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Biting Bugs in the Garden

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

As our weather warms up, the bugs come out and nothing's worse than being harassed by mosquitoes, fire ants and other pests while you're working in your garden. Along with our weekly update on our demonstration garden, Episode 4 of Spring Veggie Gardening in North Texas talks about the latest and greatest all natural, organic controls to protect yourself and your family from dangerous and otherwise pesty pests.



We're now into April, which means we're well past any chance of a frost -- at least according to the averages. Warmer weather means that bugs are starting to come out. In this class you'll learn how to protect yourself from biting insects while you're out in the garden. So we're going to focus on organic products that will protect you against mosquitoes, fire ants, no-see-ums, and other biting pests like that.


Before we begin, let's take a quick look at how our demonstration gardening has progressed since our previous class.


Garden Update

Warmer weather means that a lot of the veggies we planted in February are done, or close to being done. Our broccoli has gone to flower, which means it's no longer edible. But it's very beautiful. I've never let mine get that far before I pulled them out. The bees like it and it's just really pretty. Our cabbage here is gigantic. This is a leaf cabbage, meaning it doesn't form a head. But it's really beautiful with its purple veins in the leaves.


Our bok choi is also done. It's getting ready to flower and is no longer producing any more foliage. But our Kale is still doing well here. We have a Chinese cabbage that's forming a nice head even though I have snipped off a bunch of leaves from that over the last few weeks to put in my salad. And then we have another giant kale plant. Our fennel is going wild. And so are our onions.


I want to show you how much our onions have grown since we planted them. This is the size it was when we planted them. And this is the size it is now. So there's a big difference in just a few weeks. They're still not fully developed yet but they are ready to eat. I've been harvesting these one at a time and eating them as green onions and they're delicious.


And on the other side of our garden. Our peas and beans are forming fruit now.


Our bean plant got damaged from one of the cold snaps right after our February freeze. I'm just going to let the new leaves come out and then I'm going to cut the damaged ones off. Peas are starting to form, but it's still a little early for beans.


In our previous episode, Bigger, Better Tomatoes, we planted a Cherokee Purple tomato here. We put some marigolds in with it and that is an Ancho Poblano pepper. We also have a San Marzano tomato, which is sort of like the Romano, and we companion planted it with some more marigolds for insect control.


In our next episode, we'll update you again on how our garden is coming along.


Now let's get into today's topic. You've probably already noticed mosquitoes around because they're starting to come out now and they're just going to keep getting worse as we progress through the rest of spring.


There are a number of safe, natural, organic products you can use to protect yourself from mosquitoes. Some of these will also help with other pests as well.


Eco-Smart Mosquito & Tick Control

For example, the Eco-Smart Mosquito & Tick Control will also kill ticks, so this is a safe, natural product for getting rid of ticks. It's safe for children and pets.


EcoSmart Mosquito & Tick Spray

This is a hose-end sprayer so you just hook it up to your garden hose and spray your shrubs. Mosquitoes like to hide in your shrubs. So they'll kind of congregate in there until something juicy walks by and then they'll swarm out all over you. So spraying your shrubs is useful. Spraying your trees -- I know it's hard if you have a tall tree, you can't spray up very high, but ticks are going to be in your trees and they'll usually just drop on you when you walk by. So this is a good product for controlling them. You want the weather to be dry when you spray and you want to have another 48 hours of dry weather afterward. So don't run your sprinklers right before or after you put it out. You need to re-apply it every 3 to 4 weeks, depending on the weather. If there's been a heavy rain, you may need to do it again sooner.


Eco-Smart Granules

Another great product is EcoSmart Granules with Clove and Thyme oils. They're great for controlling mosquitoes and no-see-ums in your lawn and flowerbeds. It also works to repel grasshoppers. This needs to be spread on the ground around your plants. So it's going to do more for things like chiggers that are on the ground versus mosquitoes that may be flying above your head.


Spartan Mosquito Traps

Spartan Mosquito Traps will cover a much wider area. They actually draw mosquitoes in from quite a distance away and pull them into the trap. There are 2 traps in each package -- each trap does about 1/2 an acre. You want to put them far apart from each other but close enough so that they overlap. You just fill them with water and hang them up on a tree branch or shepherd's hook or something like that. We have plant hanger hooks that you can put over a tree branch. But you want them to be out away from your house, out away from any place where you're sitting and entertaining or anything like that. Because they are going to be drawn to this and so you don't want to be near this. But that work very well. We've actually hung them up inside the store. We didn't have any mosquitoes last year or the year before. They work for up to 30 days. So you need to replace them about once a month during mosquito season.

