(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 8, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
We waited all winter for this. Survived blizzards dumping multiple feet of snow on us, fought off cabin fever. We drooled over plant and seed catalogues, tried not to spend a small fortune.
Then it warmed up, the snow melted, new shoots began to appear. Yippeee!! we cried...its here...finally...spring.
The ground warmed up enough to venture out and plant seeds.
The Black flies appeared along with the warmth. These tiny, annoying, biting insects are the bane of the northern gardener. Normally sane humans can be seen walking...then running, down the streets waving their arms madly while a black swarm encircles their heads. Blackflies don't sting, they bite. They take little chunks of flesh. Calamine lotion is soothing to the bites. The pink spots of calamine lotion on arms and legs is a good giveaway that somone went outside unprotected. Netted hats and full body armour are our only protection.
For the most part I can ignore them, up to a point. If I'm near someone else, like my Mom, they leave me alone altogether. Mom is a Blackfly magnet. She turns from a reasonable, calm woman into a running lunatic in a matter of 10 minutes.
Here in Canada, Black flies have been known to kill livestock from blood loss or by inhaling large numbers and suffocating.
On the positive side, to be fair, only the females need a supply of blood to lay their eggs. The males are one of the first spring pollinators (think Blueberries) and are an important food source for Bats, Dragonflies and numerous birds.
Blackflies like it warm and calm. Your best defense is a good stiff breeze, this will keep them at bay. DEET based repellants can actually attract greater numbers of Blackflies. At least the bites aren't itchy. Which brings me to our next foe.
When it finally gets hot enough for long enough for the blackflies to finish their thing, and you think it is safe to get back to your plants and weeds...
The Mosquitoes kick into gear. Unlike the sun loving Black fly, these guys like it cool and damp. They are annoying in the early morning and unbearable in the evening. They sting, and the result is an itching welt. Some people, myself included, are not affected by a mosquito bite. They use their stingers to draw up blood...you can actually watch the insects body swell with it. Calamine lotion, baking soda,and the sap from Dandelions and Milkweed are effective natural itch suppressors.
Mosquitoes, as we all know, are notorious disease carriers so I'm not going to get into that area. We can help reduce their numbers around our homes by getting rid of standing water. I'm hoping we all have given up on the Bug Zapper...they kill way too many beneficial insects compared to the small number of Mosquitoes they zap.The Dragonfly is the number one enemy of the Mosquito.
Netted hats, long sleeves and pants are good Mosquito repellants. DEET is a commonly used repellant, but has recently been suspect in some minor health issues. A more natural approach is to use Catnip Oil extract, Citronella or Eucalyptus Oil extract, Just as effective as DEET although they need to be reapplied more often(1 to 3 hours).
On the positive side...yea, yea, I know..but I have to...Mosquitoes are an important link in the food chain, from larvae stage (eaten by Dragonfly nymphs, beetles, fish) to adulthood(eaten by Dragonflies, Bats and Birds). Mosquitoes also need nourishment which makes them important pollinators.
OK. So summer is half way gone. We've survived...a little itchier, but wiser. We've managed to tend our gardens in 20 minute spurts. We haven't injured ourselves running madly with flailing arms away from the hordes of biting, stinging things. We can relax...or can we?
Enter the Deer Fly. Horse fly in some areas, although the Horse fly is larger. This is one large, nasty, biting fly. These guys actually make an incision in our flesh to lap up the blood!! The bite is painful. You know when you are being bitten. They buzz loudly around your head, they follow you. They are relentless.
They are recognized by their gold or green patterned eyes and dark wing band.
They frequent beaches, streams and moist wooded areas. I remember a favourite childhood beach. The deer flies were horrid. We'd duck under the water to evade them and when we came up for air they'd be waiting for us.They buzzed around our heads crazily.
Deer flies like it hot. You need a really good breeze to deter them, they are a fair size reaching 3/4 of an inch or more. Picking Raspberries as a kid I'd come home with trickles of blood pouring down my temples, having been so focused on the berries I neglected to notice the things biting me.
Deer flies are attracted to dark clothing. They attack the head and neck for the most part. Insect repellants are moderately effective, citronella being the best in my experience. They last only a few hours and don't stop the things from buzzing overhead. A netted hat is the best preventative measure.
On the positive side....well, I looked and couldn't find any.
That was summer? We spent it swatting and scratching itches, covered in a netted hat, soaked in repellants of various kinds mixed with Calamine lotion. We managed somehow to tend a lovely garden. We waited all winter for this. Somewhere in among the biting bugs I think were a few really nice days...oh, right, then we complained about the humidity. The humidity made the repellants uncomfortable to bear, so we washed it off and got bit. All in all it's been a good summer. The garden looks beautiful. There was plenty of rain when we needed it. Plenty of sunshine when we needed it.
I can't wait for Fall!! Cool crisp mornings, colours on the leaves...and best of all...NO BUGS!!!