Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

LONGMONT – Long ago, I spent many lazy summer days on the front porch of the house on my grandfather’s farm. We’d pass time as children do: drinking cold sodas, annoying the cat, climbing the railings, and daring each other to ride the cantankerous donkey, Jack. There were plenty of flies and, although they were minding their own business outdoors, we stalked them like hunters, intent on smacking them.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned to catch flies in flight – not by studying entomology but by lounging around bar tables in summer.  So at the time I relied on the technology at hand.  The classic long-handled rubber swatter did its job in those days, keeping us occupied and depleting the population of winged menaces.

Looking at the assortment of fly-ridding devices today, I’m nostalgic for the simplicity of a swatter. Electrified racquets, salt shotguns, and assault discs are all the rage, but give me a good old mesh-on-a-stick and I’m content.  There’s a certain amount of mano y mano to the swatter that these newfangled gewgaws and gizmos lack.

Take the electrified racquet. About the size of a racquetball paddle with a slightly longer handle, it’s reputed to zap the tar out of any bug that hits it. Touted as a better alternative to aerosol insect repellants at BBQs, manufacturers proudly point out that bugs explode on contact.  Delicious.

If you’re thinking of getting one, be aware that they pack a good wallop to humans too.  The internet is full of videos cautioning people not to stick their tongues on them. I’ve yet to find cautionary videos on the use of a swatter, but then, I’ve never been tempted to lick them.

If running about the yard flailing at bugs is not your style, you might consider the Swat Shot Gun, a device that shoots wide, plastic mesh disks at the offending insect.  The small plastic pistol relies on spring-loaded power to propel the disk from about a distance of two feet so there is some stalking involved in smacking your prey.

If neither of these slakes your thirst for revenge, you could super-size to the Bug-A-Salt shotgun.  Turning fly swatting into a militia-like maneuver, the Bug-A-Salt shoots salt at high speed toward the unsuspecting insect.  Watching the manufacturer’s video gleefully demonstrate shooting flies on any surface – railings, walls, Christmas ornaments – I wondered what would possess someone to think this was a good idea.

When they crowed about the dual benefits of shooting salt to shoo flies from grilling meat and seasoning it at the same time I grew alarmed.  But it was at the point of blasting bugs from plants that I knew we’d let our hatred of insects lead us down the path to madness.  Any gardener worth their salt knows that salt and plants don’t mix.

Soft, succulent leaves torn by the salt are an opening to disease or drying out, while salt burns the leaves. In the soil, salt build up can become lethal to plants and very difficult to remove. You’d be better off squirting a bit of water at the bug instead of those white crystals of death.

None of these tools control mosquitoes, so if that is the bug bothering you, reduce the problem by changing bird bath water twice per week, dumping out water collected in dishes beneath pots, turn over unused pots, saucers, trays and buckets, and use Bacillus thuringiensis doughnuts to float in your ponds or water features.  Protect yourself while working in the garden with clothing cover-up or use a mosquito repellent that’s effective against West Nile Virus-carrying mosquitoes. Check with your local health department for suggested repellents.

By Carol O’Meara. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Colorado State University Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail comeara@bouldercounty.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.