Safe and effective bug juice

Photo: istockphoto.com/Robert Redelowski
The summer heat and rain have extended the mosquito season this year and West Nile virus is on the horizon. Since we don't really get rid of the little bloodsuckers until the first freeze you need some safe and effective repellent. Natural predators disappearing One of the reasons the bug problem is getting worse is that their natural predators, our common "backyard birds," are dying off rapidly. Suburban sprawl, big agriculture and pesticides have been taking their toll on sparrows, chickadees and meadowlarks. Just as problematic, conventional bug sprays contain organophosphates, which are toxic to humans and sometimes more poisonous than DDT. As insects proliferate, it's important to use bug sprays that won't contribute to other environmental problems, but will also be effective at controlling unwanted insect pests. Expert advice Acclaimed bug expert Stephen L. Tvedten is offering his book The Best Pest Control free on the internet to encourage the spread of non-toxic pest control. His book is filled with sensible advice on how to rid your home of mosquitoes, ants, spiders, moths, cockroaches and hundreds of other bugs, without resorting to toxic products. Allium to the rescue In other good news, in the spring of 2007, Health Canada approved a new garlic-based pesticide and mosquito repellent called Mosquito Barrier. This product is made from very strong, non-GMO garlic (not the "sweet" garlic available in grocery stores) that emits 33 organic compounds which insects find intolerable. Mosquito Barrier has been available in the U.S. for several years, and farmers, gardeners, and homeowners quickly recognised its effectiveness for outdoor use. Once diluted with 99 parts water, the preparation can be sprayed on all vegetation safely. The odour dissipates in about an hour, and the spray is effective for up to four weeks. The company is also bringing out a personal bug spray this summer. Other alternatives Other bug sprays that are deemed effective and safe include products under the trade name Victor Poison-Free Flying Insect Killer and sold by Safer Brand company. The active ingredient is mint oil. Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that another bug spray called Bite-Blocker based on soybean and geranium oils, proved to be just as effective as conventional sprays, but without the toxic residue. Similarly, Consumer Reports found that a product called Repel's Lemon Eucalyptus bug spray performed even better than toxic products. From the kitchen You can also make your own bug juice by using essential oils that repel mosquitoes: pennyroyal, lemon balm (citronella), thyme and lavender are all effective. Add 10 to 25 drops of essential oil to 2 tablespoons of base oil like olive or almond oil into a glass jar. Shake to blend and dab a few drops onto your skin or clothing. Slam dunk The best way to stop being bitten is to control the mosquitoes in your yard. Mosquito Dunks made from Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI), a bacterial mosquito larvicide, safe for fish, plants, people or wildlife. Throw one of the coils into birdbaths, rain barrels, ponds, ditches, tree holes, roof gutters, unused swimming pools -- anywhere where mosquitoes are breeding. Joyce Nelson is a freelance environmental journalist based in Toronto.