Now that the bite is slowly leaving the wintry weather and the promise of spring is (almost) here, it might be time to talk about mosquitoes, fondly referred to in my household as “skeetoes” and by the vast majority of my compatriots as “mozzies”.
Back in the sixties and seventies when I was living with affluent but not necessarily terribly wise parents and struggling against the constraints of being a child, my parents, influenced by my paternal grandmother who by all accounts was an awesome woman and someone I would have loved, were determined to wage war against mosquitoes – they would never have dreamed of abbreviating the word in either direction.
They knew that skeetoes bred in puddles of water, so in a myopic attempt to reduce skeeto breeding, what they did was get rid of any puddles of water, even in saucers under pot-plants and the like. Not for them birdbaths or water-features, oh no!
I’ve thought long and hard about it over the decade, and over twenty years ago I decided to go in exactly the opposite direction, though for the same reason. I want to reduce skeeto numbers, and the easiest way to do that is to reduce the success-rate of skeeto breeding, right? Right.
Think about it: if you were a pregnant skeeto laden with fulminating eggs and you needed a puddle to lay in, what’s going to happen if there isn’t water to lay in, close to the humans who provided the protein-meal to nourish those eggs? You’re just going to fly away, right, and find water in rooftop gutters or other equally inaccessible spots, to lay your eggs in, right? Right.
So my technique is to leave easily accessible puddles of water around everywhere. Dishes of water out for neighbourhood animals, pets and wild creatures. Frogponds in the backyard. Left-over worm wee from my worm farm growing algae and mosquito larvae (“wrigglers”) in buckets near the worm farm, getting organically richer and richer until I am ready to feed it to plants.
I am outside frequently, and every time I am outside, when I pass by one of my little reservoirs of stagnant water, I’ll check it. If there are tiny wrigglers, hardly big enough to see, I may or may not throw it onto the vegetable patch to both water and feed the plants – and kill the wrigglers. If the wrigglers are larger and more active, I will pour it onto earth right then, knowing that their wastes in the water plus their nitrogen-rich bodies will feed my soil as the water they live in moistens it. And that they will die before they mature and reach the flying, breeding, biting stage.
I haven’t bought a personal insect-repellent of any kind in nearly two decades – I don’t have to. There are simply no flying, biting bugs around here. And I’m friendly with spiders and encourage easily human-befriendable species like St Andrews’ Cross spiders and the like to colonise my outdoor and part of my indoor world, so flies aren’t much of a problem, either. I see more dead flies hanging in cobwebs than I ever see flying around.
When I lived in the Toowoon Bay house before I moved to Western Australia, I was friendly with most of the neighbours. There was a very high retired – even geriatric – population in that micro-area, and I had a number of “oldies” I was particularly fond of and visited frequently. Some of them never left the house, so I’d set up water-caches for skeeto breeding in their gardens without even mentioning it, and check then several times a week when I visited. Those who were more active and especially the gardeners, I would explain my system to, and beg them also to set up water-caches for skeetoes to breed in so as to destroy their young before they grew into adulthood. Not all, but many, of them adopted my system, and between 2005 and 2008 I was only bitten once by one skeeto, and many of my neighbours reported that even they noticed they weren’t being eaten alive every summer.
The trick is to be consistent. If you cannot check your water several times a week, you will have skeetoes reaching adulthood – they may take eight days to mature, but their mothers don’t all lay eggs on the same day of the week. However, if you do check your water regularly, kill any skeetoes by stranding them on soil (or as I did when I had tropical fish and finches, feeding them to your pets!), airborne biting skeetoes will first become rarer, then will become a thing of the past if you can also talk your neighbours into it.
Together, co-operating in our local areas, we can make a big difference without using a single toxic chemical!