Mosquitoes are more than just a summertime nuisance. They can make being in the garden unbearable. Mosquitoes are insects that belong to the order Diptera, the True Flies. The word “mosquito” is Spanish for little fly. Members of this order have a single pair of wings, compound eyes and mouth parts designed for piercing and sucking.
Humans like to think of ourselves as being on top of the food chain, but maybe mosquitoes more rightly occupy that position. Their principle food is nectar and sap, but female mosquitoes need a specific type of protein to make their eggs. This protein is abundant in animal blood. After you’ve been bitten, your body responds with an allergic reaction to the mosquito saliva. This is what produces the painful, itchy welt.
Mosquito bites are responsible for the transmission of infectious diseases such as West Nile virus or Zika virus. Fortunately, there haven’t been any locally transmitted cases of Zika virus, but West Nile virus is the most common mosquito-borne illness in Kansas.
Our beloved pets are also vulnerable. It only takes one bite from a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae to give your dog or cat heartworm disease. This sometimes fatal disease is preventable.
It’s impossible to eliminate mosquitoes, but we can minimize our exposure.
First, cover yourself. Try to minimize exposed skin. No one wants to wear long sleeves in the summer, but lightweight materials can provide excellent protection.
Avoid wearing dark clothing. Mosquitoes have a hard time seeing light colors which makes you less of a target. Shoes and socks are a better choice than flip flops or sandals.
Use mosquito repellents. Sprays containing DEET offer the most protection. DEET doesn’t kill mosquitoes, but it will keep them from biting you. If you prefer a more natural repellent, oil of eucalyptus has proven to be effective. It may require more frequent applications. Avoid getting repellent in your eyes. Spray your hands first and then apply to your face and scalp if necessary.
Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Stay inside if you can.
Eliminate any standing water in your yard. Change bird baths at least weekly. Make sure your gutters drain freely. Citronella torches work well, provided you use enough. We space them every six feet around our sitting area. Use them in addition to spray repellents. A well-placed oscillating fan provides a gentle breeze and excellent relief from flying bugs.
When I was a kid, the spray truck would drive slowly through the neighborhood, leaving a cloud of sweet-tasting, orange insecticide in its wake. We would follow that truck for blocks on our bicycles. No one told us not to. In the 1960s, we didn’t know better. Now we do. Stay indoors when the mosquito truck comes around. Bring your pets inside too. It’s probably a good idea to rinse off any fruits or vegetables before you eat them, even if you garden organically.
Make your garden more enjoyable by protecting yourself from mosquitoes.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org