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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Living in New England: Blackflies

There are many aspects of life here that are so unique from other parts of the country, and I want to share those things with my family, and perhaps with you- if you have never been here. I thought it might be helpful to do some posts called : "Living in New England" that highlight quintessential New England sights, events, situations, and experiences.
I also know of many people who have lived here, in New England, their entire lives and perhaps don't realize that some of the events and sights that I will describe don't happen elsewhere in the country. Or, maybe you are originally from New England, but have moved away... I hope these posts will bring back some fond memories for you. In any event, I wish to share New England with you through the eyes of this Southerner.

image via wikipedia

While it is common knowledge that New England has the great fortune of having four glorious seasons throughout the year, what might be lesser known is that it also has "bug" seasons.   The first bug season is the dreaded blackfly season- this typically runs from Mother's Day to Father's Day.   These small gnat-like flies pack a mean wallop!  Unlike the mosquito that sucks blood, blackflies literally slash the skin and then lap up the pooled blood.  One bite can produce a welt the size of a small orange, and depending on the individual welts can last from days to weeks.  These dreaded insects can cause fear even in the bravest of men!
These are nasty little buggers that have you donning a net hat to do gardening since they are seemingly not deterred by deet or insect repellent. 
This blackfly season has been fairly mild compared to the last several years due in part to our lovely, coolish early summer.  That is why when I went out to plant about a dozen new plantings a couple of evenings ago I thought I would be in and out of the garden in no time and didn't need to vaporize myself in Coleman 40% deet insect repellent that we usually use in an attempt to keep them at bay. 
Two bites on my eyelid later I woke up the next day to a totally swollen-shut eye!  It was not pretty.  I had to wear sunglasses for the next two days so I wouldn't scare people.  Benadryl seemed to help. Now, after reading my next sentence half of you (Southern women) will say "well, of course you did, why wouldn't you?!",  and the rest of you will think its the strangest thing you've heard today ...!
Being a good Southern girl I did put makeup on the good eye!!! :) :) 

Next up is "mosquito" season.  (I can hear those of you in the South chuckling that there is a mosquito "season" since mosquito season in the South generally lasts all year!)   We're expecting a bumper crop since we had such a rainy spring and early summer.  Unlike the Southern mosquitoes that can carry off a small child ;), and by the time you go to swat them they have bitten two other people,  New England mosquitoes are big and fat and slow.  They too, pack a mean bite and can carry the West Nile virus and EEE, but at least you can have the satisfaction of whacking them after they do!
We have a SkeeterVac that works well to keep mosquitoes at bay around the house, but last summer we never even put it out since we didn't have a big crop.  This year will probably be a different story.

I would love to know if you've had any luck with an organic, or non-deet product to keep mosquitoes off as we head into the next bug season!

(To read other "Living in New England" posts visit here!)


  1. Those blackflies look treacherous!! I bought a mosquito repellant called EcoSmart (organic) last year, and it worked fairly well.

    Here in Ohio, we have huge black ants. I sprinkled some Diatomaceous earth (MUST be food grade) around my doors and even in my garden, and this year, they are non-existant.

  2. Vitamin B1 is a great deterrent for the little 'buggers' {sorry, couldn't resist calling them that}.
    There is something in our body odor that only the bugs detect, and that they do not like. It is not immediate, so taking it in advance of a cottage trip is required or take it on a regular basis. Vitamin B1 is good for energy and metabolism.

    I used to swab rubbing alcohol on the bite to bring it down - they loved my ankles {ahhh}. Black flies take chunks of flesh and bite deep.

  3. Ahh black flies, we have them here in Southern Maryland and they are mean little buggers to say the least! They keep us from sitting by the water and enjoying it for part of the spring and summer each year...sometimes more! And don't even get me started about the mosquitoes since we live on the water...phew! Right now I'm waging war on Japanese Beetles which are eating my newly planted roses! I hope your eye is all better, and of course you fixed up your good eye...but did you put on lipstick, that's the most important thing right?! ;)


  4. Laughing at your comment on - putting eyeliner on your good eye... 'Putting your face on' is one of the many things that make me wonder if I was a Southern girl in another lifetime, LOL! I grew up (in Boston, Massachusetts) with a mom who taught us the routine was get up, get washed, then you get 'ready' for your day. And that meant looking at least somewhat presentable! I don't mean spending an hour putting on foundation - but a little eyeliner, dab of powder, and some lips! We wouldn't even run to the corner store without freshening our lip liner and lipstick! When my water broke with my first pregnancy, my immediate reaction was to, go to the bathroom and clean the mess, and then, PUT ON MY MAKEUP!!! Involving myself in such a part of my daily routine absolutely calmed me at a time I'd otherwise be in panic mode :)

  5. So that's what the little buggers look like up close and personal... They aren't too bad here in Salem. We're harboring false hopes on the mosquito season...

