Mosquito Defense Update

A mosquitoI’m happy to update my previous post due to new information about the war on mosquitoes.

I hate mosquitoes. I think the little creatures came from the pits of hell to annoy us. I believe I have tried every possible solution to rid my garden from mosquitoes. I’m unlucky enough to have a chemical makeup that is allergically sensitive to their hateful bites, so when I am bitten the area around the bite swells to the size of a baseball.

In my previous blog post, I talked about many different ways of dealing with them. Sprays and lotions that contain DEET are reported to work well, but recently DEET has been reported to be a neurotoxin (damaging to the central nervous system). We need to stay away from products that are dangerous to our health. Citronella candles, tiki torches, and lanterns work well, but I have found you need quite a lot of them in a large area. Next, let’s talk about those huge, propane guzzling monsters. You know the ones – costing a fortune and promising to rid your entire yard of the little blood sucking beasts. Well, they do exactly as promised. They act as a “magnet” for mosquitoes.

Now that I have pointed out dangerous and ineffective products, let me tell you about really successful things I have tried.

Catnip! Hooray for catnip! Yes, once again we find an incredible use for a herb! What an incredible group of plants. Herbs! Hooray for herbs! An article on Science Daily reported a scientific finding by researchers at Iowa State University. It turns out that catnip repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET. Why are we not hearing this shouted from the rooftops?! No animal or human tests are yet scheduled for catnip, although researchers are hopeful that will take place in the future. If subsequent testing shows the essential oil in catnip is safe for people, it should not be difficult to commercialize for an insect repellent.

I would like to offer up my own findings as a human guinea pig for the good of mankind and all mosquito haters worldwide. I have rubbed catnip all over myself in an attempt to try an experiment of my own. As you know, I love herbs, so I do have a pot of catnip growing beside our back deck. Does it work? Does it repel mosquitoes? Yes, yes it does! Once again our exceptional Creator has given us a plant to solve a problem. I have tried this experiment probably 12 times so far this summer. It really does work! And from experience it seems to last quite a long time, maybe even a couple of hours.

I have even felt safe putting it on my children. Many naturopaths suggest catnip tea for children with an upset tummy. My family and I have experienced no skin irritation or problems of any kind. I do recommend caution in trying this as everyone is different in their own chemical makeup, but I am really encouraged in how well this worked.

Herbs have microscopic oil glands all over their leaves and stems. These oil glands contain the natural chemicals which give the plant its particular scent. Simply rub the catnip leaves on your skin to release the oil from the plant. The oil will stick to your skin. It does not feel sticky or greasy like lotions and sprays.

I hope to see insect repellent made from catnip on our store shelves sooner rather than later. My plea to the scientific community: please, don’t take years to research this compound.

While we are on the subject of herbs, let’s talk about lemon balm. It is wonderful for mosquito bites. Rub lemon balm on a mosquito bite and it will reduce the itching and in my case some of the skin swelling associated with the bite. I suspect the oil in the lemon balm, the same one that makes it such a relaxing tea, helps as a sort of anesthetic on the bite. Another wonderful herb to solve a problem!

I’d like to comment on the ThermaCELL that hunters love to use. It is powered by a butane cartridge and dispenses a small amount of repellent into the air over a long period of time. It claims to create a 15 x 15 feet mosquito free zone. Our family bought this last year and tried it. It does work, and works well. I would recommend not sitting where you may breath in the repellent being dispensed into the air. As with any chemical repellent, it is a trade-off. I don’t like using chemicals, but I also hate being bit. Our family uses this about 6-8 times a year when we are having a barbecue or working on a large outdoor project, such as when my husband and I built our fruit cage. I recommend caution when using this, as it is a chemical.

How about a safe, effective, and organic substance to spread on your grass that repels mosquitoes and other biting insects? It’s called Mosquito Beater Granules by Bonide and it seems to work very well. We spread it over the entire lawn area and flower beds, too. It’s effect lasts for 4-6 weeks. The only down side is your yard will smell like an ethnic restaurant for a few hours, but then the smell dissipates. The odor is due to the ingredients: citronella oil, garlic, cedar oil, and lemon grass oil, among others, which mosquitoes seem to hate. The effectiveness lasts even after the smell is gone. The only down side to this product is scheduling. You must reapply after heavy rains, so schedule your application when you have at least 3-4 days of upcoming dry weather.

