Keeping Bugs Out of the House

At Winding Pathways, we take joy in fall’s colorful leaves, cool days, and clear air, but we know insects are on the move.

Box Elder Bugs, Asian Beetles, other insects and spiders, and mice all sense that frigid air is on the way and seek shelter from the cold. Houses offer secure nooks and crannies to hide in and central heat to keep them toasty warm. Houses also imitate natural wintering places. Asian beetles, for example, naturally winter in the cracks of rock outcroppings. So, a house makes a perfect substitute.

Caulking Tool

Filling a Crack

Homeowners have options for reducing winter insect infestations. Many turn to insecticides when they spot beetles or bugs clustering on interior windows and walls.   We avoid poison and opt for nontoxic solutions.

At Winding Pathways, we simply make it hard for bugs and mice to enter.  We can’t keep all of them out but we greatly reduce their numbers.  Here’s what we do before the first frost:

 

  • Load a tube of exterior caulk into our caulking gun and inspect our house’s exterior. We squirt caulk into every crack and hole in the siding. Likely bug entry points are where wires, cables, and pipes enter the house and around door and window frames. Often old caulk has split or fallen out, so we replace it. We also inspect thresholds to make sure there is no space beneath doors for bugs to enter. Sometimes we need to replace weather stripping around doors and windows.
  • Keep most firewood outside. We used to bring several days’ worth of firewood inside to make feeding our woodstove convenient but insects, like mosquitoes, hitchhiked on the cordwood and then roamed around the house. We now keep the wood in the cold just outside the door and only bring in a few pieces at a time when we need to feed the fire.
  • There’s an added benefit to excluding insects and mice. The holes and cracks they use to squeeze into the house also invite in winter’s cold air. Sealing them up keeps the house warm and lets us use less fuel in our furnace and wood stove.
  • Cleanse houseplants. We move some houseplants outside for the summer and bring them back indoors before the first frost, but insects can ride the plants into our home.  To prevent this, we carefully clean and repot plants. Master Gardener, Tina Patterson, had an excellent column in The Gazette, Living Section, Sunday, October 1, 2017, that describes in detail ways to safely clean your plants and keep them healthy inside all winter. We have reprinted this with permission of the Gazette, Linn County Master Gardeners Program, and Tina Patterson.

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Late Summer and Early Fall Insects

Cicada

Bumper year for cicadas.

As summer winds down, our warm weather has continued in the upper Midwest and insects are having a heyday.  Cicadas still call and Katydids make quite a racket at night. Behind all these summer sounds is the high pitched “cheek-cheek-cheek” of cricketsMosquitoes persist as do any number of tiny biting insects the gravitate to open skin.

Several interesting and helpful insects, however, capture our attention.  Donna, a walker on Rich’s “100th Circuit” walk around Cedar Lake shared pictures of the Digger Wasps  in her yard.  What fascinating insects!

Grasshoppers and Praying Mantis catch our eye because the first can hop incredible distances and the second has such an unusual shape and seem to appear only this time of year. The ubiquitous Asian Lady Beetles that bite and stink and Box Elder Bugs so aptly described as having “no where to go and all day to get there” are massing to enter our warm homes for the winter.

Winding Pathways invites readers to take a few minutes to learn about and then go out and observe these fascinating denizens of late summer and early fall. You Tube has great videos of these insects and we’ve cited several sources above.  We even learned that people can and do eat some of these crunchier critters.

 

Spiders in the House

Every once in a while an enormous wolf spider startles us when we go downstairs and flip on a light. We call him “Wolfie”.  Fortunately, most of the time he (Wolfie might be a she) stays out of sight and is helpful because (s)he eats other critters that inhabit homes with humans.

Spiders are just about everywhere.  At least 45,700 species have been identified with new ones found every year. Of all orders of living things spiders are seventh in total diversity. They live on all continents except Antarctica and in nearly every habitat except the air and salt water. Too many myths surround spiders and the stories grow around October – Halloween month. Actually, August and September in many parts of the US are prime arachnids months.

Spiders are in everyone’s home and yard. Most are tiny, harmless to humans and stay out of sight. We are most aware of spiders in the yard on mornings after a heavy dew when the lawns are carpeted with ” fairy napkins.” This is the work of funnel spiders that eat pesky insects.

All spiders share common features.  Although often called “bugs” or insects spiders are arachnids that have eight legs.  Insects have but six. All spiders, with possibly one exception, are carnivorous. They kill prey, which often is insects, with venom.

While we think of all spiders as predators, they themselves are an important prey species for other animals. Spot a warbler or brown creeper working its way along a tree and it’s probably seeking tiny spiders hidden in cracks in the bark or on leaves. For many birds a spider meal is simply delicious.

Spiders live in houses for good reason –

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Spring Haikus

Reminiscing on some Haikus from the past. These seemed a good way to honor spring and welcome summer.

March
Quivering seed pods
Last year’s fruit, This year’s promise
Red buds produce life.

April
April ‘to Open’
Birds beckon, flowers unfold
Hope, re-birth, re-new.

May
Dampness Awakens.
Slow green shoots appear and grow.
Spring bursts in splendor.

How goes butterfly
So gaily in morning dew.
Quiet. Elusive.

Surf booms, with great roar.
Coquinas ride waves to rest
On white, clean beaches.

Pelicans I
Spring aerial art.
Wheeling, gliding all in sync
Pelicans migrate.

Pelicans II
Spring aerial art
Banks, wheel. Dive. Glide in sync
Pelicans migrate.

Mountain tall, distant
Shelters small creatures that live
In harmony there.

Laughter tumbles free,
From souls to the earth.
Children, living gifts.

Understand
Begin where we are
Understanding nuances
Plain talk ease nerves.

Butterflies Galore!

Swallowtail

Joe-Pye Weed can grow to great heights and is a favorite of butterflies and other pollinators.

Carol Lampe shared these pictures and write up of her wondrous yard and the pollinator action on Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum).  This is a particularly valuable fast food stop for migrating butterflies as it lasts into autumn. We have found it a bit difficult to start and then it takes off!  Give it plenty of space and enjoy the butterflies.

“Here is a butterfly twofer from my flower bed.  In the forefront you can see the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) sitting on a Joe-Pye Weed. There were several Swallowtails out there that day.  

“Joe-Pye Weed is an herb and the butterflies really seem to like it.  Native Americans, and later, white settlers, made much use of Joe-Pye Weed. Teas of the roots or tops were used as a diuretic, as well as for rheumatism, gout, fevers, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, and even impotence. Modern science has not confirmed their efficacy.

Red Admiral and Yellow Swallowtail

Sipping nectar on Joe-Pye Weed.

“Tucked toward the back is a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).  The males are territorial and many times can be found in the same location day to day.”

Thanks, Carol, for sharing your wondrous yard with Winding Pathways.

The Bena’s Story of the Monarch Chrysalis

Here is a story fro Gordon and Nancy Bena about their interest in Monarchs, their chrysalis find and how they began to tend their property differently to encourage insects.
Monarch

Adult butterflies need nectar to sip and plants to rest on.

“We went to the presentation given at the library that told us the fate of the Monarch. With that we were very careful not to mow down any Milkweed plant that we saw in the yard. We also planted Butterfly Weed and I did not mow any of the clover down this year.

“This particular plant where we found the chrysalis was kind of blown over from one of the wind storms and we put a tomato cage around it to hold it up so the caterpillars would have something to munch on. When I went down to get the mail the other day, I stopped to check that the plant was still standing. This is when I found the chrysalis. I went around to the other plants but I’m afraid that this is the only success story I found so far.”
Thanks, Gordon and Nancy!