As a gardener, you've probably done your homework on how to keep pests away from your plants, but what about keeping them away from you?

Many of insect repellents on the market contain DEET, an insecticide that was patented by the U.S. Army in 1946. DEET can affect the nervous system, and the Environmental Protection Agency warns advises consumers to wash it off their skin when they return indoors and to avoid breathing its fumes. If, like me, you are not comfortable with you or your family members using chemical-laden commercial repellents, you may want to explore some easy and inexpensive natural alternatives.
Insects dislike the smell of essential oils, so you can create your own bug spray with your favorite essential oil. Here are some effective and great smelling choices: lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, peppermint, geranium, eucalyptus and cinnamon.

Since essential oils are concentrated, you don't need to use much of them, but it may take some experimenting to get the right strength that works for you, especially if you have sensitive skin. After you choose the oil you like, you next need to select a carrier liquid.

Essential oils do not mix well with only water, so you will need to add another liquid as an emulsifier.

After you have made the solution, you can dab some of the liquid on your wrists, behind your knees and around your ankles or even on your clothing to keep bugs at bay.

Here is one recipe: Pour two to four ounces of witch hazel into an eight-ounce spray bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with pure water and then add about 40 drops of an essential oil. Stir or shake well.

Another idea is to use vinegar as your liquid carrier. Combine about 25 drops of the essential oil with one-fourth cup apple cider vinegar in a lidded glass jar. Shake well to blend. Or combine 10 to 20 drops essential oil with two tablespoons of vegetable oil and one tablespoon of pure aloe Vera gel in a glass jar. Stir to blend well.

You also can use oil as a carrier liquid. Combine two tablespoons witch hazel with two tablespoons of olive oil or almond oil and about 40 drops of essential oil. If you combine the ingredients in a three- ounce bottle, you can have a handy bug repellent to keep in your pocket, purse or backpack. Choose a dark-colored bottle, since essential oils can break down when they are exposed to light.

If you have herbs growing, you can also make a small amount of essential oil. Take a crock pot and fill it about 2/3 full of water. Chop between 4 and 6 cups of your herbs (mints and rosemary are especially good.) Place it in the crock pot and turn the lid upside down so that the condensation drips back into the pot. Cook on high until it comes to a boil and then turn on low for at least 4 hours. Your house will smell wonderful! After the time is up, turn off the crock pot and place the ceramic part in your refrigerator overnight. The next morning, you'll see a skim of hardened oil on top of the water. Quickly scrape it off and bottle it, it melts in a hurry. This is your essential oil. Use the water if you like as well, it is infused with the herbs too, just not as concentrated as the oil will be.

When applying your homemade repellent, be careful to avoid the sensitive eye area. As with all essential oils, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before applying on young children or if you are pregnant or nursing your baby. Store any unused solution in a dark bottle, away from any heat or sunlight.

Here are a few other easy and natural ideas to get rid of bugs:

* Dab a few drops of vanilla extract behind your ears and knees for a quick repellent.

* Rub lavender flowers on your skin, especially under your arms, on your neck or behind your ears.

* Similarly, rub basil leaves directly on your pulse points.

Of course, like any decision you make for yourself and your family, you have to weigh your options with bug repellents. If you are going camping or hiking, for instance, the risk of getting Lyme disease or just getting multiple bites may be worth using a commercial bug spray. Also, an individual's body chemistry seems to affect how well bug repellents work - and how much you get bitten at all, for that matter. There are a number f commercial natural repellents on the market that have varying degrees of effectiveness too, so try some of them if you like.

For many circumstances however, you will find that natural repellents are a safe and effective alternative.