    At our summer camp in the Adirondacks, black fly season lasts onto mid July and we joke about the squadrons; of B-29 size mosquitoes...

    How have the No See-Ums been this year?


  6. Eastern Washington state is being eaten alive {pun totally intended!} by these crazy creatures! We've been spared -- so far -- but I'd love to hear more about people's antedotes.

  7. I am still laughing about makeup on the one good eye. As for mosquitos, when I lived in the Hudson Valley, I used to buy mosquito control rings for the pool under my fountain for when the fountain wasn't on. I bought them from Agway and I was assured they would kill the mosquito larvae but do no harm to my beloved frogs.
    Good luck. Now that I am living in SW Florida, I understand that the mosquito is considered the state bird. They are out in force already. I may need a hazmat suit in the garden.

  8. I live in North Carolina ~ previously from SoCal and mosquitoes love me. In SoCal, mosquitoes only come out at night, but here in NC, they are out all day long....I don't use deet, unless I'm out in the middle of July or August for extended periods of time and only spray my socks and bottom of my jeans. Wearing shorts is out of the question. B6 /B vitamins keeps mosquitoes away in Spring and early summer. In the heat of the summer, all bets are off. If I'm out in my garden I wear jeans and one of my husband's old white button up shirts. If I get bitten, I quickly apply apple cider vinegar before I start scratching.Those black flies sound nasty!

  9. My big fat Greek bug solution: Windex! Not sprayed on the face, of course. I happened on to this by having used those bug stik roll on things. The big ingredient in ammonia....BINGO! My husband thought I was nuts until he used it, too!

    I've found that a glass or two or (?) of red wine helps any garden-inflicted injuries!

  10. I have read that taking a spoon or two of apple cider vinegar every day will help keep mosquitoes at bay. Plus, there are a lot of other benefits, too. I am one of the fortunate ones, though -- mosquitoes don't like me! :)

  11. But I've always wanted to live in New England. Maybe not now. Just kidding. Our mosquitoes are so bad in DC....they come out in May and stay around 4-EVER!! I have to lather myself in deet or be fully protected to garden.

    Hope your eye gets better fast, Joan!


  12. Joan,
    I loved your post. In So. California the mosquitoes only seem to come around in the evening and even then, not very often. But when Hubby and I went to babaysit our granddaughter in Austin, TX the mosquitoes loved my husband and while BBQing he had 20 bites in about as many minutes. Yikes. My DIL buys something natural for our granddaughter, I'll have to find out what it is and pass it along because she didn't get a single bite.

  13. I was SO with you right after reading the title of your post. Black flies are my least favorite part of Maine. It's why I try to plan my visits in July and August. Our black fly welts last for WEEKS! Laughing about the mosquitoes of the south. I once heard someone say they swore Houston mosquitoes packed guns and knives. They are THAT bad. I don't like them any better in Maine, but like you said, at least they're slow and slappable! :) I think I've tried every natural repellant that Whole Foods offers. Not sure which one works best, but they help. I've also heard a dryer sheet works (like Bounce), but I'm allergic to the smell. Worth a try when gardening maybe?

    Itching to get into my farmhouse so I can pick paint colors. So inspired by your home!


  14. We have horse fly season beginning at the end of May until mid July. These critters pack quite a punch too but Deep Woods Off seems to help. Then, of course, there are the no see'ums. They seem to be particularly attracted to me.

  15. Wow, the black flies look and sound horrible! Ugh. We used to dip ourselves in OFF when we were little, but having had cancer, I don't now. If you garden in the early morning, are the black flies still a problem? That's what I have done to keep the bugs away.

    Enjoy your blog very much! Loved the post about your dog.:)

  16. Those blackflies sound awful! Had to laugh, when I fell on my face & had one big ole black eye, still made up the other one. Found out the hurt eye was the good one! The friendly TX mosquitos are eating on my hubby, but they leave me alone for the most part. Hope your eye is better soon!

  17. I'm so glad the black fly season was not as bad this year because you are totally right, those suckers are NASTY!

    So not looking forward to the skeeters this year- I pray that they die from the heat over the next few days.

    (I know this will never happen but a girl can wish right?)

  18. The black flies are really bad here right now and will be until we get a good thunder and lightning storm (or so they say). They absolutly love me. They think I'm the sweetest thing around when there's a group of people. It's me they go for! We always have a breeze here on the hill so they aren't too bad and neither are mosquitos. I try to wear light coloured clothes and a hat along with bug spray if I'm going to be out in the evening where there may be bugs. We also have horse flies that really take a chunk out and deer flies do too. Gotta love bug season! Pamela

  19. Wow, and I was hoping the bugs weren't as bad up there...passing on your post to my daughter who now lives in Connecticut. donna :)

  20. Always love your post on New England. It lets us know how the other people live. I am from the south and have lived in the south ALL my life. I laughed at your comment on mosquitoes carrying away small children. In southeast Texas we called them B52 bombers. The mosquitoes would site you in and then nosedive toward parts of your body that was not covered. In Alabama(where I now live) They are about the same. It does not matter morning, noon, or night they are always out. Mosquitoes do not like me but love the kidos. I keep natural products for them.

