Some people seldom get bitten by mosquitoes. I have a good friend who’s a nudist in the best sense of the term. She lives and works alone on a 60-acre farm and keeps a sundress handy in case another person appears. But I can’t imagine how she survives the mosquitoes.
I always wear long pants and high socks in the garden. I don’t wear long sleeves except when it’s cold, and that isn’t often. So before I go out I splash some homemade orange oil on my arms and around my face. It works well in the cool months, but once the rains start I still get attacked. I’m sure I’ve had a thousand or more bites in my lifetime. They don’t bother me nearly as much as they did when I was a child.
Still, I wear a carpenter’s apron with a spray can of stronger repellent in one of the pockets, and when the mosquitoes begin to cloud around me, I spray my clothes. I’m not taking any chances. They can slip right through at least two layers of light fabric.
When I come in, soap and water, necessary in any case, is also the first treatment for any bites or stings. Then I put on more of that orange oil and the itch subsides almost at once and the red mounds disappear within a few hours.
I have, thank God, never been bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus – as far as I know. I was surprised to learn that most people infected by it have no symptoms. About 1 in 5 develop a fever with other symptoms. And less than 1 percent of those infected develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurologic illness, but it’s still important to protect yourself.
I make my orange oil by covering a pan full of citrus peels with water and bringing it to a boil. Then it sits on simmer for perhaps two hours and cools overnight. The liquid I strain through a colander is really not oily but more of an emulsion. I keep it in the refrigerator and freeze some for use when there won’t be any orange juicing – from July until November.
Our citrus season is past but you can still buy citrus from California during the summer and save the peels in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you have enough to fill a pan 3/4 full. For more details and many more ways to use orange oil, check my book “Citrus: How to Grow and Use Citrus Fruits, Flowers, and Foliage.”
Before I learned about orange oil, I used Botanical Outdoor Gel from Neem Tree Farms. Go to neemtreefarms.com on the Web to find all sorts of wonderful Neem products.
Some people swear by Skin So Soft from Avon.
The juice squeezed from the pincecone ginger will keep mosquitoes away for awhile but not for the long term.
My friend Willow LaMonte makes a wonderful natural mosquito repellent from the native Florida beautyberry plant. She collects a number of leaves, crushes them up, puts them in a gallon jar, adds water and makes a sun tea, setting it outside for about two days.
You can also make a traditional infusion with boiled water poured over beautyberry leaves. Let it sit for awhile, then strain, put the liquid in a spritzy bottle and apply the lovely scented water on yourself and your pets before going outside. It will also relieve itching and stinging from past bites.
Today’s pick is the native beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. These shrubs are blooming now with small, inconspicuous flowers but will soon have showy clusters of bright violet BB-sized berries that last through the fall. They’ll grow in sun to light shade but the more sun, the more flowers and fruits.
If possible, plant one within a window view where you can watch the birds that it attracts. It’s highly drought tolerant. The berries are edible, can be used for jellies or just added to a salad for color and added nutrients. They don’t have much flavor alone.
Now’s the time ... to enjoy our local crop of Muscadine grapes. My friends Jimmy and Sally Lee have a wonderful vineyard where you can pick your own at 10251 McIntosh Road in Dover just two miles north of Interstate 4. They have 45 varieties, and you can taste as you pick to get the ones you like best. With all the rains we’ve had the grapes are a bit later to ripen this year. The grapes may last through September but the earlier you go, the more choices you’ll have.
Starting this week they will be open seven days from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The cost is 80 cents per pound. To contact the Lees, call (813) 335-1865.
Thanks to all the people who came to my Book and Plant Sale in July. It was much simpler than my usual Open Garden — shorter hours, less help and stress, and more weeds — so I can do it again in the fall. If you need any of the few but uncommon plants I have or books I’ve written before then, just call (813) 654-1969 to make sure I’m home.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author of 11 gardening books and freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.