Don't Bug Me!

There's a story about a prisoner who has been confined for one long year. His only entertainment was training a fly to roll over on command. The day came when he was finally released from prison. He headed directly to a bar, eager to show off his accomplishment. He proudly set his pet fly on the bar, and asked the bartender if he wanted to see an amazing trick. "Sure!" said the bartender rolling up a newspaper, "As soon as I get rid of this pesky fly."

Like the bartender in the story I have the barbaric tendency to stomp crawling intruders when they surprise me. Living in the woods has taught me to respect the insects and spiders whose outdoor habitats I share. I'm not surprised by their desire to come indoors, but I'm not ready to welcome them either. So how do I communicate “Don’t bug me!” and persuade them to stay out of my space?

Chemical Pesticides are designed to kill the bugs they target. And it's no surprise that their deadly ingredients also have a negative impact on our health. Myles H Bader, the author of Natural Solutions to Things That Bug You, says:

"Pesticide use in the home is one of the most serious health problems in the U.S. Eighty percent of most people's exposure to pesticides occurs at home. What's most frightening is that in addition to the chemicals in the pesticides, formaldehyde is included in the propellants of aerosol insect sprays. Formaldehyde damages kidneys, liver, and nervous system."

Fortunately there are other options.* Our ancestors understood that insects use their senses to anticipate what’s safe and what’s dangerous. Understanding the way bugs react to smell gives us ways to repel unwanted visitors. Here's what I've tried and tested:

Every spring I resist the invasion of ants. Just yesterday 🐜  I was startled by a bold black ant crawling across my computer screen. But I’ve discovered that at the same time as the ants appear, an early spring fern called tansy also pushes its way through the ground. The fronds have a distinctive scent that repels black ants, but is attractive to us. I grow these attractive ferns close to the entrances to our home. I also break up the leaves and place them on outside windowsills. It works!



To keep these and smaller ants off outdoor picnic tables and eating surfaces, wash the surfaces with white vinegar and water. That works too!

There are a number of essential oils that are touted as spider repellents. By mixing 5 to 10 drops of these oils with 16 ounces of a solution of dish soap and warm water, you can create a repellent that keeps away most common house spiders. Peppermint essential oil is my favorite option, but you can also use tea tree oil, citrus oil, lavender oil, or neem oil. The potent smells repel spiders so I spray the solution in corners, on window frames, and in door cracks.

                                   Essential Oils

                                  Essential Oils

Ticks come inside on us or on our pets. Pet owners have discovered that an apple cider vinegar wash makes a great natural flea and tick repellent. Mix 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1 quart warm water, and 1 ounce of Castile soap. This solution is powerful enough to repel fleas and ticks, but not so strong that you will smell it on your pet. Before I work in the garden or go hiking I add 2 to 3 drops of lavender or cedar oil to the mixture and spray it on my sneakers and arms. The scent helps me recognize when it's working and when I need to apply more.

Use essential oils with scents that mosquitoes find distasteful or which confuse them so they can't find us to bite. The smell needs to be strong to work well: cinnamon oil is my favorite, butlemon eucalyptus oil; citronella oil; and castor oil are all effective. Once again it’s important to put the oil in a soapy water suspension.

Coexisting peacefully with nature’s critters is challenging for me. When I’m outside I know how to keep a respectful distance from flying and crawling things. But inside, they’re not welcome. I have no allergies or excuses; nevertheless the “ick and strike” impulse arises every time I see a moving critter. Like the bartender in the story, I react swiftly.  Unlike the bartender, I feel horrible remorse. Keeping insects outside is my peaceful attempt to say,  "Don't bug me!" 

I know I'm not alone in wanting to live bug-free.  I’m eager to hear your strategies and suggestions.

Please share!

Sources: Sylvia Booth Hubbard, Myles H Bader,,

*These formulas work well inside our homes. But creating a formula that’s convenient to carry around outside is messy.  Here’s where I defer to experts. Kimberly DuBois, a talented herbalist, developed a spray that’s natural, convenient, easy to apply, and smells good to us — but not to mosquitoes or ticks. I use it personally, and it’s even safe to spray on my grandchildren before they play in the woods. It’s aptly named, Nature’s Cloak, and you can buy it online at