Things are looking up for mosquito sufferers everywhere! My sympathy to all the red, itchy bitten people out there. I know how rotten it feels. Try catnip and tell me what you think. Happy gardening!

Mosquito picture was taken by Alvesgaspar and is available on Wikimedia Commons.

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My Top 3 Lemon Scented And Lemon Flavored Herbs

My container herb garden

My container herb garden

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m passionate about herbs, especially lemon scented ones. I try every spring to stay on a “plant budget” at the nursery. That means I am careful what plants I buy, know where I’m going to put them, and try to not make impulse buys. Part of my money goes for flowers, then shrubs I have studied about, then herbs that I can’t live without. Three of my favorite herbs are lemon scented and lemon flavored. They make the most wonderful tea and also flavor everything from chicken to cookies.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balmLemon balm has medium green heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are slightly serrated and a little wrinkly. It is a hardy perennial growing anywhere from 1 to 3 feet tall. It grows in partial shade, but it will also grow in full sun if it has enough water. Like all herbs, it prefers soil with good drainage. The small, white flowers it has later in the year are insignificant but because of these it can reseed itself abundantly. I would try to contain it in a bed of its own or maybe a very large decorative pot. This herb needs some restraint or it might try to take over your garden when your back is turned. As a medicinal herb, lemon balm is excellent for soothing the nerves and helping with stress-related digestive disorders. In cooking, it has a wonderful lemon scent and subtle lemon flavor. Many people like lemon balm tea made with dried or fresh leaves. Its subtle flavor is great in cakes and cookies, too. Below I have included a few recipes with lemon balm.

Lemon balm

Lemon Thyme

Thyme is a twiggy little plant with tiny oval-shaped leaves. Lemon thyme is a little lighter shade of green than the normal, regular thyme plant. Small flower spikes appear later in the year and encourage every bee in your neighborhood to it. Thyme is a perennial that grows from 6 inches to 1 foot in height. It loves to grow in full sun and dry, sandy soil. I Pot of lemon thymehave cooked chicken with lemon thyme, but surprisingly the tiny leaves taste great in salads, too. I’m contemplating covering a dry, sunny hill with this plant. In the least, I would love laying on it and rolling down it. It is a problem area for me and maybe this would be the solution. I certainly wouldn’t mind it if the plant were to spread around. As a medicinal herb, thyme has a soothing affect on nerves and removes mucus from head, lungs, and the respiratory system. I love to add fresh thyme leaves to green tea. It is lemony, soothing, and wonderful. Below are recipes with this lemon wonder.

Lemon thyme

Lemon Grass

This heavenly scented plant has long, strappy leaves like the ornamental grasses. As you can see in the picture, I just bought my lemon grass. I put a pencil next to the pot to show it is about 8 inches high but will reach 3 to 6 feet in heighth if I plant it in the garden. The nursery worker reminded me that even though it is small it will end up the Lemon grasssize of a compact car. I will plant mine in a large pot to keep it confined. It loves to grow in full sun and it originates from tropical climates. Unless you garden in zone 9 in the US it will not act as a periennial for you. As a medicinal herb, lemon grass helps with insominia, stress and sore throats. Lemon grass is used in a lot of Asian cooking and due to its stringy and tough tecture should be removed before eating any dish. It is wonderful dried in teas.

Lemon grass

Recipe Ideas

Lemon balm makes a great tea all by itself. I have a teapot that makes tea for about 3 people. I add 2-3 tablespoons of dried or fresh lemon balm leaves and let it steep for about 15 minutes. Strain through a tea strainer and serve with a few drops of stevia or your favorite sweetener.

Lemon thyme makes a super tea also. I love to steep 1-2 tablespoons of fresh leaves in my 3 person pot for about 10 minutes then add green tea for the last 3-5 minutes of steeping. It makes a wonderful lemony, green tea that I love so much.

Lemon grass, lemon thyme, and lemon balm mixed together make a wonderful tea especially soothing for bedtime. All three herbs dried and then mixed together in the tea pot give a very different taste than any one of these herbs alone. (around 3 tablespoons of dried material all together – steep for 10-15 minutes).

Lemon grass and chicken make a super combo. A friend of mine told me he takes long straps of lemon grass and wraps them around the chicken pieces. He then puts the chicken in a bag with Italian salad dressing and lets it marinade in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. He and his wife tell me it gives the chicken a yummy flavor. I look forward to trying it.

