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DIY Insect Repellent

By Catherine Winter

Here in Quebec, we really only have two seasons: winter, and mosquito. Black Fly may be considered a transitional period, usually from mid May to late June, but as I live in the forest, mosquito season lasts from …oh, as soon as the snow melts, to once it begins to fall once again.
Since we try to avoid harmful chemicals like DEET, we generally whip up batches of our own insect repellents in the hope of being slightly less of a smorgasbord for the blood-sucking jerks.

DIY repellents such as these listed below can be quite effective alternatives to their more toxic counterparts, but you have to be diligent when applying them, as they tend not to last as long as store-bought offerings.

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Essential oils (EO) are key to keeping biting insects away, and the EO that have proven most effective are:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Clove
  • Geranium
  • Peppermint

So far, tea tree oil seems to work really well against ticks, chiggers, and deer flies, while citronella, lemon, and eucalyptus are ideal for fending off mosquitos and black flies. Some studies claim that geranium combined with peppermint is also a great combination to keep mosquitoes away.
It’s advised that you don’t use full-strength EO directly on your skin, but rather mix them with with a carrier of some sort before applying them.
The exception to undiluted application is if you daub a few drops of oil to outer clothing, like socks, jackets wrists, hat brims, etc. Basically, in places where the oil isn’t going to come into direct contact with your skin.

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This salve is great for slathering between your toes and around your ankles if you’re in tick territory. I also rub it around my wrists before putting on gardening gloves, as well as around my hairline and behind my ears when I wear a sun hat.
It’s proven to be remarkably effective at keeping black flies away, and although mosquitoes may still land on me, they don’t bite or stick around long.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons beeswax or carnauba wax pellets

Heat the olive oil in a double burner, heavy (small) saucepan, microwave container… whatever you can heat it up in without burning it. Don’t let it boil: just warm it thoroughly.
Remove from heat, and add in the wax pellets, stirring constantly with a whisk to make sure they’re all melty.
Add 20 drops each of peppermint and lemon eucalyptus essential oils, then pour the mixture into a small jar or tin and allow to cool.
Apply before going outside.

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I like this spray for larger skin areas (like my back, calves, and shoulders) when I go hiking, or if I’m walking into town. The 2km walk from my house to the main road is flanked by forest on either side, so it’s a bit like running a mosquito gauntlet unless I smell unappetizing to them.

  • Water
  • Witch hazel
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Lemon, citronella, tea tree, rosemary, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint, or regular eucalyptus essential oil

Create a 20:80 mix of water:witch hazel in an 8oz or 10oz spray bottle. Then add a teaspoon of glycerin, and 30 drops of essential oil.
Spray yourself with this mixture before heading outside, and re-apply when the scent begins to fade.
Note: If you have a negative skin reaction, or if you really don’t like the smell, discontinue use.

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You don’t want to get this stuff in your eyes, but it’s a heavy-duty option if you’re going to be working outside for a while and you really don’t want to get bitten. Not only does it smell quite strong, but you’ll taste disgusting to any insect that dares land on you.

  • 1/3 cup unscented liquid castile soap like Dr Bronner’s.
  • 30 drops essential oil of your choice. If you’ve chosen to use a scented Dr. Bronner’s soap (like mint or eucalyptus, etc.) choose the same or complementary EO scent.Before you go out into the woods, or do any gardening outside, apply this liberally to your any exposed skin. Once you’re finished outside, hop into the shower and wash it all off. Bonus point: you’ll be pre-soaped.This lotion is better for adults and teenagers, since we’re slightly less likely to get a mouthful of soap after licking drippy ice cream or whatnot off our skin.

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A Final Note

The usual caveats stand: people (and animals) react different ways to different essential oils, so do a bit of research first to determine which are safe for you and your kids/pets/etc. Some children react badly to clove or lemon oil on their skin, tea tree can be harmful if licked off by cats and dogs, and if you’re allergic to conifers like pine or spruce trees, you might react to rosemary as well.

Do small skin patch tests before hosing yourself down with any of this stuff, and if you have any hesitations about using any of this, speak to an herbalist, aromatherapist, or naturopath first. Or, stick with commercial insect repellents that you already know and trust.

Be safe, be healthy, and enjoy your time outside!

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Beneficial Insects and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

If you’ve already started seeds for this year’s garden, you likely have several different vegetable and herb seeds sprouting merrily. What a lot of people forget to do, however, is include a variety of flowers and herbs that will help attract beneficial insects as well.
There are a number of plant species that can draw specific insects to your space, so if you’ve had particular issues that you’d like to address without the use of harmful insecticides, read on!

