NC OBX Soap

Memorial Day is here and summertime’s calling!   That summer ringtone means the beach in North Carolina.  We are blessed to have a variety of terrain and seasons in our home state of NC.  Where’s your favorite beach?  From the wild barrier islands to family-friendly open beaches, North Carolina has a coastal home for everyone.  No matter where your getaway is, summer means sand, salt, & sipping something cold.  And we’re right on time.

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Welcome home!  (photo by Todd DeSantis)

 

 

Meet our new OBX Sea Salt Soap.  I’ve made it with real sea salt – but only a touch, since it can be drying in large amounts.  In this bar, we get the benefit of the detoxifying properties of sea salt – you know, the kind of seaweed wraps and salt scrubs from fancy spas – and still soothing that sun-worn skin.  The fragrance is a combination of salty ocean air and warm beach grass that brings back the best of the beach (skipping the gritty sand in your pants and fake coconut sunscreen smell).  We finished it off with the Carolina blue sky color and NC stamp that keeps your beach vacation top of mind.

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Take NC’s beaches home and leave the shells for next time

Our Carolina OBX Sea Salt Soap is perfect to take with you on vacation, or to preserve it  when you have to return to reality.  It’s also a sweet gift to thank any beach house host you may be visiting this summer!  Match our OBX soap with a jar of our NC honey and our new Sweet Tea Lip Balm, and you’ve got a beach bag stocked with summer.

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The NC summer beach bag – scents & flavors to keep the vacation going

Maybe you just need a small thank you or a bunch of them.  Got you covered.  All of our soap bars, lip balms, small honey jars and lotion bars each fit (individually) in our mini drawstring bags.  Great teacher gifts, thank yous, or NC favors.  All are available now in our Etsy shop or direct if you know how & where to reach me (hint: click here).

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Give some home this summer

Even if you are only vacationing in your mind, take some time to savor the sweet gifts of the summer season.  Southerners talk slow for a reason.  Slow down and join in.

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NC tea means iced & sweet – lemon optional but highly valued

 

 

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Why Your Mosquito Treatment isn’t Working

Some buzzes are better than others.  Gardeners know this.  The hum of the visiting bumblebee – good.  The high pitched whine of the blood seeking mosquito – bad.  Bugs in the garden are a good thing, unless they are after my skin which is why mosquitos and fire ants are my swore enemies.  But in spring, I start seeing the biggest scare tactic landscape scam pulled on homeowners.  It looks something like this…

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Enjoy your yard again!

I think the pitch would be less appealing to homeowners if branded like this …

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You’ll have fewer butterflies, birds, frogs, lizards, and maybe mosquitos!…

But that would be a different marketing approach, and probably a failed one.  People want to believe in the “smart weapon” approach.  “I hate mosquitos.  This bottle/company/sales rep tells me they will eliminate mosquitos.  I’ll take it!”  But what they aren’t leading with, is that these chemicals are general insecticides.  They kill insects.  All of them.  Just because the bottle shows a mosquito, doesn’t mean the butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and ladybugs got a memo saying “not intended to kill you.”  This process is the equivalent of controlling crabgrass in your yard by spraying Roundup on the entire thing.  Many of these companies leave warnings to wait before using treated areas, cover pet food/water dishes, shut windows, and cover children’s toys.  Why?  To reduce exposure.  You got the memo, but the bugs didn’t.

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The active ingredient in these landscape pesticides is usually from the pyrethrin family, basically a nerve agent for bugs.  To boot, most are organically derived!  So it must be good.  (Then again, arsenic is organic too.)  These chemicals are USDA approved and are perfectly legal to buy and use.  (It’s worth noting here that as a beekeeper, I need a vet to visit my hives and write a prescription for disease treatments.  But insect killer is readily available at any big box store.  Go figure.).   Pyrethroids – synthetic pyrethrins – are highly toxic to fish and cats.  Even dogs can show pyrethrin poisoning.  That’s why you are warned to cover bowls and keep animals off treated areas until dry.

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What makes these insecticides worse is the way they are applied.  It usually involves the ‘more dead bugs is better’ approach.  Backpack mounted sprayers are the weapon of choice for the residential service companies.  They blast a fine mist of pyrethrins on to plants (flowering & not) in the middle of the day when beneficial insects are most active and the mosquitos are at rest.  Homeowners contract these services to provide insect control inside their tidy property lines.  Never mind that next door mosquitos could be breeding like rabbits (or mosquitos) only to drift back over come dusk.  Every 3 weeks this scenario plays out as the company returns to terminate the offending bugs.  And resistance builds.  During the 2016 Zika virus breakout, the EPA acknowledged that mosquito control was less effective than hoped because of mosquito resistance to insecticides.

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Full disclosure – I’m not a hater.  I prefer natural measures but I do use pest control when needed.  But the key to effective treatment is identification.  Do I really have a problem and do I know what it is?  Knowing your enemy allows you to choose the most direct and effective approach for control with the least unintended consequences.  I realize alternatives may be less convenient than stroking a check for yard treatment, but they are often cheaper, more responsible, and more effective.

We generally overlook the natural (and FREE) lethal garden security forces already in our yards – beneficial insects.  These are the real tactical threat to landscape pests.  A strong force of frogs, toads, birds, birds, bats, spiders, predatory wasps, ladybugs and praying mantis is a hearty check on any runaway insect population.  These guys are voracious feeders on just the pests we want to be rid of.  Consider purchasing some of these beneficials to release in your yard.  It’s great fun to release lady bugs whose cheery spots bely their hungry aphid appetites.  Go get ’em girls.

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Assassin bugs are the hit men of the insect world.  Get them working for you.

