Photo: How to fend off mosquitoes

Attract mosquito-eating chickadees, house wrens, bluebirds, swallows and martins with birdhouses and bird baths. (Credit: James Andruchow)

As an Alberta girl, I know mosquitoes.

I also spent five summers working in the boreal forest counting critters — and inadvertently feeding skeeters, no-see-ums and deer and horse flies.

Bug spray ingredients often don't break down. Some linger and can cause harm to plants and animals other than their targets. Avoid DEET and you'll never rinse it into our oceans, lakes or rivers.

Before you reach for a DEET bug repellent, try these non-toxic tips to make you and your home less attractive to mosquitoes:

  • Remove standing water (mosquito breeding grounds). Refresh bird and bee baths daily.
  • Fill, cover or remove backyard items that collect water — empty planters, kids' toys, wheelbarrows, etc.
  • Keep gutters clean to help rainwater flow freely.
  • Repair screens on doors and windows.
  • Keep grass to about three inches. Trim shrubs.
  • Attract mosquito-eating chickadees, house wrens, bluebirds, swallows and martins with birdhouses and bird baths.

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  • Avoid synthetic fragrances. Mosquitoes love scents in soaps, lotions, shampoos, perfumes and laundry detergent.
  • Cover up with long sleeves, long pants and socks.
  • Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks. Tuck kids' pants into their socks for extra protection.
  • When you go camping, take a bug net (for your head) and bug shirt. They will keep you sane.
  • Try herbal repellents with citronella, cedar, eucalyptus, lemongrass or peppermint essential oils. They're safer for children (but not on babes under two years). The Centre for Disease Control found some products with oil of lemon eucalyptus offer long-lasting protection (but not recommended for children under three). (Note: They also recommend DEET and permethrin.)

Avoid DEET

DEET is a registered pesticide with warnings to avoid eyes, mouth, ears, cuts and irritated skin. It's also a suspected neurotoxin and respiratory toxin. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that about half of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes developed immunity to DEET just three hours after exposure.

DEET can damage synthetics — plastics, rayon — as well as furniture finishes, leather, and paint. When I was working in the field I saw DEET melt the dash of a car and eat the wood of my field pencils! That's why I stopped putting it on my skin.

For most Canadians, the risk of getting West Nile virus or Lyme disease is low, and the risk of serious health effects is also Health Canada suggests reducing your risk by making yourself less attractive to mosquitoes, but also recommends DEET concentrations for different age groups if you find yourself at high risk.

What are your summer tips and tricks?

Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green

June 27, 2016

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Aug 04, 2016
12:44 PM

I agree, I think any chemical we have to put on our bodies that makes you tingle (like DEET) can’t be good! What are your thoughts on propane mosquito trap?

Jul 10, 2016
1:09 PM

A friend who is always plagued as a mosquito magnet found that Vicks on his exposed areas keep the mosquitoes away.

Jul 08, 2016
4:07 AM

We live in the Northwestern Ontario boreal forest on our organic farm raising livestock and work building productive clean soil for our fields and crops with intensive composting. We have tried every natural method we come across and have found the most effective is a high sulphur diet (garlic is very high) and wearing clothing as mentioned is best for human relief. We rub pine tar oil on our horses daily and have field smudges for the cattle. The pigs wallow in their mudhole, the dog has his dense fur coat, the chickens eat whatever bugs they can roaming the yard and well cats…I want to be a cat in my next life they are never bothered with anything!! We have bird houses bat houses and a natural swimming pond filled with frogs. We focus on standing water and pour small amounts of vegetable oil on larger standing water surfaces to deter setting of eggs. We pray for thunderstorms which seem to knock down horseflies and wait patiently for the June no-see-um hatch to end, the July ankle biters to die off and August comes with a sigh of relief that cool nights will start to kill off the remaining hordes. To be forest Canadian dweller means simply that you WILL have a bite or ten to remind that heaven can come with some sacrifice

Jul 07, 2016
4:08 PM

I find the essential oil of lavender deters mosquitoes and black flies. I spray a little on my clothes. A drop of pure essential oil of lavender on a bite also relieves the itch if you are bitten.

Jun 30, 2016
6:24 PM

There were years where I worked and lived in the forests of norther Alberta, and I’m proud to say that I absolutely never needed to use bug spray. The flies, mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies and the worst of them all, noseeums all took turns trying to get an easy feed off of us. Days were varied from scorching hot to wet and humid. The trick was to wear loose fitting clothing that the bugs couldn’t but through. This typically was a rugged work pant (arm pants, MEC Rad/mountaineering pants/ or work pants (eg Carharts). Long sleeved collared shirts were usually flannel with a t shirt underneath. The trick however wear a head net trucked into the collar, and simple cotton gardening gloves with an elastic collar to go over the shirt sleeves. The bugs could buzz all they wanted, land anywhere and try biting all they wanted, but never did I get an itchy bite or use toxic bug spray. There were times I could kill dozens of mosquitos in one slap and the noise of the buzzing was defining, but I worked in peace with the swarms and sainly went about my daily business. It was great!!!

Jun 29, 2016
12:41 PM

We put goldfish in our ponds and water barrels (and overwinter them) to eat larvae. We use an oscillating fan outside in the evenings to blow skeeters away….

Jun 29, 2016
1:06 AM

What do you recommend to repel ticks if we shouldn’t use deet?

Jun 28, 2016
8:45 PM

When mosquitos are biting more than 20 per minute, pretty much we’re forced to DEET. There’s really little choice or you don’t do anything in the north. I think your post is useful in cities when you aren’t living outside, in the bush. Traditional peoples simply didn’t leave camp in mosquito months (mid June to the first week of Aug).

Jun 28, 2016
2:40 PM

I am contemplating a location for a bat box… how do bats compare to birds for mosquito control?

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