Monday, April 11, 2011

now if only I had some sort of pollen repelling system

The first thing I noticed when we first moved to Atlanta July of 2008--aside from the heat, oh lord the heat--was the fact that the mosquitoes here are insane. Seriously insane. First off, they are everywhere. Secondly, they are gigantic. I was used to those little spindly mosquitoes in New York, especially in the parks, but the mosquitoes in Atlanta seem easily twice as large, so large that you can actually see these black and white striped markings on them. You can feel them biting you, and it hurts.  Horrifying. Third, the mosquitoes in Atlanta (well, really probably anywhere where there are so many and therefore competition for sweet, sweet human blood is so high) is that they are incredibly aggressive. Our first home in Atlanta, you may remember, was a townhouse, so we didn't have a significant outdoor living space. But even there, just walking out to let Cooper pee before bedtime, I would easily get five mosquito bites just in the forty-five seconds I was actually outdoors. Like I said: ridiculous.

I am also unfortunately pretty allergic to mosquito bites. I mean allergic in the classic sense--the bites swell up enormously, they get huge and hard and itchy. Like if I got a bite on my forearm, I'd have to take my watch off, that's how swollen we're talking about here. Joe, for some reason, doesn't tend to get bitten by mosquitoes (I've been told that it's a blood type thing? Who knows, either way, he got lucky) but the kids seem to have inherited my predilection for being bitten. At our last home, which we were renting, we had a large, relatively flat backyard with a jungle gym for the kids, but unfortunately the yard was surrounded by brush and it was pretty damp a lot of the time, and as a result, there were so many mosquitoes out there that we couldn't even go outdoors until basically November, after which point it was too cold to go outdoors anyway.

At the old place, we had exterminators come and spray for mosquitoes once a month, which...sort of worked for the first week, but after that (or after it rained, whichever came first) there was an exponential decay of the protective coating created by the spray, and then the mosquitoes came back in full force. And, to be honest, I never really loved the idea of having people come spray our yard with stuff where the instructions explicitly stated that animals and kids should be kept out of the yard for a couple of hours afterwards. Because: ew.

Anyway, when we bought the new place and it became apparent that the backyard was going to be some kind of tropical wonderland, I told Joe that we needed to get a better system for mosquito control. Because we had a nice yard, and the fact of it was that neither I nor the kids would be able to enjoy it at all if we didn't have more stringent measures in place. I mean, not only is our yard like some kind of bug breeding haven, but we're flanked on either side by two shady, ivy-filled gulches. "That's where we'll hide the body," I told Joe during our second viewing of the house. (Whose body? Who can say? Therein lies the mystery.) But as was apparent from our previous house renting experience, it doesn't matter how much you spray--if your neighbors don't spray, or (as was in our case) you don't have neighbors, you're going to have mosquitoes all up in your stuff.

Being a city person, I had no idea what kinds of mosquito control methods would be effective. Those giant citronella Tiki torches everywhere? DEET baths? Surrounding my entire yard in a net? None of these solutions seemed strictly practical. Then a few months ago one of my co-workers recommended that we get some kind of built-in mosquito spraying system. (Hi, Sandra!) She had one put in her extremely mosquito-prone yard years ago, and she told me the difference was like night and day. We didn't consider it at the time because the house we were living at was a rental, but when we moved into this place, I got the number and called the guy for an estimate.

Here's the guy:

His name is Chuck, and as you can clearly see, he is adorable. He's also very nice, and went over the system with me in some detail. Anyway, what his bug system basically does is create a perimeter of protection around any outdoor area that you would like to keep bug free. The core of the system is a reservoir tank of pyrethrum (per the website, a low-toxicity insecticide/insect deterrent derived from flower oil) that mists lightly at regular intervals throughout the day--usually sunup, sundown, and 9:00pm--for 30 seconds each time. The spray is administered through a series of nozzles and tubing that are installed around the perimeter of the property you want to protect--Chuck also recommended interspersing a few nozzles in and around our ivy, since its so thick. So the system mists three times a day (there's also a remote control so that you can have it spray additionally if you want, say, right before you go outside or if you're having a party or something), and...that's it. Per Chuck, it just works. I was hesitant about having anything installed (I didn't want it to be too obtrusive and to ruin our yard), and I wasn't so sure if it would work or not, but everyone just raved about how effective it was (including, it should be noted, the actual traditional exterminator who came for his twice yearly maintenance termite/roach spraying), so after some discussion and some looking at our New House budget, Joe and I decided to get the mosquito system installed.

In terms of the aesthetics of the system--I have no complaints. Chuck said that it would be virtually invisible, and it basically is--all the pictures from my yard yesterday have elements of the bug spraying system in them, but you can't really seem them unless I point them out. The most visible parts, frankly, are the nozzles in the ivy and at the edge of some of the flower beds, and even those are pretty subtle--they just look like thin black pipes with a silver tip. Here's a picture of one in the ivy here (I posted this picture yesterday)--you can kind of see one at the bottom right, and one at the top left of the ivy mound.  Also, if you look at the middle of the tree in the center of the frame, you can see some tubing running up the trunk.  The rest of the apparatus you can barely see at all, mostly because our backyard is fully fenced in, and the fence provides both structure and cover for the tubing and nozzles.