  21. Wow, a jillion trips to New England and I really lucked out! But now I know another reason why there are so many human 'buggers' here in So. Cal., no bugs to speak of!
    Isn't Avon Skin-So-Soft known as the best anti-mosquito, pro-skin, repellent? Try it!
    xoxo, Chris

  22. I've lived in the south all my life, but my grandmother lived in Maine.....I know of these monsters......yipes!.....smiles

  23. much older sister SusanJune 19, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    WOW!! They are so big!!!!!!!

  24. Here's a recent article on the dangers of DEET and following the article you'll find alternatives.
    I haven't tried them out yet, but I'm hopeful.

  25. on the good eye. love it.

    i have actually had to go to the doctors several times due to black fly bites. i'm obviously alergic. yup, mine blow up to the size of a grapefruit.

    TIP: take the benedryl BEFORE you go out and work in the garden. this has helped me a LOT.

  26. Black flies, ugh! I don't miss those. And one advantage of living in a dry climate (southern California chaparral country) is that we have no mosquitoes. It's lovely to be able to sit out on the patio in the evening without being eaten alive.

  27. Hello neighbor ;)

    First off, love your blog and especially enjoy your Living in New England posts.
    I'm a Massachusetts girl and yes, between the black flies, mosquitoes, no-seeums, and chiggers - seems it's almost always one bug season or another around here! I'm surprised nobody mentioned the tried-and-true backyard gardener's best friend... Avon's Skin So Soft bath oil of course! A little bit on a cotton ball and just dab behind your ears and on your wrists, ankles, anywhere there's exposed skin and for whatever reason the biters hate the stuff! We used to put some on the brim of our hats to keep them away from our faces. I'll warn you that the scent is quite strong, but it works like nothing else! It has to be the original scent, which can be found here if you don't have an Avon lady in your area. All my best & Happy Gardening!
    Stephanie in Central Mass.

  28. I've always thought of black flies as a New Hampshire thing. In June. I've never been bothered by them in Rhode Island or southern Mass. New England is a quirky place, that's for sure. But I wouldn't change the four glorious seasons!

  29. I have definitely found bugs to be a bit different up here. A little smaller, but no less invasive.

    Mosquito season is scaring me a bit (oh...just saw a firefly those!) as we have a new "rain garden" as part of our renovation. We had better bomb that thing to pieces or we'll be eating under a net all summer!!!

    Hang in there and YES to Benadryl!
    xoxo Elizabeth

  30. Loved this story and having experienced the horrific bite of a black fly when we lived in Quebec, I totally sympathize as it hurts and takes (in my case weeks) to heal. Why they always bite close to the eye is a mystery. I've tried Skin So Soft and event on our dogs in the past with no great results.

    Now living in Souther Ontario the past 2 years after many years in a arid dry Calgary, AB climate, we are putting up with the bugs - no black flies here as we just love the warm summers. However, a screened in porch is still a dream of ours so hubby, me and the dog can be out but protected...

    Please keep up these posts - they are so entertaining. By the way, do you have a solution to rabbits in the garden - would love to know. Regards, NB

  31. Except for a short mosquito season that seems to only happen when in the park, we have been pretty irritating insect free here. Now I have all of these creatures to look forward to :(
    I use off towellets instead of anything sprayed.
    I also avoid going anywhere at particular times when mosquitoes are their worst.
    This must mean I will only visit you in winter :D
    I am going to buy a life time supply of Avon Skin So Soft .. when we are in our country home.
    besos..from a very raw cold Buenos Aires

  32. Another vote for original Avon Skin So Soft...

  33. So far this year we have been LUCKY. My hubby is usually COVERED in bites but has only gotten several so far. he also got poison ivy, poor guy. I would HATE those black flies:(:( XO, Pinky

  34. I live in C and last summer I found this bug spray at our local farmers market made from all natural ingredients by a company in Essex, CT. I loved it so much I bought it for my mom as part of her Mother's day gift basket. (hey it was the start of gardening season) She loved it so much and is recommending it to others to. It smells good to. Good Luck.

  35. in my fantasies i live in new england or england, have been this way since early childhood. i think england, one of my fantasies is crushed!

  36. I use the OFF Sport with deet . . . only if I have to. My poor husband can't use anything with deet or he'll be in the ER - been there, done that & won't do it again!

    Have you tried Deep Woods Off? That stuff is, for all intensive purposes shear poison!

