Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Natural Pest Repellents; Critter Identification

Side note: I like Blogger’s post schedule / auto publish feature more and more every week. If you read this entry shortly after it’s published, I’ll be at my chiropractor’s office while you see what’s on my mind this week. How cool is that? Okay. So maybe I’m overly fascinated with little things. Still, you have to admit that this is a neat feature.


Last night at Bible study, I caught movement in my peripheral vision – on the wall behind me (the movement was to my right, not directly behind me, of course). I glanced over and saw a small, black spider with a giant, red hourglass pattern. So, of course, I got up and smashed her flat with my notebook, then cleaned up everything. Did you know that, when you smash a black widow against an off-white wall, you can see orange, slimy goop? Me neither. Sorry, but black widows don’t get to live if I come across them; they might not be able to kill me, but they can make me miserable, so off they go.

Now, had my little visitor been a jumping spider, which are very common here, I would have let it be. Jumping spiders aren’t normally dangerous to humans (unless, of course, you have bad reactions to spider bites in general), and they love to catch flies and other nuisances. I also like pretty much every other non-poisonous spider that lurks around here, because many of them are useful to me without being a real threat. The giant garden spiders that make webs all over the place around The Homestead might look scary, what with being really large and all, but they’re harmless as long as I don’t do something to provoke them. (And even if I do tick one off, it’s not capable of killing me, or even putting me in the hospital.)

Fortunately, we live in a part of Texas that has hedge apples, which are also known as horse apples, crab apples, et cetera. They’re excellent, natural repellents, and they don’t smell bad when they’re fairly fresh. I fully intend to grab several and pitch them under the storage building that the black widows are occupying up at the church – I just have to remember to do it, that’s all. (Really, I ought to do a better job of making to-do lists.)

You should, by the way, be aware that hedge apples and livestock don’t necessarily mix well. If one of these suckers gets lodged in an esophagus, you’re going to have some problems.

The hedge apples can also repel German cockroaches, which is great news if you’re looking to avoid those nasty chemicals. Catnip can also do this to the roaches, and the added bonus is that some cats really dig the stuff. If you’re concerned, even a little bit, about roaches wrecking your food stash, I’d look into these two natural repellents. They won’t cost you much, if anything, and you don’t have to do much to get them in place and working, so why not give it a try, right?

I’m just not a big fan of pesticides, folks. Even though some of them do work – and very well, I might add – they don’t discriminate. You’re essentially carpet bombing the area, killing off even beneficial critters. I’m not going to curl up and cry if a ladybug gets creamed or anything like that, but I don’t want to go out of my way to nuke creatures that could be useful to me. As long as I’m not risking my own health or safety in any serious way, I’m going to be kind of selfish by encouraging the non-poisonous creatures to hang out around my house. Nature does a lot of the dirty work for me, from killing mosquitoes to eating rats and other vermin.

Besides: chemicals cost money. Even if you buy over-the-counter stuff, versus hiring an exterminator, you’re still going to have to open your wallet. A lot of the organic pest-control ideas that we use here at The Homestead are either cheap or free. The hedge apples are free, for example. Catnip seeds don’t cost much, and our cats love the stuff, so it’s worth the small investment for more than one reason. Marigold seeds (these flowers are great to plant around your garden – they keep some bugs at bay) are a lot cheaper than even one gallon of pesticide, too.

There are tons of other pest-control ideas out there, too. Try using Google to search for natural ideas for specific problems. When I, for example, search for “black widow repellent,” I get information about hedge apples, among other things. You might have to go through some “Buy our super-awesome pesticide!” types of Web sites to find what you really want, but you can get more-precise results by adding “natural” or “organic” to the beginning of your search query.

Just remember that it’s important to know how various creatures can harm you, if they can do anything to you at all. Find out, for example, what kinds of spiders you have in your area, and which ones are poisonous to you. Do the same thing for snakes, and even plants, because a little reading and Internet searching could reveal a lot of useful knowledge.

Good sources of information include wildlife guides; universities in your area; and county extension services. I like getting online to do most of my research, because it’s quick and free. However, I’d print out information that you find on the Internet, just in case you need access to it if the power’s out or the computer’s gone nutty.

Useful Links:

Iowa State University's page about catnip and other such things -

Iowa State University's page about hedge apples -

A site that sells hedge apples, but also includes interesting information -

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm