Environmentally safe bug sprays?

molie(z6 CT)May 29, 2012

This spring the No-See-ums have won and I just haven't been in my garden in so long. I'm sure the increased bug population is due to all the rain, the death of bats (so sad) and the nearby river. I've been researching environmentally safe bug sprays online but would like to hear opinions of effective sprays, without DEET please, before I spend any money. I'd rather spend my money on plants!

Molie

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I wish. We used a screenhouse for a few years. That is environmentally safe. (g) I am disappointed that no one had an answer to this question. I have tried Avon's product, is it 'Skin So Soft'? and that works pretty well, but only for a half hour, so you have to keep applying it. I rub mint on me when they are bad and that also helps for a short time. But I don't have a huge population in my area. But it might be worth a try. Try experimenting with any herbs you grow in the garden, the stronger smell the better. Just rub them on your exposed skin and see if that helps.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:50AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I'm not sure what your criteria for environmentally safe are, but I've used products containing picaridin for a few years, usually the Off FamilyCare spray with 5% picaridin. That's on the low side of the effective concentration but they say it's OK for kids. I use it for arms, face and neck, and use DEET for ankles and legs (tick height). It seems to work reasonably well, although I haven't really challenged it.

I also often use a permethrin spray (Repel) on the outside of my garden hats. That keeps bugs away and you don't have to spray it on your skin.

Johnny's Selected Seeds used to have a nice spray that was a mixture of plant oils and that had to be reapplied often but worked. I just looked but couldn't find it on their website. They do have some amazing Bug Baffler Shirts if you can fit that into your lifestyle.

These links give recommended concentrations and effectiveness concerning time outside.

NYC.gov info

CDC info

Sort of related to the environmentally safe issue is where you apply the spray. I keep the sprays on the porch so I'm reminded to spritz myself as soon as I go out the door. I also usually keep houseplants on the porch. At the end of last year I noticed that some of the sansevierias on the porch had damaged leaves while the ones at the foot of the steps were fine. I may have damaged them with over spray. This year I'm being much more careful.

Claire

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 1:17PM
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molie(z6 CT)

Thank you both for your replies even though I wasn't very clear regarding 'environmentally safe' in my posting. What I meant to say was that broadcast yard spraying is not in the cards for us. We feed the birds year round and even have ducks at our bird feeders, not to mention the harm spraying can do to bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. So we're resigned to spraying ourselves. I agree, Prairiemoon, that 'Skin So Soft' isn't very effective --- I wouldn't get it again. Thanks for the tip about herbs but I have very few, just some small step-on ones in a garden path.

Living along a tidal river, we usually find insects bothersome only in early spring and then in the early morning/the end of the day. So I'd stay out of the gardens during those times. But this year the continued rain has caused a pest explosion. Today we were outside placing a boulder and planting around it, and the bitting No-seeums were so bad that my husband ran out to the local CVS and grabbed an Off Familycare product. It contained just 15% DEET and didn't work well at all.

Claire, those links you provided were very helpful. I'll look for Off that contains Picaridin and Repel. Where we live, both tics and West Nile are a big concern. That Bug Baffler Shirt also looks pretty interesting, a good idea to research. You brought up good point about where I spray. For sure I won't be using our covered deck anymore. Yikes --- that's where we keep our orchids in the summer!

Molie

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 5:10PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I just saw a Dr Oz show on yesterday, talking about summer survival and they suggested that Lemon Eucalyptus spray is a natural mosquito repellant. Have never tried it, but thought it might be something to look into.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 3:16AM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

There are no good alternatives to DEET. This has been researched for decades by scientists including the ones in the military where DEET was first discovered. If I have to choose between environmentally safe and West Nile or EEE then the choice is fairly clear. DEET works well for me keeping the gnats and flies away, too. They can cause you so much misery that you don't even want to be outside.

Have you tried a mosquito magnet? I've had a lot of success with them. It takes a few weeks for one to knock the mosquito population down but it does. You never get rid of them completely but it's the matter of a few strays running around trying to bite you vs dark clouds of them trying to suck you dry. I must say there is a lot of satisfaction when the bag is emptied of their dead decaying carcasses:

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 7:27AM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

I don't know if this will work for you . . . I use mosquito dunks and granules (depending on the size of the area) that contain a bacteria that effects the aquatic mosquito and black fly larvae - only those larvae. Nothing else is effected by it. I use it in the marshy areas around our farm, and have considered tethering some of the floating doughnut-shaped dunks in our stream, but a tidal marsh might be a bit large to try to influence. I'd be inclined to think that if you sprinkled some of the granules along the edge of the marsh, it might make a difference. We still have mosquitoes, but the number of them is cut to a tolerable level, and a single application at the beginning of the season is enough. I use Mosquito Dunks and Mosquito Bits marketed by Summit. They contain Bacillus thuringiensis israeliensis.

I also wear a lot of clothing, light-weight & long-sleeved along with a brimmed hat and a head net when the bugs (especially the blackflies) are bad. During tick season I tuck my pants into my socks (such an attractive look!) and wear Buzz Off brand socks which have Permethrin impregnated into the fibers, supposed to last a bunch of washes. It's a synthetic pyrethroid, but is supposed to not be very easily absorbed by skin. I don't wear the socks for mosquitoes, but I do feel that it reduces the number of ticks I pick up, especially since the socks come most of the way to my knees.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 3:34PM
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molie(z6 CT)

Hi, all! I'm very grateful for your responses. I think individual experiences are much more valid than blurbs on different product websites. Tree_Oracle, that picture of a Dixie plate loaded with carcases is pretty powerful advertising; I think of all those Mosquito Mamas looking for a host --- foiled! Unfortunately, I don't think this product would work for us. We live along the Oyster River in Connecticut. It's a narrow tidal river, very marshy and filled with s-curves, inlets and ponds --- a mosquito breeding ground even in dry years. After a storm, like last night's, it floods and turns into a lake, plus the wind blows up and down the river.

