Friday, July 20, 2012

Mosquito Madness

I think Mosquitoes and STDs have been running on a parallel keel for years now.  Besides STDs, those pesky little buzzing Anopheles seem to be the harbinger of everything else that's horribly wrong, bad and unpleasantly disgusting in the world today.  

Back in my youth, if you got your blood sucked by one of them little buggers you'd get a bump that would  itch like crazy for a couple days.  Then it'd be gone.  Now a days the same thing can happen, but you could also contract Maleria (fortunately not in California) or  West Nile Virus , which was first discovered in the United States in the summer of 1999 in New York, about the same time Zombies were found in Des Moines, Vampires in Fresno and Locusts in Detroit.  See what I mean?

Back in my youth, if  you contracted an STD a shot of Penicillin would usually make it go away.  Or in the case of the crabs, a little lighter fluid and a toothpick was a convenient, albeit hectic solution.  Hell, there were only two or three STD's worming around back in the 1960's that I was aware of.  Now there's so freaking many (STD's) modern science is having trouble coming up with pronounceable names, let alone trying to uncover the festering swamp beetle larvae fungus shit stuff that just might hold a clue for a cure for any one of them.  Chlamydia?  Papillomavirus? Trichomoniasis?  Molluscom Cotagiosum?  Help, you need an interpreter.  So do I.

And what are all these unpronounceable things?  The mind reels.

The point is, in the genesis of their timeline and the galaxy in general, there must be some sort of connection between the two.  I mean, mere coincidence?  To go from innocuously inconvenient to lethal in a matter of decades begs to be researched by some of the very best minds at an online university.  Or an electrician.  Whatever.

How does one keep these pesky and unpronounceable things away?

Well, one can wrap that riveting, rotund little rascal in a soupy silhouette of cellophane.  Or use a rubber.  Or get married.  Or both.  Either way. 

As far as them other pesky little critters are concerned, there appears to be a vast array of home solutions fluttering about the Internet, unfortunately most of them don't actually work.  Scientifically that is.  Some of them may work for a while, but they don't really repel mosquitoes for an extended period of time.   You got the Bounce fabric softener sheets, the Vicks Vaporub, the Avon Skin So Soft and pure Vanilla Extract to name a few.  Rub 'em all over your exposed body parts and supposedly the mosquitoes will stay away.  Snopes has a few insights into this vast array.  

There is one item on the Snopes list that I disagree with though.  Like Bob, the fisherman, I have been taking Vitamin B1 as a supplement for over a decade now and can honestly say I have only been bitten maybe once or twice by a mosquito during that time frame.  It could be my aging, leathery skin, but for the price ($5.00 for 200-which would cover a season) it's a hell of a lot cheaper than any Deet product on the market.  Probably a little safer too. 

How safe is Deet?  Well, according to Deet, very safe, and better than being bit by mosquitoes.  But there's a lot of information out there, good and bad.  Before you douse yourself or your kids with another dose, make sure you're well informed: Deet2

How safe is Vitamin B1, or Thiamine?  Well, it's water soluble, so you can't OD if that's what I mean.  And it shouldn't cause you to stutter...too much.  And if you get an erection lasting over four hours you can always call a plumber.  Or a hooker. 

And while we're on the subject of Citronella and the myriad of products thereof, how the heck does that size up?  The June/July 2012 issue of Mother Earth News, really the genesis of this post, is reporting that those lovely hybrid citronella geraniums that you read about everywhere don't really have any scientific evidence in support of their magical claims.  Acclaimed author Dr. Andrew Weil feels the same way about citronella, not only about the geraniums but the candles as well.

So if none of these popular deterrents actually work, why are we spending the money and what can we do?  In my noodling and research, I read some good reviews about the Dragon Fly System, which was developed under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the chief scientific research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.  While this item is pricey, if you have a large mosquito problem it might offer a good solution.  These folks also have a couple other products available, one of which is a natural Catnip oil, an alternative to Deet products.

Catnip also showed up in the June/July 2012 issue of Mother Earth News as a great mosquito repellent.  As a matter of fact, they say Nepetalactone, the essential oil that gives Catnip its smell, is more effective than Deet.  According to Mother, some other plants that actually have mosquito repellent properties are Lantana Camara, Rose-scented Monarda, Lime Basil, Sacred Basil and Thyme.  Plant these around your patio for a relatively mosquito free environment, as well as having some fresh herbs available for your kitchen.  You can also rub the fresh leaves on your clothes and skin, which will help keep mosquitoes away but probably make you much more attractive to people like the Donner Party.  If you went back in time, for instance.  And were in the mountains, and it was snowing and stuff.

