Tick Season Is Here

Daffodils blooming in our garden today.

Daffodils blooming in our garden today.

I felt the itching last night right as we began dinner.

My family had gathered at my parents’ home yesterday, and several of us spent a few hours in the afternoon doing some light yard work to help them out.  We’d picked up sticks and trimmed some bushes; nothing too intense.

And since there was snow and ice earlier in the week, none of us gave a thought to what insects might be prowling about.  Sure, there were some bumblies on the Mahonia blossoms, but none of us worried about ticks.

Mahonia blooming at Colonial Williamsburg last week.

Mahonia blooming at Colonial Williamsburg last week.

But then at dinner, I felt the tell-tale itching, and reaching up to scratch the itch, my fingertips touched tick.

Once you’ve had a tick, their feel is unmistakeable.  You know immediately that one is embedded in your flesh, and must be removed, NOW!

At first I tried to lightly brush it away.  But no, a tick is tenacious.  Thank goodness my sister sprang into action.  A dedicated animal lover, she has removed many ticks from her companions and was willing to do the same for me.

Since I'm positive you don't want to see my tick bite, or the tick, I'll just show you some garden photos today.  This is our lilac, "Josee" beginning to open.

Since I’m positive you don’t want to see my tick bite, or the tick, I’ll just show you some garden photos today. This is our lilac, “Josee” beginning to open.

You can’t just pull a tick out.  Often, the tick will just pull apart, and the head will be left embedded in your skin.

You need to get it to back out and begin to let loose before you try to remove it.

Vinca is lovely in early spring when it blooms with either periwinkle blue, or white, blossoms.  The rest of the year Vinca is a tough, evergreen vining ground cover.

Vinca is lovely in early spring when it blooms with either periwinkle blue, or white, blossoms. The rest of the year Vinca is a tough, evergreen vining ground cover.

We first covered this one in petroleum jelly.  Ticks, like all insects, breathe through the hard shell of their exoskeleton.  Tiny holes in their hard covering allow for respiration.  Cover these holes, and they begin to suffocate.

Whatever anyone recommends that you do to a tick before pulling it out is designed to distract them, put them under stress, and make them let loose the tight hold they have on the flesh from which they are feeding.

After a minute or so, she began to work on the tick with a pair of tweezers.  What a hold it had!  It had burrowed into the back of my neck right at the hairline.  It took several tries, but she eventually yanked it out.  We swabbed the bite with alcohol and applied a topical antibiotic.

Miniatrure daffodils have emerged around a Rosemary, badly damaged this winter by cold.  We hope the Rosemary shrubs in our garden have survived the winter.

Miniature daffodils have emerged around a Rosemary, badly damaged this winter by cold. We hope the Rosemary shrubs in our garden have survived the winter.

Now ticks are virulent creatures.  As they suck, they also release chemicals into your skin.

Sometimes ticks also carry disease, such as Lyme’s disease, which they transmit through their bite.  The area around the bite was already red and inflamed before my sister removed the tick, and is more so today.

The intense itching had me up in the night reapplying a topical antibiotic, and had us heading out to the see a doctor this morning, before I even brewed a pot of coffee.

More miniature daffodils in the front border.  These were purchased from Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester, VA.

More miniature daffodils in the front border. These were purchased from Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester, VA.

The doctor who took a look at the tick bite praised my sister highly for her quick action and the thoroughness with which she managed to remove the tick.

Nothing was left behind in the wound, which is good.  But, we still decided to begin a course of Doxycycline today to prevent any tick borne illness from gaining a foothold.

Doxycycline is sometimes prescribed to those heading into regions known for Malaria, to prevent contracting the disease from a mosquito bite.  I expect it to prevent any infection from this little bite.

These daffodils in shades of pink, purchased from the Heaths, have begun to grow on me.  Do you like them?

These daffodils in shades of pink, purchased from the Heaths, have begun to grow on me. Do you like them?

The tick we removed yesterday was a light brown color, and it was fairly large.  I’m guessing it might have been a brown dog tick.

There are at least seven different ticks active in the United States, and each carries slightly different diseases.

A friend removes ticks from her pets and children using clear tape, and keeps the tick, sandwiched in the tape, in case she needs it later for identification or to show her physician.

That is a great idea, and I didn’t even think to suggest it last night.  We tweezed and flushed, while the rest of the family struggled to keep on with their dinner!

