During our first two weeks in our new home in the forest, I was trimming back shrubs by the street dressed for the late August weather in shorts, T shirt, hat, and Sketchers. It must have been nearly a hundred degrees, and it was still before noon.
Our neighbor came over to chat in the strangest get-up I’d seen in a long time. She was wearing a man’s shirt buttoned up to her chin, gloves covering her cuffs, men’s work pants tucked into heavy socks, boots, and a beat up old hat. I knew she was over 80, and assumed she was a bit daft. Still doing most of her own gardening, she was a delight to talk with, and I never bothered to ask her about her outfit.
It didn’t take long for me to understand her attire, and copy it.
What the realtors and the seller failed to mention, is that our new yard was literally crawling with noxious, dangerous bugs. The first time I cut the yard, herds of grasshoppers leapt out of the way in front of my mower. Dragonflies buzzed around keeping an eye on my progress, and mosquitoes and flies kept zooming in for a snack. What I didn’t see, and so didn’t prepare for, were the ticks and the chiggers.
The next morning I woke up with what I believed to be a bad case of the measles. I was covered with huge, swollen, red itching bites. Nothing soothed the itch, and I was in misery. My dad, an old boy scout, was able to diagnose the problem: chigger bites.
Ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes are almost everywhere in our yard once the weather warms. It is wise to always wear long pants, socks, long sleeves, and a hat when working in the yard, even when it is 102 degrees. Chiggers are virtually invisible because they are so small, and you don’t know you are being attacked until the bite swells. They always gravitate to the most dark, moist, and warm parts of your body to bite and lay their eggs. They don’t suck blood, and don’t cling. A single chigger makes multiple bites.
You can get a tick walking from your car to your door, so check yourself for them regularly. Some of the ticks in our area carry Lyme disease, which is extremely dangerous and debilitating. See the symptoms here: http://arthritis.webmd.com/ss/slideshow-lyme-disease
While Citrus body cream, available at Bath and Bodyworks, is effective at preventing insect bites for me. Apply to all exposed skin before going outside. After applying it to my ankles and calves, I rub my hands over socks and pant cuffs. There are no harmful chemicals in this product. The citrus odor seems to ward off mosquitoes, Mayflies, ticks, and chiggers.
A dryer sheet tucked into a pocket helps keep the bugs away. The heavy scent seems to deter them. We choose not to use products with DEET, or other strong insecticides. But, we’ve learned that strong smelling citrus body lotions also deter biting insects. We’ve found several Bath and Bodyworks products which work, and smooth them on exposed skin before going out into the garden. Burts Bees also makes a citrus spray which can be sprayed onto cuffs, hats, socks, etc. for added protection.
The Weather Channel has produced an excellent slide show to help identify insects by their bites. It also offers tips on how to protect yourself and treat the bites. Take a look: http://www.weather.com/health/what-bit-me-identifying-bugs-and-their-bites-20130604
If you find a tick, use this guide: http://firstaid.webmd.com/ticks-treatment
A friend has a unique way of removing ticks which is easier than the tweezer method. She uses Scotch tape, and sandwiches the tick between the two layers of tape, then pulls straight out. She then keeps the ticks in an envelope, encased in the tape, in case the bite gets infected and she needs to seek medical care.
In general, we find that after washing with soap and water, bathing the bite, whether from tick, chigger, mosquito, or fly in a good antibiotic cream is good general care. We also use Tea Tree oil also to help dry them up. Believe it or not, we have found that clear nail polish painted on to a chigger bite will stop the itching and help prevent the bite from further developing. This must be renewed every day or so, but provides relief. We didn’t believe this when an old timer suggested it, and resisted trying it for a long time thinking the nail polish couldn’t be good for us on our skin. Eventually we gave in and tried it, and learned it helps relieve our itching.
This is definitely a situation where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. We’ve learned to always leave our shoes and work clothes in the garage, and take a hot shower after working out doors to wash away any bugs that might be lurking. From May until September we are vigilant to try to avoid these noxious bites.
Nothing in the post is intended in any way to offer medical advice. It is simply a chronicle of my own experience. I am a gardener, not a physician. Please seek professional medical help if you have an insect bite which is infected.