Mother Earth News also has a recipe for a homemade mosquito trap.  In recent research from West Africa and Israel, traps baited with sugar and fermented fruit juice reduced mosquito populations by 90 percent where deployed.  Here's how to make one at home (there's another design on the link above):

1/16 inch diameter nail
Quart sized plastic container with lid
3 t sugar
1/2 t boric acid
1 C smashed, fermented fruit with juice

Set the smashed up fruit in the sun for a day or two to speed up fermentation.  Punch 4-8 holes in the lid with the nail, depending on the size of the lid.  (The small holes let mosquitoes in but keeps beneficial insects like bees out.)  Mix the ingredients in the container.  Put the lid on the container and place the trap outside where it won't get rained on.  Mosquito's will feed on the fruit and the boric acid will kill them. 

I haven't personally used that system, and when the June/July 2012 issue went to press to the best of Mother's knowledge it has not been deployed here in the United States.  All these shenanigans won't make your yard totally mosquito free, but they should help.

While we're on the subject of pests, the following pictures are of a homemade, pesticide-free meat bee and fly trap I have deployed for many years.  It is simple to make and effective as well.  Well, effective if you have good bait.

You'll need a one quart glass or plastic jar with lid, a large sinker nail (or 1/4 drill bit), a small finishing nail (or teeny weeny drill bit), about 8 inches of fishing line and a safety pin.  I've found the quart sized plastic mayo jars are perfect for this, even though they now only contain 30 ounces.  Thank goodness there's no inflation, and this jar of mayo only costs more than $5.00 now.

First pop or drill one teeny, weeny hole in the center of the lid.  Then pop or drill four holes around the lid as shown below.

Next tie one end of the fish line to the round hole at end of the safety pin.  Then feed the fish line thru the bottom of the lid and then tie off on the top so that safety pin hangs down 2-3 inches from the bottom of the lid.

When you're ready to deploy, put about 2-3 inches of water in the jar with a couple drops of dish washing liquid.  Then get a small piece of  cooked meat (about human bite size) preferably with some bbq sauce on it.  Skewer it with the pin, close the lid and set it outside where you want.

Cooked meat seems to attract them more than raw, and some sort of sweet bbq type sauce always helps the lure.  

I typically have one out by the garbage cans and a couple discretely placed about the deck.  The meat bait is usually good for 3-4 days, and when ready for re-load simply unscrew the lid, pour out the contents and reload.  Here's a few days worth of flies that went after some apple wood smoked chicken, which ironically lured them to the area when smoking.  (BTW-this was not one of our girls!  They are layers, not eaters.)

If you're really got a fly situation, like a chicken coop for instance, I highly recommend the Rescue Fly Trap shown below.  You can find it at most hardware stores, at Home Depot it retails for around $5.00.  You cut a hole in the top of the plastic bag, pull out (carefully) the yellow top (which allows flies and water in), pour water in to the fill line and hang.  A hearty word of caution: when activated the bait smells like something dead.  Really dead.  It's foul.  So, make sure you hang it downwind from where ever you are or want to be.                                       

I am currently in the middle of my second bag. and there are hundreds of dead flies in it, maybe thousands.    The nice thing is you just throw the bag in the garbage when it's full.  No fuss or muss, and it really gets the job done! 

Chicken Update

The girls are doing well and we are now averaging six eggs a day.  As I may have mentioned, several girls were not utilizing the lovely second story nesting boxes and were laying willy nilly all over the place, like the wood pile and underneath our garden shack.  I confined them to their universe, but a couple were still making shallow nests in the dirt and laying their eggs there.   Since I thought access could be an issue for several of them, I made two nest boxes and placed them on the floor in the corner of their house.  Problem solved.  I'm getting a couple eggs a day in the lower nest (although one keeps dropping from the top of the frame-lower right in photo) and 3-5 a day in the upper.  As mentioned before, if any of you locals (and you know who you are) are in need of some fresh, organic, free range eggs we have them available.  $4.00/dozen