March 22, 2014 daffodils 008

Now that we know ticks are moving this spring, there are some precautions to take:

1.  From now on, I’ll begin wearing insect repellent when working outside.  Since we live in a forest, this is something that we routinely do once the weather warms.  My parents’ suburban yard has not been known for ticks in the past, and none of us even considered insect repellant yesterday.

2.  It is wise to not only wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when working out of doors, but also hat and gloves.  I didn’t have a hat yesterday, and yet was trimming tall shrubs.  This little guy might have fallen into my hair while I was trimming the shrubs.

3.  At home, we normally head straight from the garden to the shower.  A good shower allows one to locate and remove ticks quickly.  Sometimes we find them still crawling, before they have had a chance to dig in.

We also leave our clothing in the garage, so any ticks on our clothing can’t make it into the house.

Violas.  See the garlic I've placed in each pot of Violas to discourage the deer?

Violas. See the garlic I’ve placed in each pot of Violas to discourage the deer?

As Lyme disease becomes more prevalent, we all need to remain vigilant to protect ourselves from tick bites.  Lyme is debilitating for many who contract it, and affects many different systems of the body.

Lyme disease was unknown before the early 1970s.  It first showed up around Lyme, Connecticut, in children and adults who began showing unusual, arthritis like symptoms.

The connection between Lyme disease and deer ticks was finally established around 1981 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Montana.

A new variety of bulb has begun to emerge.  I purchased these from Roxy Patton at Homestead Garden Center this fall, but don't recall the variety.

A new variety of bulb has begun to emerge. We purchased these from Roxy Patton at Homestead Garden Center this fall, but  I don’t recall the variety.

Even today, many physicians don’t recognize Lyme disease, especially symptom clusters which appear months or even years after the initial tick bite and rash. We are becoming familiar with the red, bull’s eye shaped rash which appears within a few days of the bite.

Once that rash goes away, Lyme Disease often remains in the body, to reappear months or years later with more serious symptoms.  Many who have Lyme disease don’t even remember the initial tick bite.

Lyme, a bacterial infection carried in the blood, can be treated with antibiotics, and there is promising research into the effectiveness of colloidal silver for treating particularly difficult cases.

This gorgeous little daffodil was planted by a previous gardener on this property.  I sometimes dig and divide these in late spring.  They are so unusual!

This gorgeous little daffodil was planted by a previous gardener on this property.   I sometimes dig and divide these in late spring. They are so unusual!

Because Lyme disease only appeared in North America roughly 40 years ago, and because it first appeared in only one coastal community, and has spread across the country from there; there are many interesting theories as to its origin.

Interestingly, the US government’s Plum Island Biological Research Facility, in Long Island Sound, is only a few miles offshore from Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease originated in the 1970s.

We planted these dafffodiils in the fern garden three years ago.  They have divided into nice clumps.

We planted these daffodils in the fern garden three years ago. They have divided into nice clumps.

The Biological Research Facility was established in the early 1950’s, to house a research program under the direction of ex-Nazi scientist Erich Traub.  Traub immigrated to the United States in 1949.    He continued his research into diseases, under Project Paperclip, for the United States Government, at Plum Island, NY.

His earlier research into germ warfare had been carried out on Riems’s Island in the Baltic Sea, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler.

Traub had previously studied at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in Princeton, New Jersey during the 1930s, performing research on viruses and vaccines.  He and his wife lived only a few miles from Plum Island at that time.

A wider view of the daffies in the fern garden.

A wider view of the daffies in the fern garden.

This Plum Island facility has carried out various research projects over the years, all involving animals and disease.  Its location in Long Island Sound is intended to isolate the diseases studied, and the animal carriers, from the rest of the country.

Tick borne diseases are believed to have left the island on birds.  Birds can easily fly back and cross Long Island Sound, carrying infected ticks.  Deer also swim between the mainland and Plum Island, and could have carried ticks from the research facility to Connecticut.

March 22, 2014 daffodils 005

The same pathogen, mycoplasma fermentens, is found in individuals infected with Lyme disease, Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fybromyalgia.  All of these recent, baffling disease conditions tend to affect the central nervous system.  All cause intense fatigue, and affect various other organs in the body.

Infected ticks multiply in warm weather and travel from yard to yard, area to area, state to state on birds, squirrels, deer, dogs, and any other animals likely to get ticks.  Lyme disease has been identified now in many parts of the United States, as well as in more than 80 countries world wide.

