Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bad, Bad Biting Bugs

Okay, let's be honest. The main thing I hate about Saskatchewan and the north is the bug cloud that descends on this place in the summer. Granted, bugs are common to the north across Canada, and that's why I will eventually move to a better place. And that won't be Winnipeg (I hear that mosquitoes are the provincial bird). Southern Saskatchewan has plenty of mosquitoes, but up here you have the thick-as-smoke blackflies and no-see-ums that taunt you and peer in your windows, shouting obscenities until you come outside and donate some blood. My trendy Canadian garden magazine ought to have an article on this. Instead, they have the chic urban Toronto couple with their black and white themed garden and matching poodles...hello???

No one denies that the bugs here are terrible. Local stores sell trinkets with a mosquito saying "Send more tourists, the last ones were delicious!" I fly frequently in small planes across the north for my job and we're told that if you are to survive a crash, it is still possible to die by insect bites, so be sure to bring repellent in your survival gear. Black flies are known to kill large game animals and livestock. This is disgusting. The picture above is of my swollen right eyelid after a black fly bite last summer. This was more dramatic-looking but less painful than the one in my ear canal.

This is another challenge of gardening in the north. How to handle it?
(1) Insect repellents - this year I am going to try out a "natural" option, a spray product called "Bite Me", containing various oils including lemon. It smells FABULOUS but I have yet to see if it works as well as the gold standard, DEET. If you live in a West Nile affected area, the benefits of DEET may outweigh its small risk. As of yet, West Nile hasn't made it this far north. I have used heaps of DEET sprays in the past, applying it to hands, ankles, neck, face, and lower back (because mosquitoes get you when you bend over) as well as all over my clothes.

(2) Proper clothing - NO shorts, NO spandex, NO tank tops. The idea is to cover as much skin as possible, which has the bonus of preventing any sunburns! I love my Tilley hat and heavy cotton pants with reinforced knees from the army surplus store. I wear one of those thin running/cycling jackets (you know, with the "tuxedo tail" to cover your backside) over a breathable shirt. I usually wear a hiking boot, but I have been thinking about finding a pair of Wellies.

The aim is to have loose-fitting clothing so that there is a space between the clothing and your skin, otherwise the mosquitoes easily bite you through your clothes. Last year, a new gardener to the north complained to me about all the mosquito bites on her backside. This is the problem with sweat pants or any stretchy clothing; the minute you bend over, the fabric is close to the skin and the bugs get a tender treat. Unfortunately, I prefer fitted gardening gloves and the mosquitoes easily bite through them, just like they bite through my socks. I cover these areas with repellent.

Now this is sexy clothing indeed:

(3) Environmental factors - gardening in the rain, a stiff wind, or the very hottest time of the day will avoid most biting bugs. This requires true gardening grit, and the neighbours will think you're insane.

(4) Start a bat or dragonfly farm - or at least, we are bat and dragonfly friendly. These friends eat enormous amounts of biting insects. I heard that there was a dragonfly breeding program in Manitoba last year. This sounds better than fogging whole towns with pesticides, although I can understand the frustration!

One last note -- if you have pets in the north, do NOT shave them in the summer. Remember, black flies can kill moose, and they certainly can make your sled dog miserable, especially if they have no hair to protect them. Our dog hides in her house on bad days.

No comments: