Over the past month I have discussed dealing with mice and ants in the kitchen. The problem is the kitchen can be a real magnet for both mice and ants. From time to time though, other insects invade the kitchen. For the most part, these insects tend to be more of an annoyance than anything else. Where the house is located and where the kitchen is located in the house can have a huge influence on insects getting in. Our third purchased house was located in a subdivision bordering on farmland with a pig farm just a stone's throw away. Flies were a huge problem! Our last house had the kitchen located mainly below grade with window about four inches from the ground and patio doors at the lower grade. Well, insects were a problem there simply because of where the kitchen was. Insects are also cyclic so while you may go several years not ever seeing an earwig in the kitchen, one year can be to bad you see earwigs on a daily basis.
More often than not, insects are introduced into your home. They can come in on new plants (eg. white flies, aphids), on freshly picked garden produce (eg. spiders, beetles) or purchased produce (eg. tropic spiders). Other insects will take advantage of unsealed cracks, loose fitting screens or a screen door that was accidently left open and others still can get in through screen windows attracted by light (eg. fungus gnats). The frugal approach to these transient insect problems is to use non-toxic to humans or pets methods of control. These insects tend to be seasonal, do little food damage, and basically are just a nuisance so use natural control. Here's a few tips:
- spiders - Spiders are predators and some spiders can be poisonous so know what spiders are in your area. If you spot a spider web, mark the location then use your vacuum cleaner to get rid of the spider and nest. Go back and check the area where the nest was. Caulk any cracks you find as spiders construct their nests where there is a cool draft. They are a great indicator species for drafts and the presence of other insects.
- bees/hornets/yellow jackets - These insects usually enter a home via an open window or door but they will build hives in attics, under eves and in crawlspaces. If you suspect a hive, call an exterminator as this is not something for the layperson to fool around with. Quite often you will not know if you are allergic to their sting until stung and it can end up being a matter of life or death. If one finds it's way into the house, either shoo it back outdoors or use a fly swatter.
- fruit flies (Drosophilla melanogaster) - Despite their name these little flies (near and dear to my heart) do not eat fruit. Rather the yeast on the ripening fruit attracts them. Once the fruit is removed they move along as well. I dealt with fruit flies throughout my academic career and deal with them every year when large amounts of produce (eg. tomatoes) are brought indoors for canning. They don't bother me but if you want to catch them, put a piece of banana in a 2 L pop bottle. The fruit flies will go into the bottle where you can cap the lid and allow to die before resetting your trap.
- gnats - Gnats are similar in appearance to mosquitoes ranging in size so small you can barely see them to about the size of a mosquito. They are simply an nuisance attracted by light. Gnats do bite adding a bit to their annoyance. The worst thing is though gnats can get through window screen. Last year was horrid for gnats so every morning I was cleaning up their carcasses from the kitchen windowsill and bathroom counter. I finally developed a lights off policy which was rather difficult given the kitchen was open to the family room and the gnats just switched to swarming around the television giving me one more area to clean up. Gnats are attracted to cider vinegar so a pour a bit of cider vinegar in a shallow dish and set where gnats are a problem.
- sstrawberry beetles - These little black beetles with yellow dots are commonly found on strawberries. They make their way into your home via freshly picked strawberries either from the garden or berry farm. The beetles feed on over ripe berries so if you pick at prime ripeness you can avoid the beetles. Manual removal is the only method I use for strawberry beetles.
- aphid - Aphids are sap sucking insects that are introduced to your home via store bought plants including some herbs. All new plants should be isolated from your main house plant collection for a period of two weeks. Safer's Insecticidal Soap or a homemade version should be used on any indoor plant with aphids.
- spider mites/whitefly/mealy bugs - Refer to aphids. Although most herbs are problem free some are prone to minor insect infestations. Treat with Safer's Insecticidal Soap as a precautionary before adding the plant to your collection. Isolate for two weeks before adding to your plant collection. All plants coming in from your garden for wintering over should be treated as well using the same procedure.