I'll search for some of the spray products mentioned because as Tree_Oracle put it, there's not really a choice between West Nile and being environmentally safe. After checking out the links Claire provided, it's pretty clear why DEET has endured. Definitely suiting up in long sleeves and pants plus a hat is the first line of defense and then spraying myself, maybe Eucalyptus Oil Sray or a product with picaridin along with DEET-based sprays along my feet. I'll also look into those Mosquito Dunks/Mosquito Bits by Summit. The idea of using Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis sounds intriguing. From the little reading I did on it today, it sounds effective against the mosquitos and flies as well as not harmful to aquatic life, although it's probably too late in the season to use it this year.

I hope there'll be a solution to the White Nose Syndrome in bats. Each year we have noticed fewer and fewer here along our river. I used to love sitting out on the deck in the evening (wine in hand) watching them dine along the river and in our yard.

Molie

    Bookmark   June 2, 2012 at 4:29PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Interesting thread! Too bad there aren't more alternatives.

Please keep in mind that in addition to being "environmentally" safe, lots of these products are not necessarily safe for US to be spraying on or lathering on our skin, or breathing in as we spray. Even Skin-So-Soft (which I always thought worked fairly well), while perhaps milder/gentler/safer than some others, probably has a list of chemicals I'd rather not rub into my skin. Every day it's a mental dilemma for me as I go outside and wonder what is worse, putting these chemicals on my body or risking West Nile? That's something everyone has to answer for herself.

Personally, I really, really hate to use anything. I usually try to cover up (long sleeves, long pants, socks, etc.) but those little critters can find a way in, not to mention my face and hands are exposed. This year the bugs are worse than usual, it seems, but since I have no bug spray in the house and keep forgetting to buy some, so far I have not used it. That's not to say I won't get a can/bottle of something, to have on hand if really needed.

I just wish "they" would come out with something safe and effective!

Dee

    Bookmark   June 3, 2012 at 12:54AM
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molie(z6 CT)

Dee, I agree about not wanting to use "just anything" and, like you, usually try to put myself into a little coccoon of safety. The bug situation has never stopped my gardening in the past.

But this spring we've had so much rain. I'm sure that's affecting the insect population. Well, it's surely affecting me --- I hardly garden at all now. And gardening is my "fix" --- I need to be in my yard every day or at least every other day. Nothing's better than walking around to see how all my babies are doing or what's new in the yard, what has spread or needs to be divided. I love turning over the soil and even weeding (crazy).

Part of the joy about living in New England is appreciating all four of our seasons. I feel as if this Spring has been lost to me and I'm wondering what will happen with the Summer.

Molie

    Bookmark   June 3, 2012 at 8:14AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Molie, I agree! Lots of rain this year (although not as much as we had a few years back!) but enough to not only keep me out of the garden due to the actual rain and wetness, but also to deter me because of the bugs. I am assuming the mild winter did not help in the bug situation. That and the high temps we have been having (like August in May!) and I too feel that spring is slipping away!

Let's hope the next few weeks of spring will be actually spring-like!

Dee

    Bookmark   June 3, 2012 at 9:34AM
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4Hleader(5)

I hear you about the bugs! We have a seasonal stream running next to our property (going just fine now!) and are just uphill of a lake and a wetlands area. We have plenty of bugs.

In addition to what others have suggested, I'd suggest Badger Balm's Anti-Bug Balm for when the bugs aren't too bad. http://www.badgerbalm.com/c-24-sun-bug-outdoor.aspx

Tall rubber boots are the current fashion trend among gardeners in my town to prevent ticks. :)

This statement from the NH Dept. of Health says that the only states with higher rates of Lyme Disease are CT and DE. http://www.holderness-nh.gov/Public_Documents/HoldernessNH_Health/LymeDisease20120524.pdf

Given that, if it's tick-city, I'd either invest in some guinea hens, find a partner willing to check you over (the ticks are less than 2mm) and / or go with DEET. When it's really bad here, we stick with Ben's 100. I don't like the idea of neurotoxins but I'll trade its risk for the risk of Lyme disease, EEE, etc.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 11:52PM
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corunum z6 CT(6)

Hi Molie, Someone told me about rubbing a sheet of Bounce dryer cloth on exposed skin and stuffing a sheet in shorts pocket, so I tried it a couple of years ago. There is definitely a reduction in bug bites while gardening when I remember to do this versus when I forget to do it. And, Skin So Soft made me a mosquito magnet! Unbelievable! Made me feel like Katherine Hepburn in the African Queen.

Jane :)

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 9:49AM
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pixie_lou

I use the mosquito dunks on our pond. But not in the stream. Mosquito larvae is only in standing water. Since the stream is running, no concern about Mosquitos there. It's also important to remove standing water around your house - empty watering cans, change the water in your birdbath daily, keep your rain barrel covered.

I use an herbal bug spray that I get from a woman at the farmers market. I happen to get the fly away spray from Hames and AxleFarm, but I see lots of vendors selling similar formulations. I find it about 90% effective. As an added bonus to me, my 7 yo daughter thinks it is perfume, so she applies it hourly!

Here is a link that might be useful: Fly away spray

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 10:01AM
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