Say Goodbye to Bug Bites…Naturally

So, here it is July – the middle of the summer, which means for many of us, including myself, bug bites! Bugs, especially mosquitoes, love, love the taste of my blood – I don’t get it – I break out in terrible painful welts, but I hate using harsh chemicals to protect myself from these nasty bites. Thankfully there are some natural alternatives to regular bug sprays, especially any containing N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, or, more commonly known as DEET.

What is DEET?

A common ingredient in many over-the-counter insect repellents, DEET is a colorless yellow oil which works as a true repellent to mosquitoes. Even though DEET is a miracle ingredient for those of us who serve as a buffet to mosquitoes and other biting mosquitoinsects, it has been found that DEET has been found to inhibit the activity of a central nervous system ensyme acetylocholinesterase, which in essence, plays a role in the function of the neurons which control muscles. DEET has also been known to have effects on the environment including. It has been found have a slight toxicity for coldwater fish such as rainbow trout and tilapia and it also has been shown to be toxic for some species of freshwater zooplankton.

What Can I Do?

So, you’re wondering what can I use instead of a chemical-based insect repellent? I don’t want to use chemicals or expose others or the environment to DEET or other chemicals. There has to be an alternative. There are! You can find natural alternatives on the shelves of such stores as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or even just the common grocery store or big box store. Natural and chemical-free is becoming more the norm nowadays. Personally, I’ve had luck with Burt’s Bee’s All Natural Outdoor Herbal Insect Repellent, which contains such key ingredients as peppermint oil, cedar and lemon eucalyptus. If you want to try your hand and making your own easy, inexpensive bug sprays or creams you can find many recipes online, including this recipe: http://tinyurl.com/mmbuv2c.

The Natural Resources Defense Council also suggests if you want to use a chemical-based repellent containing Picaridin. the NRDC states  “[Picaridin is] structurally based on chemicals in peppers…appears to interfere with the mosquito’s ability to smell it’s prey. …may be less effective than DEET. A 20% Picaridin formulation has been shown to repel mosquitoes for 8-10 hours.”

The NRC continues, saying ” Picaridin is much less irritating to the skin than DEET. It has very low toxicity and does not appear to cause adverse neurological or reproductive effects. Nor does it cause cancer in animals.”

Other Things Of Note

Of course, ridding your area of any standing water helps prevent mosquitoes – standing water is just a breeding ground for these pests. Also, check the mosquito forecast – if it’s high then stay indoors or at least in a screened-in area. And, proper clothing is key – wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs minimizes your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes or other biting insects.

 

 

 

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Chemical-free for Spring Part II

I know it’s been a while between the first and second parts of this season – I apologize.

So, now that we’ve addressed some of the chemical-free alternatives for lawn care, let’s attack how to protect your garden from unwelcome critters and pests.

According to a Reader’s Digest article, “Harsh chemicals kill beneficial organisms as well, including butterflies, ladybugs, and bees, all of which help our gardens grow and stay healthy…garden chemicals can leach into groundwater, where they can leave toxic residue that poisons fish, small plants and water fowl…According to the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], a number of lawn pesticides contain carcinogens that in large quantities can cause birth defects, gene mutations, nervous system damage, or liver or kidney damage.”

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have that perfect, chemical-free garden. In fact, many of the ingredients needed to transform your garden from harsh chemicals to no chemicals are easy to find, and, in some cases, located right under your nose in your house. Here are a few suggestions to eliminate chemical usage in your garden:

  1. Shake some cayenne pepper on your vegetable garden or plants and grasses to get rid of yard critters, squirrels or rabbits.
  2. Get rid of standing water! Standing water is a breeding ground for many insects and a potential incubator for the West Nile virus.
  3. Buy lots of ladybugs and let them lose in your garden and watch as aphids and other bugs disappear.
  4. Make your own insecticides – Mix two tablespoons of plant-based liquid soap with one gallon of water and spray. For extra strength, add a few drops of plant oils such as rosemary, peppermint or clove.
  5. Try ecofriendly insecticides, which contain natural solutions such as vinegar, corn gluten, fatty acids and plant oils.

For more suggestions visit http://tinyurl.com/pnnoqep. Also, the Web site, Beyond Pesticides is another great resource for those who believe in a chemical-free and toxic-free environment.

Chemical-free for Spring Part I

Spring is right around the corner…hopefully. Here in the Chicago area it seems like winter will never release it’s stronghold it’s had upon the area the past month! In November, December and even the first half of January, it seemed more like spring or autumn, but then the “bottom dropped out” in mid-January with frigid, single digit temperatures and then inches upon inches of snowstorms in the month of February and below normal temps in March — who knows what April holds in store for us. So, no wonder we’re ready for spring – we’ve had enough!

For many, images of a green lawn, flowers and lots of homegrown fruits and vegetables means springtime! But, can you have a green thumb and still be good to the Earth and not use all of those nasty pesticides and other chemicals you see front and center in the stores from spring through autumn?

First, the lawn. Everyone wants that perfect, bright green lawn, but you don’t need to douse it with gallons of water and loads of harmful chemicals to have a beautiful lawn. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), testing and treating the soil with natural products is the first step toward natural lawn care.

The NRDC further explains, “To aid your organic conversion, many university cooperative extension offices will test your soil for organic matter, nutrients and pH for a small fee. Once you know what’s in your soil, you can begin to bring it back to life…liquid compost…can help restore beneficial microbial life.”

Other steps the NRDC advises:

  1. Go native – use grasses suitable for your climate
  2. “Read the weeds” – weeds can serve as “messengers” to tell you what’s wrong with your soil, but not all weeds are bad
  3. Water only when needed, when the grass is wilting – an idea to cut down on water consumption is to use rain barrels

To read this article in full visit http://www.nrdc.org/living/yardgarden/organic-lawn-care.asp.