Spartan Mosquito Traps

There are actually a lot of different kinds of mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes will spend their entire life in your yard and never go more than 100 or 200 feet from where they were born. And other mosquitoes will travel up to 5 miles looking for a meal. So when you're putting these out, the ones that are hanging around in your shrubs are the ones that are basically local to your garden. And there's probably more of them than the other types but there are those other ones that travel pretty far, so that's why you want to set up a perimeter around your yard. So that you can catch them as they're coming in so that they never get into your yard in the first place.


The other important thing about mosquitoes is that they always lay their eggs in water or moist soil. They do not have to have a pond or anything. They can lay their eggs in as little as a tablespoon of water. And if you even have really moist soil -- they really like Asian jasmine, for example. Asian jasmine is a mosquito magnet. I don't know why anyone would ever plant Asian jasmine because it's always going to have bugs in it and particularly mosquitoes -- because they like that moist soil. Since it's a ground cover, it's really difficult to get that soil to dry out. So it stays moist enough for them to go in and lay their eggs. The eggs only need about 48 hours.

Summit Mosquito Dunks and bits kill larvae.

So if you have any areas that might be moist like that or if you have any containers that collect water -- say a bucket you've left out or a rain gauge or a planter with a base underneath it that can hold water -- anything like that -- you want to put out either Mosquito dunks or Mosquito Bits. The dunks are made for ponds and bodies of water. They can be cut into pieces and divided into quarters so you don't have to use the whole thing. A full dunk will do 100 square feet. But if the surface area is 5 square feet or less, then you only need to use 1/4 of a dunk. So assuming you use the right size for the area you are treating, they should last for about 30 days. It's also good to put these in your gutters. You can also use the bits in your gutters. The bits are also what you would use in your Asian jasmine. Or under your deck -- that's another place where they would congregate because it takes longer for the soil to dry out under there. You can even puts a couple of bits down your drains inside your home because they will breed inside the plumbing pipes in your home. And just flushing your drains with water usually isn't enough to get rid of them. It takes a while for the bits to dissolve so you wouldn't want to put more than 1 or 2 bits down your drain at a time. But that is one way to control them inside your home. Then you can also put bits on the top soil of your houseplants and that will keep gnats away as well. Because gnats can breed in the soil of your houseplants.


Those 2 things are probably the most important. You need to make sure that you're treating any wet areas so that you're not a breeding center for them. And then spraying your trees and shrubs and your lawn and whatnot to kill the adults.

Actually not a comprehensive guide but these are some of the most commonly seen in our backyards.

Yellow Stripey Things

Other things in the garden you want to protect yourself from would be yellow jackets, wasps and other "yellow stripey things." People complain about these alot. There are a lot of different kinds of wasps. Some of them are actually very tiny. You can barely see them with the naked eye and don't even sting. For example, Trichogramma wasps are a beneficial insect that we use to control webworms and tent caterpillars. Other ones are as big as helicopters and try to dive bomb you every time you go out. So for things like larger wasps and yellow jackets we have several different kinds of traps. We also have fly traps. Yellow jackets are the most obnoxious pests, I think, because they're carnivores so when you try to have an outdoor bar-be-cue they're going to be the ones that are trying to steal your dinner. And they really hurt when they sting. They hurt alot.


So again, with traps -- any time you use any kind of a trap, you want to place it away from where you want to be. This one has an attractant that you put inside the container and then you add some water and they fly into the trap to get to the attractant and then they can't figure out how to get out again so they just die inside the trap. So it's a very safe way to get rid of them and you can reuse the traps. You can buy the attractant separately. Each attractant cartridge lasts for about 10 weeks. So you can just buy a new cartridge and just replace that instead of buying a whole new trap every time. But these work really well and they're totally safe. The thing is, though, that they're only going to trap yellow jackets. So it's not going to do anything for other types of wasps. But keep in mind that most wasps are pollinators. They are beneficial insects. The only reason we don't like them is because they sting us. So the best thing to do is to try to leave them alone as much as possible.


