibility to use it with caution for the humans and the environ­ment that it can effect.

So learn to enjoy the outdoors and summer and all that comes with this glorious space. Understand your neighbors the bugs and stay safe with pesticides. Keep our environment safe.

Now where did I put that anti-itch cream?

By Judy Ripley—Contributing Writer