Organic Pest Control


Braconid Wasps

These creep me right the hell out so I’m going to write about them first to get them out of the way. Members of the Braconidae family, these parasitic wasps lay their eggs into the skin of caterpillars and beetle larvae. Once the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the host’s internal organs until they reach maturity, at which point they bugger off.
Ew ew ew, but hey, they’ll kill the cabbage moth larvae eating your organic kale.

Which plants do they like?
These wasps love small-flowered flowers and herbs that produce a fair amount of nectar. Yarrow, coriander, dill, fennel, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and sweet alyssum are sure to coax them to your garden.



You’ve probably seen these delicate beauties clinging to your porch or window screen if a porch light has drawn them close. Their larvae look like alligators and are sometimes referred to as “aphid lions” because of how voraciously they devour the wee beasties. They also eat caterpillars, thrips, and whiteflies.

Which plants do they like?
Yarrow, caraway, angelica, cosmos, fennel, coreopsis, mallows, dill, tansy, sunflowers, and dandelions.


Ladybugs (aka Ladybirds)

Adorable and colourful, these happy-looking little beetles annihilate aphids, spider mites, and various other teensy soft-bodied critters. If you haven’t seen many in your area, you can usually buy them at your local garden centre.

Which plants do they like?
Butterfly weed, coriander, yarrow, dill, tansy, cinquefoil, fennel, vetch, buckwheat, calendula.


A Good Water Source

Remember that insects need water to wash down all those bad bugs they’ve been eating, so make sure they have a source of clean drinking water handy. If you have a pond or marshy area on your property, they should be okay, but for everyone else, it’s recommended that you make a couple of watering areas.

The easiest way is to pour a layer of pebbles, marbles, or decorative stones in the bottom of a ceramic planter pot, and keep enough water in it to **almost** cover the pebbles. This will give the insects safe places to land while they drink.
Remember, most of these happy bugs have wings, and if they don’t have an easy water source when they’re thirsty, they’ll fly elsewhere.

Please don’t use commercial pesticides!

If you need to use some kind of pesticide, please use methods that are low impact, natural, and/or biodegradable, rather than full of toxic chemicals. You can get repel slugs from the garden with copper strips, use neem for various mites, ants, and beetles, etc. There are many different options that won’t harm the beneficial bugs in your garden, nor seep into the soil to poison plant life.

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By MK Martin

I have yet to perfect Hygge. For those of you who didn’t see the ubiquitous feed post concerning this ‘art’, it is all about enjoying winter. Enjoying the books by cozy fires, the spiced drinks, the rich food, the cheer and the togetherness. I love books, but reading by the fire makes me overheat. Hot drinks for me are coffee or Earl Grey. Do not offer me other things, I am not interested in a spice cabinet-filled wine cup. Rich food is lovely, for the feast days, the days after the harvest and in the middle of lining up food for winter. Cheer is something that wanes after a day or so, and togetherness becomes cloying once all the baubles of holiday have been packed away. I will take some turns tromping through the deepening snow, to capture rare moments of crystalline rainbow refraction through the ice, to feel the far away sun on my face and to clean my lungs with deep, hidden breaths.


After a few turns, though, give me spring. Give me melting snow and ephemeral ice on the trails, turning into puddly poo ponds: the stuff that will give us trout lily, ramps, and morels in what seems like the blink of an eye. Give me blustery, moorish mornings with ruffled robin feathers and lost umbrellas. Give me birdsong. The cacophonous cackle of the grackle, the invisible staccato of the chickadee, the crooning cry or startled whinny of the mourning dove all blending together into beauty, even though the songs themselves are territorial. Give me rain. Fat bullet drops hurtling toward the earth and spitting in my eye, or fine, hazy mist, covering the awakening green with eye catching droplets, curling my hair and surrounding my skin with negative ions. Paint me in dirt and line my pockets with seeds.


For me, getting through winter isn’t about enjoying it for what it is. It’s all about The Dream. Every year at Imbolc (St. Brigid’s, February 1st), for the past 8 years, I begin The Dream for the gardening season. This year’s dream is the most photogenic yet, with lovingly put together brown paper Jardiniere journals (no lines!) and handmade ceramic receptacles filled with pens, pre-season clay pot sales and piles of heirloom seed catalogues.


Arranged, just so, I feel that Martha glow. If you didn’t know, Martha has her garden planning calendar available for all to see, where we can discover there is no time off when it comes to gardening. As soon as your dirt is frozen and slumbering, you should be scouring your resources, planning your rotation, and penciling in your sow by dates.


We began in zone 4b eight years ago and had three, charmed, food-filled years, free of pesticides and glorious weather. And then, things began to change. We are now considered zone 5a, and the weather has been confused for awhile. We are still trying to clean our groundwater from the two years neighbours poured roundup onto their ancient chestnut tree, so, this year will see pots of salad and steaming greens, herbs and carrots, while I work toward making our main beds home to flowers. The initial journey was about food security, but over the years, one’s eye begins to focus closer upon the intricacies and smallness of garden workings.


