It was curious to me that a creature that previously took little interest in me would suddenly swarm to me like my blood was manna. I’d suspected, and read, that mosquitoes are partial to particular blood. And, based on my experience, whatever the magic ingredient, my lifejuice lacked it. So, it was striking to me that I was attacked the other afternoon by these ankle (and etc.) biters. So much so that I posted about it to see if others concurred that Culicidae (yes, I looked it up) dinner parties are on the rise in Zone 7b. Reveler Ralph, a frequent commenter (thank you, btw!) noted that his experience may be skewed from the fact that he gardens primarily on a deck. He nonetheless offered several helpful pieces of advice, including throwing off mosquitoes’ scent trackers (which is what traditional OTC products are supposed to do) by using chemical-free natural soaps made of lemon or spearmint (or just rub spearmint right on the skin and wear it under your hat — an excellent idea, which puts mint on the list for next year’s garden). Once bitten, twice iodine, according to our fellow reveler. (Note to self: pull iodine out of the emergency kit in the basement; the emergency has arrived). Check out more detailed suggestions in the comments to “The Perils of Gardening.”
As it turns out, however, I am no more attractive to skeetos than I was to various 7th grade crushes when I sported a back brace, glasses and an overbite. I am fairly certain of this because, after getting all worked up and posting on the bevy of bites across my lower body, I braved the elements again to finish staking the plethora of tomato plants out back (the story of how my garden became a tomato refuge described in “The Perils of Overgardening”). The next thing I knew, I was feeling the strange itchiness that accompanied the first attack. (I had chalked this up to the sheer number of bites I had, but apparently it was indicative of something more). Oddly, this sensation seemed to come from the inside out, like I could feel it traveling just beneath the surface of my skin. This time, I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, full pants, and rubber gloves to avoid a repeat of the earlier assault. Suddenly, it struck me. I ran inside and looked at my face to see the same welts as before. This time, they were encircled with a ruddy reddish shadiness to the skin around them, and spotted my forehead, chin and neck. They behaved the same way the earlier “bites” did: very pronounced at first and gradually fading in color and sensation until they were barely noticeable at all. I had assumed this rapid disappearance was the result of my swift diligence with a plantain leaf.
Checking out my new war wounds in the mirror, I recalled the time I was 9 and we were painting a shed in the woods behind my house. At some point, my body became fully covered with hives. A bottle of calamine lotion later, and I was fine. I do not know why I didn’t recognize that feeling sooner. It is a distinct feeling, and I was beginning to get it while I was in the garden. Like there was the presence near of something that doesn’t mesh so well your aura. Maybe the 20 (or so) year gap in time made me forget what an allergic reaction feels like. But I was acutely reminded last night.
Now, I suppose I should get to work on figuring out what was the cause of my body’s dramatic response to this presence. A quick Google search and a scan of the corner of the garden I was working in suggests it may be the milkweed. It’s always possible, but unlikely, it’s those weedy morning glories I fight back nearly daily. (Unlikely because we’ve been battling since my occupancy here began). I have a creeping suspicion it’s a tomato plant, but I dearly sincerely hope not. Once again, the perils of overgardening are upon us…
As I was reading this post poison ivy came to mind. I’ve never had the ‘pleasure’ of getting a bad case, but I suspect I had a few minor run-ins with the stuff. A couple years back I found some in the back corner of the yard. If it was the ivy which I started to feel on my skin, it was probably a fairly quick dash to the rubbing alcohol and thoroughly wiping the area that stopped it. I constantly rotated the tissues so as not to spread it around more. I never got the typical welts of poison ivy so I was never sure if that was what I had. Reading on poison ivy, which I am glad I did, I read I couldn’t just burn the plants as I originally thought, so I resorted to a commercial product. It was nowhere near anything I grew so some careful spraying did the trick. There are times where chemicals are the best way to go. At the time I hadn’t heard of using white vinegar to kill plants, and if need be I’ll use the vinegar first next time.
An interesting link to the bug/ blood angle. I haven’t done it for a while, but I used to spread some rubbing alcohol over my arms and forehead, and as I recall I rarely ever got bitten. Since I stopped, I seem to be bitten a lot more. I never had a problem with it, but alcohol can dry out your skin. With the additives in it, I am not sure how hand sanitizer (~62% alcohol) would work. Maybe using the ‘survival’ foraging test can help you identify the problem. Take a leaf of what you suspect may be your problem and rub it on a small section of skin. Then wait to see if there is a reaction. Mother nature has lots of tricks up her sleeve when it comes to protecting herself.
‘Wildman’s’ book, Edible and Medicinal Herbs, says milkweed’s sap is a mild toxin, and there are look alikes such as Dogbane and a few species of milkweed which are poisonous. He also notes that bees love milkweed.
As timing would have it, the ‘Weed Dragon’ I recently ordered just arrived. Basically, it’s a long handle with a hose that connects to a propane tank. The working end is basically a flame thrower which is used to kill weeds without all the bending and yanking. It’s first use will be the never ending vines that keep growing on, over, and through my fence into garden areas- and into the air conditioning unit. Reviews I read are mostly positive, some saying the weeds grow back after a few weeks, others say not. Cautions about having a hose nearby in case of an unintended fire are wise. There’s a few other uses listed on the website and on Amazon. BTW, it’s made in the USA.
Kills weeds without chemicals and supports American business- sounds good to me!
Amazon has pretty good prices and quite a few reviews about the different versions. I got the 100,000 BTU model, but there are smaller and larger ones. Once I give it a try I’ll post my impressions of it.
So far the Weed Dragon seems to work as advertised. I just took a look out back and what I didn’t toast on the spot is now obviously dying. The instructions said it wasn’t necessary to toast plants till crisp. Some of those vines were thick and pretty tough. They gave off a ‘snap crackle & pop’ under the heat. As a couple reviewers said, it’s kind of fun, keeping safety in mind. I kept a hose nearby at all times but didn’t need it. A section of ground I haven’t planted this year is now pretty much free of everything and ready to be worked. I am going to use it as a fall crop area.
I have a row of cement patio blocks in the soil to section off a section of the yard, and with no barriers underneath grass and weeds were growing between them. As one reviewer said, it cleaned up the gaps between the blocks extremely well. Aside from some time, with practically zero effort I was able to clear vines which I usually use a machete to clear, cleaned around the air conditioner which was always a mess of weeds and vines, and cleared a section of ground for planting.
I would not be surprised if some of what I killed grows back. Plants return after forest and brush fires all the time. Even so, whatever grows back will be small and much easier to control. I’ve battled those vines for years using pruners and a machete but I think they’ve finally met their match. In my opinion the Weed Dragon was worth the investment, and as easy as it was to use, follow up clearings will be a lot easier. Once winter returns there are still uses for the Weed Dragon. One of it’s other uses include melting ice!
Weed Dragon update- I used it on a gravel driveway which had not been cleaned yet this year. It worked like a charm. I kept a hose near by just in case of a stray fire, but did not need to use it. As a precaution I watered down the whole area when done. I have to say I like this thing. It’s easy to use, and aside from chemicals (which I always try to avoid) I can’t imagine an easier way to clean up unwanted plants other than paying someone else to do it.