Gardeners love to lament about what impacts their garden–too much rain, too little rain, hot weather, cold weather, too much humidity. Many of these factors affect our plants, and our ability to work in our gardens, but there is one factor that determines my ability to work in my garden more than any other—too many mosquitos. After weeks of rain left behind endless pools of water throughout the region, the mosquito population seems to be overwhelming our region as much as are post-pandemic visitors. While we are all complaining about traffic along Route 7 as people escape the city and their homes after a year of isolation, we may also need to fund air traffic control for the mosquito population. The skies seem to be so full of them that they are running into each other –and into windshields along the same Route 7.
I am one of those people who often feels that all of the mosquitos in the region are attacking me and, in doing a little research, I came to discover that just because I am paranoid, it does not mean that every mosquito is not out to get me. Mosquitos are attracted to various factors, and one of the attractants is type O blood, which I have. My research indicated that they are also attracted to pregnant women and to people with higher skin temperatures. (Imbibers beware! Drinking raises the surface temperature of the skin.) So, while I may feel a bit targeted by the mosquitos, I am relieved not to be in what seems to be the most vulnerable category—an intoxicated pregnant woman. In fact, given the care most pregnant women take not to drink alcohol, it appears that not many people are actually helping mosquitoes hit that trifecta. It seems ironic that female mosquitoes, searching for blood so that they can procreate, have chosen pregnant women as their victims, but I will leave that to Fox News pundits and feminists to work out. And given the desire of most sentient beings to replicate, I am not sure I can hold it against these vampiric creatures to take what they need: the proteins in our blood are essential to the creation of their eggs.
But regardless of whether I am more victimized than others by these six-legged creatures, the fact remains that they limit my time in the garden. Their population soared after the rains of the past few weeks. Mosquitoes typically spend the early stages of their lives developing in stagnant waters such as puddles, ponds, and the snags of old trees where water collects before they get their wings and take to the sky. This past week clearly marked the beginning of a mosquito baby boom, and I am sorry to report that the average life of these creatures is not as short as I had hoped. Many of them can live up to a month or longer.
With that information in mind, I realized I needed to find a way to get back into the garden. I sheepishly admit that I was almost tempted by mosquito bombs and was relieved to discover that they are not all that effective. Several friends have added mosquito bits, an organic control consisting of a bacterium that kills mosquito larvae and fungus gnats, to pools of standing water on their property to prevent the next generation from coming forth. These bits and related Bt rings are effective, but if one has a full-fledged water feature instead of intermittent puddles, the addition of fish will also work as they will feast on the mosquito larvae, giving us mosquito control courtesy of the food chain. Birds, on the other hand, feed on adult mosquitos, so planting a garden to attract birds can help manage mosquitos that make it to adulthood. Other gardeners report that lavender and rosemary plants and their extracts help keep mosquitos at bay, but I have found neither of these plants nor their oils, nor that of citronella, to be fully effective.
Another trusted friend swears by the essential oil of sea buckthorn, a plant that I had been considering adding to my garden, although more for its orange edible fruits and silvery gray foliage. I have ordered some oil but have held off planting sea buckthorn as I fear it may be aggressive and invasive. But at the end of the day, I have forgone citronella candles and endless sprays and have relied on a gardener’s most essential skill: observation. I came to see that there were times in the day, somewhere after the passing of early morning and before dusk, when the mosquitos seem to abate. Good timing, in combination with the use of an old fan to keep the air stirring around my work area, has allowed me to find my way back into the garden. Who knows? I might even find myself feeling daring enough to sit outside one afternoon with an oscillating fan and enjoy a glass of wine, skin temperature be damned.
A gardener grows through observation, experimentation, and learning from the failures, triumphs, and hard work of oneself and others. In this sense, all gardeners are self-taught, while at the same time intrinsically connected to a tradition and a community that finds satisfaction through working the soil and sharing their experiences with one another. This column explores those relationships and how we learn about the world around us from plants and our fellow gardeners.