This little tree has not yet begun to even bud, let alone leaf out.  It almost disappears in the sea of daffodils.

This little tree has not yet begun to even bud, let alone leaf out. It almost disappears in the sea of daffodils.

Lyme is only one of several diseases carried by ticks.  Even if you are bitten by a tick not infected with one of these diseases, the area around the bite will be sore, swollen, and itchy for several days.

Swab the area around a tick bite with alcohol and apply a topical antibiotic or hydrocortisone cream.

I am not a physician, but I have taken care of lots of tick bites over the years on loved ones and on myself.  My doctor this morning recommended the hydrocortisone cream, which can help with the itch of many types of insect bites.

Please be aware of ticks, and and protect yourself and your loved ones while enjoying activities outside.  Whether you are hiking, cooking out, or gardening; take the simple precautions to prevent tick bites.

Such a lovely day in Williamsburg, today.  A beautiful day to work out in the garden.  Please be careful when you do.

Such a lovely day in Williamsburg, today. A beautiful day to work out in the garden. Please be careful when you do.

And, believe it or not, they are already out there in Virginia.  I have the bite on my neck to prove it.

Woodland Gnome 2014

More on Ticks

Our Herd of Deer

A fawn in August, grazing along the Colonial Parkway

A fawn in August, grazing along the Colonial Parkway

Have you ever felt as though someone were watching you?  I stood up from working on the new border of our stump garden and sure enough, I was being watched.  She was lovely, as tall as some of my petite friends, and absolutely fearless.  She stood there in the arch of the trellis, between the roses, watching intently.  Her large brown eyes accessing me, noticing that I was unarmed.

For days now, she, her friends, and her children, have been unwelcome visitors in the garden by day and by night.  Hungry and bold, they have tested the boundaries, finding the weak spots where they can push through the fence.  We hear them running through the ravine and roaming the neighbors’ woods.  When they find a way in, they feast on the garden; stripping leaves from branches and leaving in their wake deep hoof prints in the moist ground and piles of foul smelling scat as their calling card.

Deer graced this Heuchera, growing here close to the house for the last several years, one afternoon last week.

Deer grazed this Heuchera, growing here close to the house for the last several years, one afternoon last week.

A local farmer, who has managed the deer on his property his entire life, explained that they are especially hungry this year.  It seems that our acorn crop is much smaller than usual.  He told us that normally the deer in his area keep to the woods, feasting on acorns and other nuts this time of year.  There aren’t enough acorns to feed them this year, and so they have been wandering into his yard and garden.  Our acorn crop was devastated in early summer, and I haven’t seen a single one drop to the ground this year.  Mature oaks fell in storms all across our neighborhood, and so our herd is hungry.

Notice the leaves missing from this jalapeno pepper plant.

Notice the leaves missing from this jalapeno pepper plant.

I stood up and walked across the yard towards the peaceful doe, telling her she needed to leave.  It wasn’t until I was nearly close enough to touch her that she turned and ran down the hill, looking for another opportunity to graze in the cover of the fig trees.  Finally, I chased her out of the garden and  into the ravine; her partner following her progress from the other side of the fence.  In less than an hour, another doe and her fawn had wriggled through, and were quietly munching the shrubs.  When I came after them they panicked, running in circles, kicking up the mulch with their hooves, wildly looking for a way out.  They leapt  over a great mound of Forsythia like flying reindeer, tore through the side yard, and disappeared  into the ravine.

The deer live in the wooded ravines in our neighborhood, and are drawn to the lakes to drink.

The deer live in the wooded ravines in our neighborhood, and are drawn to the lakes to drink.

Both of us human gardeners have spent hours these last few days trying to reinforce the deer fences, filling the tiny holes where the deer have wiggled through.   Our neighborhood herd has multiplied again this year.

White tail deer, while beautiful and fun to watch, present a problem in neighborhoods across Virginia- including in ours.

Azalea, severely grazed by deer.

Azalea, severely grazed by deer.  Notice the pile of scat behind this shrub.

Though many in the neighborhood love the Bambis and wish them no harm,  there are excellent reasons to encourage deer harvesting by qualified bow-hunters who help manage the deer population.  One of the most compelling reasons, especially for environmentalists and those of us who would never hunt ourselves, is the well being of the herd as a whole.  Deer roam over huge areas, are excellent swimmers, and thrive in a variety of habitats.  They have few natural predators (none in our area), so we need an ongoing program to manage herds as they roam through the neighborhood to and from adjacent areas.