Here's another picture of the system doing its sunset spray--this nozzle is near where we planted the tomatoes:

And well does it work?  Well, let me just say that I've been outside basically all weekend (we've had almost every meal outside since we got back, not to mention we were out in the garden planting all day Sunday), and I've gotten one mosquito bite--one--and that was from when we left the protective bubble of the house to go to the plant-buying place.  ONE.  I know that getting "just" one mosquito bite doesn't sound like a big deal, but if you live in Atlanta and you've been outdoors in the spring and summer (and fall) you know: IT IS A BIG FUCKING DEAL.  And let me tell you, it's just so nice to be able to have the kids running in and out of the house (as they do) without having to wrestle them down to rub insect repellent all over them throughout the day.  We had that "natural" kind that comes in a big chapstick-like thing, which made things a little easier to put on and less slimey, but--not really.

As so, did I mention that Chuck has a black lab mix that looks just like Cooper, only her name is Miss Skeeter?  Nothing is cuter than that, friends.  Nothing.  Except for maybe this jacket.


  1. Anonymous3:44 PM

    i hope it works for you. NOTE: I have one dog (of 6)who is very allergic to the pyreth... (chrysanthamum extract)-- keep an eye on cooper!!

  2. I got to get me one of those jackets!

  3. Boy, I'd love to have that for our yard!

    We have lots of trees, ivy and shrubs too and the mosquitoes have made me a prisoner in our house. We tried the monthly treatment, but our irrigation just washed the chemical away.

    I'd read about systems like this in "Southern Living" and had wondered about the cost.

  4. As a fellow skeeter-hater, let me say: congratulations! Now does Chuck have recommendations for personal-level defense? Being in NYC (and lacking a yard to spray), I basically need to form a protective bubble around me.

  5. What an ingenious system! I grew up in South Florida, where the mosquito trucks would drive through the neighborhoods every evening at sunset, spraying toxins into the air as we rode our bikes. Miraculously, we all survived to adulthood. I think.

  6. I want that jacket! Also, I wish I had a garden. I’ll have to wait to sell my georgia house in a few years to buy substantially small(er) buy something here on the east coast of my own. Though it’ll most likely be a condo/coop... and around here they prob wno’t come with any patch of my own earth.

    ps. your pictures make me want to get a iphone/itouch... as if GF1/G1 and the various other film cameras aren’t enough...

  7. Ok, my cousin is allergic to mosquitoes, and I certainly understand why you want to be rid of them, but did you consider that in a few weeks you won't be able to eat in your yard because of the flies? I'm serious, mosquitoes ignore me, but flies will buzz me mercilessly. And they aren't as picky as mosquitoes.

  8. I'm going to bookmark this so I have an idea of what to look for should I ever end up in mosquito-land :P

    I have the same reactions to mosquito/spider bites! Benadryl creme and other creams don't do a dang thing. One friend recommended a solution that worked really well for me though, ESPECIALLY if you do it early on after being bitten. At home, I tape a cotton ball or gauze pad soaked in wintergreen-scented rubbing alcohol over the bite. It looks funny, but somehow the wintergreen-y stuff cools the burning itchy sensation and the alcohol reduced the swelling on my skin A LOT! I wanted to bathe in it...but that would require many jugs of alcohol and probably wouldn't be very good...

  9. Sounds like mosquitoes find you as irresistible as they do me. Hate 'em.

  10. Oh, and I have the same pollen problem, too. Sigh.

  11. Constance8:45 AM

    I, too, seem to be very attractive to mosquitoes. In fact, if I'm with a group of people, very often I will be the only person bitten multiple times, and everyone else is scott free. Some years ago, I read that taking yeast pills will change how you "smell" to mosquitoes and reduces how often you're bitten. It certainly works for me. You can get yeast pills in the vitamin section or in a health food store. I take one in the morning and one in the evening and presto! Many fewer mosquito bites. It doesn't completely eliminate them, but it greatly reduces how attracted those buggers are to me. It beats having to slather on bug repellent constantly.

    p.s. Your yard is beautiful!

  12. Anonymous8:45 AM

    i heard that if you plant lemongrass in your yard, that would help repel mosquitos. there are a number of other plants that may help also. probably can be googled thru a gardeners website.

    if you eat garlic, that would repel mosquitos. (would repel some people too, but that also could be a good thing)

    also heard that mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing.

  13. Anonymous1:48 PM

    People with ragweed allergies tend to be allergic to the chemical that I think you're talking about. I think this is the same chemical in lice shampoo. Be careful!

  14. Anonymous3:31 PM

    I have the exact same problem. I must look like a hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream to the mosquitoes. I get bit and I get big welts and man do they itch. I can be with a group of people and I'll be flailing around like a maniac trying not to get bit, and smacking the ones that get me, and the other people are just standing there looking at me like I am an idiot.

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that it has to do with the amount of carbon dioxide that you emit. (insert joke about me being full of hot air here) I think that is how the mosquito magnets that run on propane work.


  15. Anonymous1:55 AM

    Out of curiousity, how many pre-orders do you currently have for your book?