Oh naïve girl – I am walking in the tall grass, admiring the view and wearing flip flops and shorts. I know better than to head into the woods, poison ivy and such. But here in the field, surrounded by greenery, I am happy. I sit on a downed tree, stretching my legs to warm them to the sun. I think it is great, to commune with nature on such an up close and personal level.
Mother Nature, however, has a sick sense of humor. An hour later, I casually reach down to scratch an itch by my ankle; it is the beginning of the end. The itching is intense, maddening and growing. From my ankle, up my calf, over my knee, up my thigh and now … my butt, are you kidding me?!? I have long, natural nails, but they just aren’t enough to satisfy this maddening itch. I move to a handy hair brush, then two, using both hands trying to scratch everything at once. The more I scratch, though, the worse it gets. My skin is red and hot and if I thought it would help, I would peel it off. What is going on?? I put on my glasses, but I see nothing! I get a magnifying glass, and now I can see tiny, infinitesimal red dots … what the heck is this? Poison ivy, poison oak, allergic reaction to something, what the heck? “Chiggers” the druggist says. “Chiggers? Chiggers?” I repeat like some demented parrot. “What are chiggers and how do I stop this itching?” I am in public, so I cannot do what I would love to do right now … scratch … OOOHHH, I want to scratch my butt!! I get an antihistamine, some cream to help with the itch and a lecture on what chiggers are and where they lurk. Lesson learned; never again, I tell myself.
Here’s what I learned: Chiggers are small, tiny mites that hang out in long grass, dead wood, leaves, etc. In other words, they are EVERYWHERE in the country. They love to attack soft, tender skin, ankles, behind knees, butts, but will also just go where ever they can gain access. Once they bite you, even killing them does not stop the itching. It is the enzyme in the saliva that makes you itch and that must wear off on its own. They are tiny enough to get through clothing with an open weave. If you are ever silly enough to sit on a downed tree, well, don’t say I didn’t try and warn you.
So, yes again, Arkansas does have a number of irritating bugs. Bugs that bite, bugs that sting, bugs that dive bomb you with military precision, bugs that latch onto you in the most inaccessible places and dare you to try and remove them. They are everywhere and there are legions of them. And in keeping with the natural, wholesome, pesticide-free attitude I have, I allow Mother Nature to help me keep the bug population here on the farm in check.
Lesson learned: The grass is cut regularly and short. The chickens and turkeys are allowed free range. They line up side by side and begin their back and forth march across the lawn first thing in the morning. Insects groggy from the cooler nights are easy pickings. They rarely stray from their place in line, unless someone finds an exceptionally large and juicy meal. Then the race is on as the original finder tries to get it eaten before the rest of the group muscles their way in. And soon to join the clean up squad, 19 Guinea hens … or the Guinea Gang as I like to call them.
Early Morning Rest
Flies can be a real bother when you have livestock and lots of livestock poop. Horses and pigs leave attractive piles of odorous dung everywhere. How can grass produce that much poop? I would say it is scientifically impossible, but the proof litters my pasture. The manure must be picked up or spread out so that it dries quickly and does not make a breeding hot spot for flies. And what an assortment of flies, horn flies, house flies, stable flies, deer flies, horse flies, oh, the list goes on and on. Fly predators, available online, target the larvae of the fly. Turkeys and chickens are the greatest gift a farmer can have. When allowed to free range, they quickly learn the advantage of following the horses around. Within minutes of being “deposited,” most manure piles are quickly scratched into flat, well scattered, quickly drying bits. No poop piles means less flies. I am thrilled to death not to have to be dragging a dump cart and manure shovel around. Is it any wonder I give the birds some special treat daily? They earn every single piece of watermelon, every grape or strawberry, and whatever else I have to share. They take care of me, and I take care of them.
Turkeys and Chickens Feeding
Honey bees, though, are great gentle friends, buzzing from flower to flower, rarely stinging unless provoked and providing an invaluable service to farmers. They pollinate our crops and flowers, and they provide us with the most delicious sweetener around. There are many people in my region of Arkansas that head for the farmers markets first thing in the spring to buy raw local honey. I have been told by some of the wise “ol timers” here that if you suffer from hay fever and other spring allergies, than locally produced raw honey is the ticket to relief. The bees make honey from the local flowering plants, and yes, that includes weed flowers. Taking a spoonful or two of honey daily allows your body to get small doses of the spores, allowing your body to build up immunity gradually. Kind of like the shots they give without the “Ouch!” Plus it tastes good.
On the other side of the fence is the nasty, however, is that bad tempered stinger known as the wasp or hornet. They come with a variety of names – paper wasp, hornet, yellow jacket, ground bees. These are all a type of bee and have very bad tempers. I think ground Bees or yellow jackets are the scariest. You can see the nests of the other wasps well enough to wait until the cool of evening or nightfall to spray them. You do not have that luxury with Yellow Jackets. They like to place their nests in abandoned mouse or mole tunnels. Hence the danger, you do not know they are they until it is too late. I am so proud of my new 25 HP, hydrostatic, automatic, 54” wide lawn tractor. When they get this big they are no longer called grass cutters. I am getting more country by the day. So, in order to keep the Chiggers at bay, I cut the grass regularly and short. I am just tooling around the property on my cutter, minding my own business, when I get a sharp stabbing “thunk” to the side of my neck. I look around, thinking I have ricocheted a rock off of a tree…but no trees nearby. A couple of feet later another whack, this one on the other side. What the…?? I stop the tractor but leave the blades of the mower running…big mistake. Now I am getting hit on the arms and legs and a second later I am surrounded by a cloud of yellow jackets…OUCH, OUCH, OUCH, OUCH and OUCH!! I jump off of the tractor, thank heavens it has an auto shut off built into the seat, and high step it to the house. Did you know that Yellow Jackets do not give up the chase that easily? Determined little buggers. How I wish I had a video camera, with my arms flailing about, spinning and swatting, it must have been a sight. I head into the house and jump into the shower clothes and all, turning both taps on full force. I gleefully stomp every wasp hitting the bottom of the tub with giddy pleasure, TAKE THAT, THAT and THAT!!! Down the drain they go. I did not get stung on the face….is that a wasp comment on my looks perhaps? My arms and legs have a few rapidly rising welts that throb. I head into the kitchen, take an onion, put it in a plastic bag and smash it to a pulp, which is then smeared onto the stings. OK, so even the dogs won’t come near me, but the pain is rapidly subsiding. Come nightfall, armed with a flashlight and a bottle of wasp killer, I sneak out to my tractor. I always try to use natural alternatives, but this calls for chemical warfare. Weapons of mass Yellow Jacket destruction, full steam ahead. I do not even start up the tractor, I merely pull the lever to put it into neutral and push it off of the nest. I can see the hole clearly now. I quickly pour the contents of the bottle into the nest and then, in a true biblical sense, roll the largest rock available to cover the entrance. I feel that my sense of justice has been served. Oh, I am all for live and let live, but not when it comes to these guys. I am not sorry, as a matter of fact, I feel pretty good, I am avenged!
That is the thing about country living…everything comes full circle. Just watch out that it doesn’t come around so fast that it bites you in the butt, and leaves you itching for days. DARN CHIGGERS!!!
Future Bug Eaters
In case you missed Part I of Nina's story, just click here.