Next level?  Mosquito birth control.  There are obvious ideas like eliminating standing water areas (birdbaths, empty pots, overturned toys,etc.). But you can go a step further and interrupt the population.  It starts with those donut-shaped mosquito dunks in your local garden center.  They are made with BTI, a bacteria larvicide toxic only to mosquitos – not humans, fish or wildlife.  Early spring is the best time to start.  Put out some small area of shallow water (empty cans, old tupperware, etc.) with a dunk in each.  Female mosquitos will be lured in to lay their eggs, which will never develop into adults.  This halts the breeding cycle.  Leaving no one left to bite.

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Mosquito birth control!

If you missed the boat there, consider the great advances in repellents.  Our family has used Thermacell units with great success in buggy times.  The newer models cover even greater distances.  Permethrin clothing sprays are handy to apply to outdoor gear.  (You can even buy clothes with it built in).  This holds up for several washes and repels all sorts of biting things (chiggers and ticks most notably).  Permethrin is made from the pyrethrin family but since it is in your fabric, not being broadcast across the flower bed, it’s activity is highly targeted.  Then there is the standard issue citronella and spray-on repellents.  Your mileage may vary.

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Thermacell repellents

Next time you see a ladybug scampering up a stem or a wren nabbing a beetle you can admire your volunteer pest control force.  By combining several of these measures, you can work towards a landscape that is enjoyable for you and the insects we have working on our side.  Thanks for thinking it through.

 

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Native Carpenters, Not Boring Bees

What’s eating my deck??  A neighbor of mine recently started this conversation.  So I thought it might be fitting to make an introduction – meet the Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica.  It’s name actually means ‘wood worker’ in Greek.)  These are the shiny black, thumb-sized buzzers investigating everyone’s deck and house this time of year.  They hover around the house at eye level challenging you to elementary school style staring contests.  What’s up with these guys?

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Image by Philly Honeyfest

Carpenter bees are one of our native superstar pollinators.  These guys are often confused with bumblebees – due to similar size and color.   An easy difference to distinguish is the fuzz.  Bumbles are furry, Carpenters are mostly shiny.   They are most active in spring and fall as they emerge, mate, and prepare nest cavities.  If you like blueberries, tomatoes, melons or peppers these are some of the hardest working bees we have.  Tomatoes in particular are known to set heavier fruit when pollinated by Carpenter bees.  (Greenhouse growers raise these bees specifically for this purpose).

Even if you just like bird or wildlife in your yard, it is these pollinators who are doing the heavy lifting converting flowers into food for the other locals.  The fact that they are natives makes them highly valuable.  They willingly and happily live right in our yards to do their critical pollinating work, requiring nothing of us.  Except maybe patience.

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Image by Kansas State Extension

These are solitary bees who lay eggs in wooden tunnels, and stuff them with food for the future larvae.  The females lay eggs in the wood cavities (also known as ‘galleries’ – sounds fancy, right?) and hang around to meet and defend their offspring who grow throughout the summer and emerge in the fall to feed before clustering for the winter. This time of year wooden decks, swing sets, fences and houses make attractive structures for them to investigate.  Often the males will hover around existing nest sites, defending the area to other bees (and hummingbirds, humans, etc.) who might be moving in on their turf.
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I get it.  The wood boring part is annoying, especially when it is in something we value.  Technically they are chewing – not eating or boring.  They toss the resulting shavings outside or pack them like particle board along the cavity walls.  My husband has a love/hate with these insects. So what to do?  Offer alternatives.  Carpenter bees greatly prefer soft, unfinished wood for their galleries.  Where none exists, they will choose stained or treated wood but generally don’t recognize painted wood.  They are looking for raw wood – so let’s give them some!  Here are a few ideas:
  • All natural – Leave a small pile of brush, wood pile in your yard.  Don’t spray any chemicals or insecticides and see if they go the natural route.  In reality this is what they are looking for.
  •  Make a condo – A simple unfinished block of wood with a bunch of holes drilled in it offers them an easier nest site than your deck. But size matters. Hole size should be 1/2” diameter and about 3-4” deep.   If possible mount the block 3+ feet off the ground. Offer multiple size holes 1/8″ – 1/2″ to attract a range of different natives.  Drill on the end grain to make it even more appealing.
  • Give them their own house – Many local garden centers sell solitary bee houses that are quite attractive.  Hang these early in the spring to give the Carpenters an easy choice.
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Store-bought – Image by amazon

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DIY condo – Image by Bugblog

What if they have already moved in to your deck?  Carpenter bees are attracted to existing holes.  These can and should be plugged with cork or dowels and sanded to match.  Do this after the holes have been vacated!  Otherwise, they will chew through your fix.  When a neighbor asks what you are doing, you can casually respond “Oh, I’m just filling my galleries.”  Carpenter bee traps exist but obviously kill the insects and reduce our native bee population.  Use them as a last resort.
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The promise

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Unintended result

Insecticides are a terrible option. They kill all insects (butterflies, ladybugs, bees etc.) and the wildlife which feed on them (birds, toads, salamanders, etc).  I realize many insecticides show the big NO mosquitos logo.  But they fail to disclose that pyrethrins (the common and even organic sprays) are general purpose killers.  These are nerve agents that kill all bugs dead – on contact.  Spraying for insects in our landscapes destroys the food chain of wildlife, including us – especially if you garden, bird watch, or keep chickens.
I’m working on a separate post on mosquitos, as this is the time of year those neighborhood signs start popping up promising a bug-free outdoors.  It might be a chance to save you some money and defend our superheroes.   Keep an eye out for that and this spring, try offering our native bees the natural home they seek and they may just pollinate your garden and skip your deck.