I don't want them to build their nests in my eves, which is where they always seem to want to be. And then you can put these traps out near your mosquito traps. You can kind of put these together and that way you'll know you're getting a good distance away from where you want to sit. So that you're not bringing them into your entertaining area. the other thing to do with wasps and yellow jackets is to just watch when they try to build their nests on my patio under my eves and just get out there and knock down the nest as soon as possible, preferably before they finish building it. Hopefully they'll get the idea and go somewhere else. So you don't have to actually spray them with a sprayer or anything, although you can. But like I said, just keep in mind that they are pollinators, so we want to try to let them live if we can. At least that's my philosophy, anyway. I only use the nuclear stuff if nothing else is going to work and I really don't want them to bite me.


Repellents

Besides trapping them, there are several organic products you can use to repel them. Both the Cedar Warrior cedar oil and garlic juice are organic sprays that you can use to repel a lot of different kinds of insects. The garlic smells like garlic, so you might not want to spray it everywhere. The cedar oil smells nice and fresh and woody. They're both very good repellents. You can spray them on your lawn, you can spray your shrubs, just like you can with the Mosquito and Tick spray.

Murphy's Mosquito Sticks

Another way that you can repel mosquitoes and other insects are with the Murphy's Mosquito Sticks. They are essentially incense sticks that are made from Brazilian bamboo and Brazilian Andrioba oil. It smells wonderful and works great. These are really cool because you can stick these in the ground. You can just put in the ground around you as you're working, or in a flower pot. You can light one and move it around with you as you work. And they really do last a long time. I've used them and I think they burn for about 6 or 8 hours. I would light mine each time I went out and then I would put it out and then relight it again the next time I went out. And you get 12 sticks in a package. If you're having a party, you probably want to burn more than 1 at a time because you want them to be about 12 feet apart. And they have a nice, pleasant aroma. When you're outside entertaining, that's really important.


Body Sprays

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

Another thing you want to do when you're outside in Texas is spray yourself with a DEET FREE personal spray like the Murphy's naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil. The local health deparment tells you that you have to use something with DEET. But the truth is that the FDA has actually studied Lemon Eucalyptus Oil and found that it is just as effective as DEET. There is no reason to spray a chemical like DEET on your body. You can spray this directly on your skin. With DEET, you have to actually spray your clothing, not your skin. Because it's not safe. It's a carcinogen. I spray Lemon Eucalyptus on myself all the time. It's a great DEET substitute. Don't use DEET!


This is just anecdotal information, but it seems to me that everybody's body chemistry is different and so some people have better luck with certain types of oils and other people say, "that one doesn't work for me. I have to use this other oil." So when people come to me and say I've tried this, this and this and they don't work, I always tell people well then try something with a different oil in it. Because like I said everybody's body chemistry is different. So Lemon Eucalyptus might work great on me but not on you. So instead use the EcoSmart spray. The EcoSmart spray has Geraniol, Rosemary oil, Cinnammon and Lemongrass. It's a different blend of oils. Just keep trying different ones until you find the one that works for you.


Most of these lotions and oils are only going to last for a couple of hours. You're going to have to reapply them if you're still outside. You can use these on your animals as well. You can spray your dog with lemon eucalyptus oil.


Candles

And then there are candles. Many people like to use citronella candles to repel insects. The secret to using candles and incense sticks and other oil burning products is that you need to start them at least an hour to an hour and a half before you plan to go outside. Because it takes awhile for the fragrance of the product to get going in the air and circulate and become strong enough for the insects to react to it. If you wait until you're already out there to light it, of course, you're going to say. "that it didn't work because bugs are still attacking me." The reason is because you haven't given it enough time to start working.


So if you're having any kind of get-together where you think you'll be going outside, go out at least a half hour to an hour beforehand and get these going. And then you still want to wear your personal protect also at the same time. Keep in mind that when you're out there, you're going to be moving around so you're not always going to be exactly within 12 feet of the incense stick.


Fire Ants

Everybody hates fire ants. They love to get into your containers. They love raised beds because the dirt is nice and soft and they can dig around and have a good time.


Note: Do Not Agitate the Mound! Most fire ant products will instruct you to agitate the mound. This is a bad idea. It just makes them mad. When you disturb the mound, the first thing they're going to do is come after YOU! They will swarm out of the mound looking for the culprit. Fire ants can both sting and bite and both are really painful. They will also immediately move to protect the queen and her nest so they will try to move the eggs, which means they will be much harder to get to and kill. So it's much better to surprise them.


The Texas 2-Step Treatment Program

Texas A&M specifically recommends with fire ants that you treat fire ants with both a bait and regime of mound drenching. They call it the Texas 2 Step. The reason for that is that fire ant colonies are really huge. They can cover I think it's something like 5 acres. One colony can be spread out over a huge area. So just taking care of the ones in your yard is nice -- it's nice to get rid of the mound -- but you're not going to eliminate the colony just by mound drenching. Unless you coordinate with all your neighbors.