I have also found a super recipe for lemon balm butter cookies over at A Busy Nest. Take a look at it here. They have a lot of incredible recipes and are an invaluable resource. I would encourage you to give them a look.

My English Garden

Okay, first I would like to apologize for not posting as often as I should. If you’re going to have a blog and not post very much – that’s kinda stupid. Sorry. I got lost in motherhood and to be honest, I love to garden much more than I love to write about gardening. I’ve spent a lot of time writing comedy lately and really enjoying it. I hope in the near future to start a blog for my comedy writing.

So often I would work in the garden and tell myself I Inside the Garden Gateshould write a post about what I’m doing but then I would go in and realize I need to start dinner or homework needs to be graded. I’ve had a lot of emails from friends, followers, and family telling me to get off my bohonkous and write. They have suggested I get more personal and less clinical. Put in lots more photos and talk about what I’m doing. Okay. Okay.

Well. I’m a forty-something lady, with two sons, a wonderful hubby and a beautiful, never to be finished garden. When I’m not in the garden, my nose is pressed against the window looking into the garden. If it’s sunny outside and I’m not in the garden I feel a little guilty. I somehow think it can’t live without me. I really do think gardening is a form of an obsessive compulsive disorder. I really do love it, though.

Garden - North SideThe style of my garden is an English cottage garden. Yes, that’s right an English garden built in a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been studying lately the connection between Southern gardens and English gardens and they are very similar. You could take a picture of a Savannah or Charleston garden and swear you were in England. Boxwoods, ivy, roses. A lot of the same plant types are used in both.

My garden has lots of ivy, roses, hydrangeas, viburnums, itea, ornamental grasses, etc. I love Lamb’s ears; they add a wonderful silver color to the garden. I’m in love with flowering shrubs and plants that reseed themselves like Sweet William, and Balloon flowers. I love herbs like lemon balm, catnip and chives. I have planted lots of chives around my roses to help deter pests. My lemon balm photographs are in an Asian cookbook. If anyone has any great recipes for lemon balm then please e-mail them to me. I have a lot of lemon balm!

Viburnum - Summer SnowflakeOne of my most favorite plants is my viburnum cultivar “Summer Snowflake.” It is so wonderful when it is in bloom and in my region they can get to be 12 feet tall. More like a small tree than a shrub. I have planted many around my fence to add height to the fence. In our neighborhood we can only have 6 foot tall fences. The viburnum gives a sense of privacy.

I try during the spring and summer to cut flowers to bring into the house. I love the old “still life” paintings of flowers One of my rosesand fruit and tabletop scapes. What do you think of my “still life” photo of flowers? I’m very happy with it. Flowers make me happy. I sometimes think I would like to take pictures of my summer flowers and frame them for my walls. Then I could see them all year.

Still Life with RosesRoses Close UpI’m trying to grow fruit in the garden, too. I have a small amount of strawberries. I also have 3 small blueberry bushes which turn a lovely red color in the fall. Last year I didn’t get many blueberries as they were still too young to have much fruit. I think this year I will have to fight the birds, chipmunks, and rabbits for those blueberries! I also have a fig tree in a large pot. It came from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. No, I did not steal a cutting from his tree. They sell plants at a nursery on the grounds of Monticello. My understanding is that it was propagated from a cutting from one of his Brown Turkey fig trees. According to an arborist there, he was quite the fig farmer! Baby StrawberriesI’m not sure if that is true, but I still think of it as Jefferson’s fig. I leave it in a large decorative pot so that harvesting is easier and I can prune it to keep it small. The figs I harvest (2-3 dozen a year) taste spectacular. I am anxious to grow more fruit and veggies. I would love raised veggies beds on the south side of our garden. There is always something to wish and plan for. Bye for now. Happy gardening!

Garden - South Side

Angel with the RosesBay Window GardenSweet William

My Top 6 Favorite Lemon Scented or Flavored Plants

Lemon BalmLemon Balm – can be used in cakes and cookies

Lemon Grass – use to flavor chicken or fish

Lemon Thyme – can be planted in rock gardens

Lemon Basil – great for Italian cooking and pesto

Lemon Verbena – use to make lemon tea, desserts

Lemon Mint – a great garnish, or to flavor iced tea

All of these are super easy to grow and readily available. Have fun gardening!