As the collective mind shifts, and access to quality CSA produce increases, the food security that becomes most important right now is that of the bee, the bird, the bat, insects of all kinds and the worm. We’ve even attracted a fox this far up, to set after the bunchy bunnies that have moved in. Our ‘sleepy’ town has begun to burst at the seams in the name of progress, destroying long standing habitats, flushing creatures out. The community complains a fox can be see in plain sight during the day, rather than all stopping together, to admire it and send it on its way. These are creatures for whom time has no
meaning, as life is the clearest meaning of all, and they never question their purpose. Freedom is in their function.


My hope is to create a symbiotic space, more than just feeding out of hand. To be a haven for plants long slandered as weeds, brush the native seeds of wildflower-lined trails from my clothes into the grass, and see what else we can invite.


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Death Bee

By C.E. Young

I’d never seen a bee as big as Death Bee, a bee so large I noticed him by his shadow first, a disc out of the corner of my eye that had to be either a fairy or—hope against hope—an honest-to-goodness hummingbird. I live in Detroit. I’ve seen a hummingbird once in my 50 years here. A half-century missing the simple magic of that. Except fairies and hummers didn’t buzz, and when I say “buzz” I mean vibrate, and when I say “vibrate” I mean Rodan. In the span of 5 seconds I went from guy sitting in his backyard trying to read a book over the noise of the neighborhood, to facing head-on the truth that here there be monsters. Death Bee.

Fat but agile as a guided missile. Black and yellow war bands. Wings that likely cut flesh. Six hairy trunks that served as legs. ‘Roids or insane workout sessions, who knows? I only knew I’d never seen a bee that large. He might have been one of the mutated Africanized killer bees whose coming was part of city-lore since the 70s. (It was hard enough as a Black kid to find positive reflections in the United States, now I had to worry about African bees adding to the false threat narrative too?) Would an Africanized killer bee respect diasporic brotherhood? No, it would impale me on the 8 inch switchblade it hid in its ass. I’m a big man. 6’2”. Couple hundred pounds.

Which is to say that I ran.


Death Bee didn’t follow. It staked out a position near the section of my privacy fence closest to the back porch (1: my reading spot; 2: of damn course) and patrolled. If I came near that spot it advanced. I backed away, he resumed normal military stance. There were no flowers there. Nothing of obvious value to Death Bee or any other bee. I had to assume this was a show of force as a prelude to invasion.

My backyard was the only peace I had in this hellish neighborhood, and that only when most of the neighbors remained indoors. I was not giving that up. I recall thinking—as I dashed up the porch steps, threw myself at the door, and hoped to all gods that anyone bumbling into my yard didn’t suffer too much—This far, no further. Research elevated Man from bee. I didn’t want to do a whole scorched-Earth campaign of the backyard. There were tomato plants and zucchini growing back there, for gods’ sakes.

I looked out the window and I saw Death Bee patrolling and I knew that, as frightened as I was, I would not kill. It’d be too much like watching Godzilla die, and nobody…nobody needed to see that.

Non-lethal measures it was, then. I consulted the greatest source of life I knew: Catherine Winter, writer, artist, grower, high priestess of Whee. I truly didn’t want to kill anything in the yard (collateral damage to centipedes and mosquitos: acceptable); regular bees and crickets and spiders—they all had their places. A Death Bee, though, was an affront to gods and civilization. Especially one with so much attitude (I swear I saw it watching the back door, waiting for me to come out, Rambo face paint across its fuzzy face, red bandana ready to slowly tie across its forehead). I knew there were a billion chemicals I could use, but I also knew that when I used those chemicals (and yes, I have) and the wind blew any of their spray back toward me I ran like mad from caustic cancer fleshburn hell.

“I only want to scare it,” I said. “What makes bees go away?”

“Neem oil,” she said. I found out where I could get it. I bought it. I bought a sprayer. A good one. The ‘Nuke It From Orbit’ variety. But I waited. I didn’t spray immediately. A day had passed between spotting Death Bee and getting the Neem. Side note: Death Bee and the Neem is a helluva band name. Maybe Death Bee was gone, rejoined its fellow mutant bees or been captured by aliens for anal probing. He was big enough for that.

I opened the back door. It was early. It was quiet. Won’t say “too quiet” because, y’know, effing city life, but the air was still on that summer day. It was as if the Earth wanted me to listen.

Then I heard it.

The buzzing.

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Death Bee didn’t merely buzz. Death Bee was a running chainsaw perched on the edge of the bathroom sink and about to fall onto a baby, and you knew you had to catch it in your bare hands no matter what. That’s the flavor of dread that sudden abundance of zzzzzs elicited. The inevitability of doom. The reminder of mortality.

