When I started at Cornell Cooperative Extension in the mid-1970s, I was told that there was no way I should give home remedies to customers looking for information. The reason, of course, were liability concerns. If I suggested a home remedy that either didn’t work or caused harm, the university could be held liable for my bad advice. All of the information I was allowed to share was based on scientific research carried out by universities, government agencies, or more often chemical companies looking to sell their products. When it came to making recommendations for pesticides, I was told: “The label is the law”. If a particular pest was not listed on the product label, it was a criminal offense to use it against that particular pest. I almost lost my job early on when I jokingly suggested in one of my Home and Garden newsletters that a live chicken could be used to clean soot and creosote off a chimney. I told readers to tie a rope around the chicken’s legs and pull it up and down the chimney. The birds flapping their wings would effectively remove the soot. A local poultry farmer didn’t see the humor in my comment, and neither did the local PETA people.
Now that I’m happily retired and not getting paid for my advice, I can suggest home remedies that may or may not work and let readers try them for themselves if they so choose. This week I’ll be sharing some home remedies that readers have suggested or that I have used myself.
Perhaps the most common pest control questions I’ve had over the past few years are related to “create”. Deer have become a major nuisance across the region, especially in the suburbs. One reader suggested a remedy that others have tried and found to be very effective. Beat two raw eggs, mix them with a cup of milk, and let the mixture go rancid in an outdoor bucket or pail. Add a quart of water and a few drops of dish soap. Mix well, strain the solids and spray on your landscaped plants. This mixture works reasonably well for weeks until it is eventually washed or weathered. Some people add some crushed garlic to the mixture, which can provide additional protection from other living things.
Chipmunks are also common pests and are indeed difficult to deter. One reader had trouble climbing into her hanging petunia baskets where she chewed through the flower stalks. She tried to put garlic in the baskets, but the chipmunks were unimpressed. Next she tried putting sprigs of lavender in the basket and that seems to have done the job. I would like to hear about this technique from other readers. I prefer the scent of lavender to garlic.
Most people know that deer ticks can spread Lyme disease and other serious diseases, but fewer people know that the ticks have to ingest the pathogens from small rodents like mice. It is these small mammalian rodents that receive the pathogens and pass them on to their offspring. Newly hatched ticks ingest the pathogens with their first blood meal and carry them into their nymph and adult stages when they tend to feed on humans. The repellant “Permethrin” is very effective both in repelling and killing ticks. If you save cardboard tubes, for example from toilet paper or paper towels, and stuff them with cotton balls sprayed with permethrin, mice (wearing gloves) will often use these cotton balls as nesting material and thus kill ticks. One reader reports that this practice essentially eliminated deer ticks on his immediate property. He leaves the tubes wherever mice could nest, such as in his attic, shed, basement and other outbuildings.
Those of you who grow phlox, zinnias, or hollyhocks know that powdery mildew, a fungal disease, can destroy these and many other ornamental and even food crops. Mix two tablespoons of baking soda with one teaspoon of salad oil plus a few drops of dish soap and add a gallon of water to make a very potent, protective fungicide that can be sprayed on susceptible plants before infection occurs.
Nobody likes it when a skunk nests under a shed, porch, or outhouse. Since skunks are generally nocturnal, the solution is often to seal the entrance when the skunks are outside. To make sure you don’t accidentally seal them, sprinkle some flour on the floor where you think the animal will get in and out. Go out at night and look for their tell-tale traces leading away from the structure and seal the entrance.
Finally, to find out where bats can get in and out of your attic, put several bright lights in the attic at night and look for where the light is escaping. Seal the openings at night when the bats are outside.
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