[Ansteorra] Outdoor Eventing: Ants, Chiggers, Mosquitos, Fleas and Flies

Ronnie Hodges womrn at hotmail.com
Fri Jun 20 11:06:56 PDT 2008

I'm no expert.  The following are from my own experiences, or if not mine, what I've read or heard about some commercial products.  
Always, always, check toxcitity and potential allergic responses for anything you might use against any kind of pest, weed, or other natural irritant.  Never, never simply take someone's experience as a guarantee that it will work the same for you: you might do something they wouldn't but didn't tell you about.  There are no substitutes for your own professional health care advisers, good judgment, following labelled recommendations, and cautious testing.  Vegitarian Times and other online magazines often have articles about such remedies, and online searches may provide sensitivity or warning information, as well. 
My husband Patrick is rarely bothered by any insect.  However, he's a person who can tolerate "hot" peppers and their sauces.  Apparently, the oils are intolerable to bugs.  For myself, who cannot stomach stuff that etches the inside of glass jars, I resort to the following outdoor and indoor solutions.  
ANTS: At the farm we use powdered GARDEN grade diatemacious earth (DE) on ant hills -- NOT the SWIMMING POOL kind; it's TOXIC because it has other chemicals in it.  The gardening kind of DE is apparently powdered seashells or fossilized remains of some single-celled algae.  I gather it's pretty much pure calcium.  It does not harm our animals, so we can use it indoors or outdoors.  For outdoor hills and trails, when we know there won't be rain for 5-7 days, we dust ants moving on trails we find; and we disturb and heavily dust the top of, and pour a border around, the anthill, just thick and wide enough that ants have to go through it to go anywhere beyond the hill.  They get so busy crawling through the powder and trying to rebuild the hill that they don't go foraging.  The powder is white, so we can see where we've treated.  The way I understand it, the powder gets in their joint spaces when the ants crawl through it, where it grits and grinds.  Other ants try to clean it off the affected ants, and get it on themselves.  This way it is transferred throughout the bed, eventually to the queen, so they don't pop up a new hill to avoid the powder.
CHIGGERS: Caution: one of these is an "internal" remedy; I have no knowledge about possible reactions or medicine -- someone could be sensitive or allergic to sulphur.  Clear it with your doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional, before using it.  My 84-year-old dad is quite the do-it-all handyman, and enjoys outdoor "projects".  However, he's allergic to chigger bites.  Chiggers also yell, "lunch!" to their buddies when they see me coming.  Most of us have unfortunate familiarity with the itchy sores they give us.  Dad and I take sulphur tabs during the heat and humidity of the spring through the fall (health food store item, or you can read about and order them online).  Dad takes his daily, and I take them starting the day before I expect to be outdoors or in the grass for any length of time.  Dad also dusts his shoes, socks and lower pant legs with sulphur powder spooned into a baby sock and slapped against his clothes.  Doing "shade-tree mechanics", we're sometimes on the ground next to or under a vehicle.  Since he and I have been using sulphur, we get no chigger bites.  I do get them, however, if I forget to take the tablets: I rarely dust.  I haven't tried dusting the yard with it.  I also understand commercial repellants (like Off!) with DEET, and Avon's Skin So Soft, are effective.  We keep those for visitors who don't know if they might react to sulphur.  
MOSQUITOS are also a problem for Dad and me.  With shaded, often still runoffs and ditches nearby and through the farm, and hay grass and weeds that collect dew in which they breed, mosquitos always are around, and are particularly vicious in the late evenings before and after sunset.  They can carry a variety of diseases, and lately have had a lot of press for carrying West Nile Virus.  With a daily supplement of vitamin B-1: no bites, although they land on us (swat!).  I understand commercial repellants with DEET, Avon's Skin So Soft, and have heard that rubbing dryer fabric-softener sheets on skin, are also effective. 
FLEAS can infect people with serious diseases when they bite.  They suck blood from and are carried on pretty much any furry beast.  They also carry worm eggs: when a host animal licks or bites the itch, it can ingest the flea and worm eggs, and thus develop worms that have to be killed with type-specific wormers from a vet.  They are a real problem in hot, humid times, because these favor incubating their eggs.  I haven't tried it yet, but I recently was told that pennyroyal extract - unless vastly diluted, CAN BE TOXIC - kills fleas in a dilute of 1:20 or more (extract:water) when mixed at this or a weaker strength, and sprayed on the pet (keep out of the pet's eyes and genitals) and in the pet's habitual areas.  I don't know if it has similar precautions; or is as effective and/or animal-friendly; or if it can be as widely used on fabric areas (furniture, carpets, etc.) as the chemical concoctions in Adams spray and powder.  I also recently read that for indoors, DE and even table salt, sprinkled wherever fleas might land (corners, edges and "furnidents" - those dents in your carpet where your furniture sits) and vacuuming afterwards (get rid of the contents right away!) can help remove them from inside the house.  Other products I have heard of include orange oil, and the essential oils from citronella, cedar, eucalyptus and bay, but I don't have diluting ratios.  I've also read that dried chrysanthemum flowers can be effective, but I don't know the preparation or application.  
FLIES don't like mint (and horses won't eat it).  It may be because there's a slight stickiness to it, or a natural oil that's mildly toxic.  We have a mint bed off our patio, 10 feet from the door to our kitchen, and rarely have flies around the patio or inside the house.  Blown seeds migrated to growing near our outdoor garbage can: as long as the household garbage is not exposed to the open air, no flies there.  While writing this, I just realized a stand of mint also seeded and is growing in a corner of one of the horse paddocks; that horse prefers to rest there, and I've not seen her deviled by deerflies as have the horses in our other paddocks!  Mint grows best in about half-and-half sun and shade, and our plants live on rainwater and gutter runoff until dry season, when we water them a bit.  They get "leggy" and invasive if not pruned once a year.  They seedtop and reproduce quickly; and I haven't replanted any in 10 years, so the fallen seeds come through winter okay.  I hear hanging fresh cuttings upside down around an outdoor cooking or an eating area, works as long as one is not careless about leaving food open.  I gather the product Off! works as a spray-on for people.  Pirannah is a HORSES-ONLY repellant spray that I've seen kill and repel a wide range of buggy critters: I've shot a wasp and a deerfly with it, and they dropped on the spot.  Probably the citrus oil I smell in it fouled their wings.  I haven't read the label lately for why it repells insects, but I've used it very effectively around the farm.  
Good eventing to all.  
Ronna (OP)
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