I ran outside to take its measure, curiously emboldened by my fear. Death Bee hovered into view, darted at me (by then I was already halfway across the lawn. Yes, I waved my arms and hands spastically aloft. Why do you ask?), then resumed stealth mode by the fence. What about that section of fence made it so appealing? It was an old, rickety wooden fence. Death Bee was no borer bee, no. Death Bee was munitions. He’d be the first one pushing the plunger down to blow the fence so neither of us could have it. So I began to wonder was there something on the other side he was protecting? Some huge Kalahari Death Bee mound in my neighbor’s yard behind the vines and weeds he never got around to attending abutting the fence?

I tuck-n-rolled back into the house and considered things. The neighbor had dogs, so I didn’t want to spray over the fence. I would be precise with my nuclear-option sprayer. I would wait until very early the next day, attach the sprayer to the hose, and begin.

The neighborhood would learn to love the smell of Neem in the morning.

Neem actually smells quite good. An oily, minty, brown mouthwashy goodness. If I were Death Bee I’d stand in the stream of the spray with my mouth open and thank me for the service. But I trusted Cate’s wealth of knowledge. If there’s one person I’d follow into purgatory to plant a small patch of seeds, it’s Catherine Winter. So I sprayed. I sprayed the entire length of the fence. I sprayed the porch. No sign of Death Bee, so I sprayed again. I went inside, let it dry, and came back out. There was no Death Bee.

Until there was.

He rotored quickly into view and he was pissed. In my mind I countered with I pay the ridiculous mortgage on this house! anger for anger. The Neem was supposed to have worked! I didn’t have a baseball bat or a sword but I did have a flyswatter. If Death Bee wanted a piece of me he was going to have to come get some.

But then I remembered that my brother was deathly allergic to bee stings; that I’d never been stung; that I did not want to learn by field study if I was deathly allergic, and that I’d once had a bee fly up my shirt sleeve and terrorize me for either 5 hours or 8 seconds—who can tell?—by pretending it wanted nothing more than to get out. My mother told me to be still and it would fly out, but, as Lou Reed sang in Last Great American Whale, you can’t always trust your mother. I whipped my arm around and flung it out like a sling. I also ran like hell when it came out. Past is future.

Memory exists to keep us from killing ourselves repeatedly.

I ran again.

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Day 3.

More research was needed. I knew that bees were endangered but I didn’t think they were endangered in my city. I knew bees weren’t wasps (assholes) or yellow jackets (assholes). I knew the old saw that if you left bees alone they’d leave you alone. But Death Bee behaved as if he were the Amun-Ra of bees: he had no fear, brooked no trespass. And he apparently snorted Neem like cocaine because he’d gotten increasingly Tony Montana-ish.

What I did not know, however, was that bees weren’t a no-have option. Bees were dying. Everywhere. It seemed unimportant…until you researched it. You realized not only were they important, they were crucial to every benefit we receive from agriculture. Bees were frikkin’ life. A butterfly’s wings might cause a tsunami but a bee’s butt gave us string beans and yams. One way or another, they gave us string beans and yams.

Was there a way to live with Death Bee? Of course not, he was maniacal. But I will admit to respecting him a wee bit more. Also, I neemed the hell out of that space for the rest of the week. An absolutely unbelievably minty fresh yard. Some days Death Bee was there, some days not.

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Until one day he wasn’t. And the next. And one more. Understand, I’d never seen a single other huge bee besides Death Bee this entire time. Or let’s say I never saw more than one Death Bee at a time, one huge bee that would register on a scale and grin an evil grin about it. I never found out what kind of bee it was. Never knew where it came from, why it picked my yard, where it went. I knew, however, that I’d never buy a commercial insecticide again. Regular bees flitted among the flowers of my zucchini plants. I was cool with them. I had no desire to harm anything outside, really (except centipedes and mosquitos. Maybe flies). I could live on this planet; they could live on this planet. I could read; they could pollinate. And if ever there was contention, it could be handled without loss of life. That’s a small epiphany but it’s huge.

So was Death Bee some guide sent to teach me a lesson? The lesson being neem oil is addictive to humans. Could be. Maybe I’d forgotten to appreciate the bio part of life as I’d sat there that summer day with the guts of a dead tree dipped in magic in my hand (if you want to know what I was reading, it’s called There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton; writer love 4 ever yo). That’s very likely. We all know bees are dying everywhere. We know lots of things are. And we know pretty much we’re the ones killing them. Conglomo-murder. We’ll kill anything if it lands on our plastic fork at a picnic.

But a lot of us aren’t interested in killing. We just want to read good books in the summer air and chill.

While keeping watchful eyes out for any Death Bees we might find.