jump to navigation

Bad, bad bugs. September 20, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , ,

Silence Dogood here. Mercy on us! As if stinkbugs, ants, fruit flies, silverfish, spiders, and the occasional centipede and housefly in the house weren’t horrors enough. We seldom have outdoor bug issues, since we tend to consider the line drawn between house and yard: You stay outside, we’ll stay inside, the end.

We do have the occasional bug problem in the greenhouse, in the form of whiteflies or aphids, but we’ve been really lucky in terms of our gardens. What pests there are are quickly snapped up by predatory insects or birds. Nature’s balance was never more apparent than in our own backyard.

At least, until this year. Our unusually cool, consistently wet spring and summer have brought forth a horde of mosquitos. We’d thought mosquitos thrived in the hot, wet tropics (as in malaria territory), but the cool weather hasn’t slowed them down a bit. I guess it’s the moisture rather than temperature that encourages them to proliferate.

Our friend Ben, our puppy Shiloh, and I have been furiously swatting at them every time we go outside, even now that temperatures are dropping down into the 40s. We can’t even enjoy sitting out on our deck, watching flames rise from our fire pit, enjoying the lush deck container plantings, and sipping a margarita, Manhattan, or glass of wine.

However, last night the temperatures dropped to 40 or even below. Gee, I thought, maybe the mosquitos will finally have been wiped out, or at least slowed down. It’s a cool, sunny day, a perfect day to have lunch on the deck. Despite our friend Ben’s lingering doubts, I persuaded him to bring Shiloh out for an intimate picnic a trois. And I was right… no mosquitos.

Unfortunately, that may be because I was only out on the deck for about two minutes. No sooner had we sat down than three yellowjackets began buzzing around our heads. I absolutely hate yellowjackets—they’re the only insects I know that will pursue and sting you because they can rather than because you’ve offended them in some way—and in the past, we’ve had issues with them nesting both in the ground and in wasp nests in our chicken coop. But by God’s grace, there have been absolutely no yellowjackets here at Hawk’s Haven for at least two years. None, nada, not one.  

So where did these suddenly come from? Are they migrating through, brought along by the cold nights? And if so, where are they going? I’d spent much of the summer laboriously teaching OFB to recognize the non-stinging, beneficial hoverflies that often look like bees but are flatter. So when the yellowjackets began dive-bombing us and I started shrieking, OFB innocently said, “Aren’t these hoverflies?”

“NOOOOOOO!!! Get inside!!! Get Shiloh inside!!!! Don’t sit there asking questions!!!! AAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”

Mercifully, we were able to get the deck door shut before any of the yellowjackets invited themselves in along with us. But I’m still wondering where on earth they came from, and if it’s ever going to be safe to sit out on the deck again.

         ‘Til next time,



How to repel flies from picnics. July 3, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, I thought that the folks who came on to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, seeking an answer to this question were very timely. I’m surprised people haven’t come on asking how to repel ants! (That one’s actually easy: Set your picnic table out where ants can’t drop down from an umbrella or park-shelter ceiling. Then set the legs of the picnic table in wide, shatter-proof bowls or buckets of water until the picnic’s over. No trouble, and no ants on the table!)

Because flies, well, fly, they’re a little more problematic. Ditto for those horrid yellowjackets. To keep yellowjackets away, keep trash cans far, far away from your picnic and don’t serve sweetened drinks. Diet drinks are fine; unlike us, they don’t recognize those no-cal sweeteners as sugary. Keep any fruit salads, melons, and the like covered until you’re actually eating them, and re-cover them the second everyone’s helped themselves. The same holds true for pies, cakes, and sweets in general. And as soon as you’ve finished eating, take those ooey, gooey plates to the distant trash can and toss them! But I digress.

Flies are more problematic, because they’re attracted to all kinds of food, not just sweets, and, as noted, they can fly wherever the food is. But there are a few things you can do to fly-proof your picnic. Here are four:

1. Hold your picnic away from public parks and other places where food is typically served. Flies build up where food is abundant. If you have your picnic in a backyard or other area that doesn’t usually attract flies, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding them.

2. Hold your picnic in a screened pavilion. This could actually be very romantic. You can rent large tents and pavilions for parties, outdoor weddings, and the like. No need to tack actual metal screening on the sides—instead, use sheer curtains, mosquito netting, or other lightweight, see-through fabric panels that are woven densely enough to keep the flies out but loosely enough to let in the breeze. If your picnic is likely to extend into the night or resume after dark, hang strings of tiny white lights and/or paper lanterns from the ceiling, set potted shrubs in the corners with white-light netting, run lights up the corner poles, and you’ll stage a picnic no one will ever forget. Welcome to Shangri-La! This is a great option if mosquitos are a nemesis, too. For extra protection, burn citronella candles on the table(s) or citronella-oil tiki torches outside the pavilion.

3. Hold your picnic in a breezy spot. And no, I don’t mean someplace with a strong enough breeze to blow the plates and napkins off the table. Our friend Ben and I often eat out on the deck at our home, Hawk’s Haven, which is characterized by gentle but nonstop breezes year-round. It’s not a fly-free area by any means, but we’ve never been bothered by a single fly while enjoying a leisurely repast on our breezy deck.

4. Eat indoors. As a last resort, reconsider your idea of what a “picnic” is. Set out a buffet of picnic foods and drinks, cover your dining-room table with a cheerful red-checked tablecloth, paper plates, and colorful paper napkins, and dash back inside with those grilled burgers, dogs and so on as soon as they’re done. Make sure there are plenty of fun outdoor activities to engage in as soon as the “picnic” is over, and everybody will enjoy fly-free food and an outdoor gathering. If you finish up with sparklers or a trip to your local ice-cream stand followed by a visit to the local park to watch the fireworks, I promise everybody will think it was the greatest “picnic” ever!

There are other effective but less appealing options, like tossing a fresh roadkill or piece of raw meat a good way from your picnic area. Nothing like carrion to get a fly’s undivided attention. (Thanks, but no thanks.) No fly strip on earth is going to draw every single fly away from your picnic spread, and anyway, who wants to look at dead (or dying, struggling) flies while they’re trying to eat? Eeeewwww. So I’m sticking with my four suggestions. Anybody have others?

Happy Fourth, everyone!

          ‘Til next time,