If you are an animal lover, and are ready to turn away from this subject and move on; please stay with me and consider the difficult facts of the issue:

  1. The  white tail deer population can double annually.  Females begin breeding in their second year, usually having 2-4 fawns per year.  Females may breed for up to 10 consecutive years.  According to The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, we have a larger deer population in Virginia now than when the first colonists arrived in the early 17th Century.
  2. Deer bring ticks, which carry Lyme disease and other serious diseases.  The ticks drop off of the deer into the vegetation in our yards, and then find their way back onto pets, children, and adults.  These tick bites have the potential to cause serious diseases which can incapacitate anyone who doesn’t get prompt treatment.  A number of our neighbors have developed Lyme disease from tick bites.
  3. Deer are a serious hazard to bike riders and motorists.    They jump out suddenly from yards and wooded areas into the path of vehicles, especially in the late autumn and winter when rutting bucks are pursuing females.  They cause expensive damage to vehicles and can cause serious injury to the driver and passengers.
  4. Deer destroy habitat and food supplies for other animals.  Deer are mainly herbivores, and will eat a wide variety of vegetation including leaves, twigs, fruit, acorns, and grasses.  When populations are large, they strip whatever vegetation they can reach, consuming food and destroying habitat needed by song birds and other small mammals.  Bears have wandered into urban areas this autumn looking for food, because the deer have eaten what is available. Grazing deer often kill small shrubs and trees so the woodland habitat is destroyed and never allowed to re-grow.
  5. Deer destroy crops planted by humans.  Anyone attempting to grow a small garden as food for their family knows that unfenced crops will be destroyed overnight by hungry deer.  Deer also eat the fruit and leaves off of residential fruit trees.
  6. Deer do millions of dollars of damage annually to residential landscaping, eating both newly planted trees, shrubbery, and flowers; and more established trees and shrubs.  As the deer population grows, and they become more desperate for food, they damage even large, well established shrubbery such as azaleas, camellias, hollies, and hydrangea.  Those who love gardening face constant frustration as their plantings are consumed by hungry deer.  Planting “deer resistant” shrubs and perennials doesn’t help when hungry deer turn to vegetation they would normally never eat.
  7. Deer damage lawns and the slopes of ravines with their pawing and walking on soft, wet, ground.  They leave scat in residential yards, which carries a variety of harmful bacteria.  Bucks rub the bark off of trees to mark their territory.  The herd wears paths through the areas where they frequently run.
  8.    As the deer population grows, and food dwindles, deer develop a variety of diseases, such as chronic wasting disease, bovine tuberculosis, and hemorrhagic disease.  They have insufficient food and are hungry.  Winter is difficult on the herd when there is a large concentration of deer, and more damage to the habitat destroys food supplies for other small animals.
  9. Male deer become aggressive during rutting season, and pose a danger to pets and people.  A fully grown male deer can weigh up to 300 lbs.  They run at nearly 40 m.p.h., and can jump over 8 feet high.

    Deer living in the National Park easily travel through ours, and many other neighborhoods.

    Deer living in the National Park easily travel through many nearby  neighborhoods.

  10. Deer are an important source of food.  Hunters For the Hungry  provided 1.6 million servings of food to hungry Virginians in 2010.  They harvested 407,796 lbs. of meat from deer in Virginia humanely, had the meat processed professionally, and distributed it through local food banks and other non-profit organizations who feed the hungry.  Their goal is to provide 500,000 lbs. of meat to hungry families in Virginia annually.  Hunters working in our neighborhood donate the deer they harvest, so hungry families have meat, and our deer population is managed responsibly.

If you live in a neighborhood with a herd of deer, and have been opposed to responsible bow hunting to thin the herd, please reconsider.  Not only is the meat needed by hungry families right here in our own community, thinning the herd makes it possible for those left to become healthier and find the food they need to survive.  With winter coming, and food sources lower than normal, our herd is already hungry and bold.  Gardening is stewardship of the land and of the natural resources nature provides.  Our neighborhood hunter helps maintain the balance for all of us living in the forest.

What the Realtors Failed to Mention… (chiggers, ticks, flies, and mosquitoes)

tickDuring 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.mosquito

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

White Citrus

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.

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