So the first step is to put out bait. The organic bait that we carry is a Spinosad based product, which is s a specialized bacterium. The brand is called Come & Get It. It's little flaky like pieces that you spread on the ground. You actually want to put these out a little bit away from the mound because they don't forage right on top of the mound. They're going to go out a little way first and then start looking for food. Because there's too much traffic right on the mound entrance. In fact, you want to sprinkle it here and there all around your yard because there are multiple holes around your yard that you may or may not see besides the mound that you're dealing with at the moment.


The ground needs to be dry when you put this out. If it's going to rain, wait until 48 hours after the rain has ended. Likewise, don't run your sprinklers until at least 48 hours after you've put it out. There are no particular recommendations on how much to put out. You just want to sprinkle it around your yard. Once they find the bait, they take that back to the nursery and feed it to the queen and the babies. They should start dying within 24 to 36 hours after they eat the bait.

Ultimately you're also going to have to deal with their mounds. And so the second step of the Texas 2 step is to apply mound drench. We sell a couple of different options for that. There's the Nature's Creation Fire Ant Killer. It is a powder, which is essentially a mixture of Diatomaceous Earth and Pyrethrin. Then there is a liquid concentrate, which is a blend of Rosemary oil, Wintergreen oil and some other things. I prefer the powdered Diatomaceous Earth and Pyrethrin. Whichever one you choose, you want to mix it with water in a bucket and then pour that liquid onto the mound.


The instructions tell you how to make a gallon, but because fire ant mounds can be so deep under ground, one gallon probably isn't going to be enough to reach all the way down to the bottom of the hole, so you should assume that you will need several gallons. The more liquid you can put on that mound, the more fire ants you're going to kill. You basically want to keep pouring liquid onto that mound until you get backflow -- until that entire cavity is filled with water. It will kill all the ants that come into contact with the liquid.


Usually once you've drenched the mound, any remaining ants will move and then you'll have to drench the new mound. What is does is knock down the total population, so the deeper you can get the drench, the more you kill, the few there will be left.


Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

DE by itself is great for some insects. It works well on cockroaches, fleas, chiggers -- basically any insect that wears its skeleton on the outside (except for ants.)


One thing you can do with DE is use it to make a perimeter around the outside of your house. It will keep working as long as the powder stays dry. Once it's wet it will cake. You need for it to be dusty in order to work. The shaker top is really great for that. We also have air puffers so that you can get the dust into crevices and corners. You just put the DE in the puffer and when you squeeze it, it pushes the dust into cracks and crevices.


DE is also great to use as a flea powder inside your home or on your pets. You can spread it on your carpets, on your pet's bedding, and on your furniture -- anywhere that fleas might be hiding. You don't have to evacuate your home or worry about poisoning or contaminating your kitchen surfaces. And you can leave it in place for as long as you need to. It's actually a food grade product, which means it's safe to eat for both you and your pets. You can even put it in your pets' food to control tape worms.


DE+Pyrethrin

DE can also be mixed with Pyrethrin. The Nature's Creation Fire Ant Killer is exactly that. However, one thing about Pyrethrin is that it is light sensitive. When it's exposed to sunlight, it breaks down quickly and is usually no longer effective after just a couple of hours. That's why they put it in an opaque bag or canister. As with DE alone, DE+Pyrethrin will cake when it gets wet, so if it becomes wet you will need to reapply it.


Besides fire ants, you can use the DE+pyrethrin for chinch bugs. You spread this on your lawn in the area where the cinch bugs are active. We use this in our own organic maintenance program for customers that have chinch bug issues. What we do is apply this to their lawn


Fighting Chiggers

Chiggers like to attack you around your ankles, your waist, your bra, the band of your socks-- anywhere that you have an elastic band or tightly fitting clothing. They generally live in your lawn and jump on you when you pass by. So the first thing to do is to make sure that you treat the ground. The EcoSmart is very effective on crawling insects in your lawn. Another thing that works on chiggers is dusting sulfur. You can dust your lawn with that. Some people put sulfur in a sock and keep the sock near the door, so each time they go outside, they dust their ankles.


That concludes this episode of our spring gardening series. In our next, we will talk about how to grow squashes and cucumbers.


Watch the next episode in our spring vegetable gardening series:


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