Summer solstice carries with it many, many great activities. Family camping, fishing, swimming, playing in the backyard, barbecues, and more. When the days lengthen and the temperatures rise, everyday life becomes a little more rustic, a little less tied to the protection of a roof.
The more time we spend outdoors, the more we step into a realm where bugs reign supreme. They eat our gardens and bite us, leaving awful, itchy red welts, sometimes even disease. In general it’s good for children to be exposed to these critters and learn that bugs are just another creature, not one to be frightened of or overly annoyed by. But then again, we all have our breaking point.
Mosquitoes of course are the bug on everyone’s minds these days. They carry nasty diseases, from West Nile to Zika, and they’re especially attracted to the standing water in pools and the lovely ponds we install to beautify our backyards. We have to protect ourselves and our kids somehow, but at the same time store-bought bug sprays are just so harsh, with their DEETs and their nervous-system harming chemicals, that the risks of using them might very well outweigh the rewards.
It’s good to remember that humans and nature are very much interconnected just like the trees in a forest. The more naturally we fight our ‘pests,’ the better off we’ll all be.
Outdoor Bug Control
One of the benefits of our human evolution is that we’ve gotten quite adept at building our own little spaces in the world. We make homes and yards all to ourselves. Instead of protecting just our own skin from pesky mosquitoes, this gives us the option of treating the whole yard for pests.
There are two main methods for treating outdoor living spaces: misting and barrier systems. Misting is just what it sounds like, spraying the crap out of the yard with insect-killing chemicals. Misting systems are usually installed throughout a house and the chemicals have to be stored in a safe place and replaced periodically by the homeowner.
Barrier systems on the other hand are administered by a professional — if you’ve seen a guy with a funny plastic tank on his back spraying someone’s lawn, there’s a good chance he’s applying a barrier system. Some barriers are made of synthetic pyrethroids, an insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum flower, and others are made from extremely potent garlic cloves. Most important of all, since the chemicals aren’t lying around the house, the kids won’t accidentally get into them.
Spray-on Natural Repellents
When it comes to spray-on insect repellents, finding the balance between effectiveness and gentleness is key. We’re putting these sprays on our skin after all. The market has a good number of products that are not DEET-based, but if you want to take it a step further you can make your bug sprays at home.
Essential oils make great natural bug repellents. The best oils for our purposes are geranium oil, citronella, lemon eucalyptus, lavender, and rosemary. Combine 100 drops total of these oils with:
- 1 tablespoon of vodka
- ½ cup natural witch hazel
- ½ cup water
Shake it all up in a spray bottle and you’ve got bug spray. You can also make repellents with dried herbs, vanilla extract, fresh mint, and even apple cider vinegar. The options are endless.
Finally, it’s important to consider how bugs naturally interact with you and your space. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in the evening, remember that bugs are attracted to light. It might sound like a small issue, but it can escalate quickly.
Researchers in Africa, for example, found that electrifying rural homes with solar LED lights might be attracting enough disease-carrying insects to actually increase rates of malaria, trachoma, and leishmaniasis; diseases carried by mosquitoes, flies, and sandflies respectively. It turns out that low-energy LEDs attract more bugs than other lights because of their blue hue.
This serves as a good reminder to homeowners that simply taking steps toward conservation will not fix the problems we face. Don’t get me wrong, solar energy is a fabulous way to conserve both resources and money, but we must also be mindful of its secondary impacts on the natural world. The more aware we are of each strand in the web we weave with the natural world, the better equipped we are to care for ourselves and the planet.
By Brooke Faulkner