    Organically, we do try to use citronella geraniums on the patio, (when we can find them) they seem to work . . . and bat houses help too!

  37. Egad!!! Those black flies sound nasty!!! I thought it was bad in Charleston with the no see'ums. Those are nasty little suckers! Ha! Literally!!! It was bug central down there. Tonight was the first night that the mosquitos were really bad here in Minnesota. Unfortunately, the love me and my daughter. I think it is because we are so sweet! She was eaten up tonight! Poor thing!

    Honey, you didn't have to worry about makeup on the one eye since you had your sunglasses on. As my momma would say, 'As long as you had your lipstick on, you are good to go!"

    Have a great Wednesday!

  38. On reflection I think I shall stay in Old England. I am allergic to nearly everything that bites and I don't think I could stand the strain.

  39. Euuugh! I will take a friendly lizard anyday over that uglt slasher fly, Joan!

    For skeeters try this...smells great too:

    15 drops of Lavender Essential Oil

    3 – 4 Tbsp Homemade Vanilla Extract

    4-5 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

    Mix in a spray bottle...add water. and spray your bod.

  40. I thought black flies were confined to Maine. Here in Southern MA we don't have them nor MetroWest Boston. Come on down!!


    I was raised in Michigan and the only thing that kept me from the black flies, mosquitoes and yellow horse flies was this B1 Vitamin patch. You just have to put it on three to four hours before exposure. The patch releases the B1 into your blood stream and masked the CO2 coming from your skin pores so you go undetected. Great product and good for whole family including kids.

  42. Joan,

    I've been using a lemon/eucalyptus spray by Repel. Smells good. No DEET. And, it works.

    Hope all is well.

  43. Have you tried you're original bug patch? They are chemical free, no deet, available online and thru Amazon. Its a patch you wear and protection lasts for 36 hours..its derived from vitamin B.

  44. I would like to take this opportunity to tell Linda @ Lime in the Coconut that I love her.

    I will be mosquito/fly proof and smell good, what more can you ask ? besos ~

  45. Oh I am SOOOO glad I live in SoCal now!!!! Never an issue with any bugs at all! NONE. I have lived in 7 different states so I know all about bugs, too. :)

  46. Have you tried you're original bug patch? They are chemical free, no deet, available online and thru Amazon. Its a patch you wear and protection lasts for 36 hours..its derived from vitamin B.

  47. Hello! you really made me feel good about living in the north ((: in Canada! We do have some mosquitoes and even those few compare to your climate, I try to keep away from my terrace by purchasing this amazing net from a US company in Georgia, ( and they are affordable, super high quality and thick, strong durable netting that you can't buy in Rona or similar type of stores((: It attaches with magnets at the bottom and sides for openings and just won't let the bugs in! We love it! they ship in days....great company, have to recommend them....I would fear the blackfly so much that would possibly make me homebound! I dislike flies in general and kill them skillfully and instantly but what you are describing I have never heard off and truly am sorry that you have that out there! But your lovely country and house makes up for it I am sure! hugs Z

  48. yikes! that picture is enough to give me nightmares ;) I was laughing about the sunglasses and eye make-up! I can tell you that here in Memphis the mosquitos are a killer this year. Good luck keeping the black flies at bay.

  49. wow, sorry about your eye. On the west coast here and had no idea about this bugger. awful!

  50. As a New England girl, I so enjoy that you are in love with this part of the country. I have to confess that I am a romantic about the South. I need to take a good, long vacation and sample the food and the hospitality.
    That picture of the black fly can't be correct; we all know they have BIG fangs. When I moved from Connecticut to Maine during the winter, the locals took delight in finding out I had never met a black fly. They are little monsters since they will bite you more than once. Surprisingly, I haven't run into any this spring, but the mosquitoes are in force.

  51. Do you get the green heads that appear in July? Perhaps that's only on the coast of Massachusetts, but they have ruined many a day at the beach for us when we were out there visiting my sister. Darn bugs! Hope your eye is better soon:)

  52. Oh Joan, I can relate as we (here in Canada) have the same little b*ggers. My advice, during the season(s) begin a daily regime of Vitamin E and you will keep both blackflies and mosquitoes at bay.
    Have one friend who is a Geologist and another who is in the Forest Industry who are out in the field constantly and this is what they take and my Grandfather who was a Pharmacist swore by it. When growing up, it was manadtory that the whole family be on it during the early part of Cottage Season.

    Sorry to hear about your eye as I know black flies can give you a real bite. I'm just glad a swarm of them didn't carry you away. :) -Brenda-

  53. Oh boy I know about these little guys! I just got nailed last night by them and have a welt on my neck/hairline area the size of a quarter! We also call them "no-see-ems"! They bite without your knowing it and then you feel the affects! They also seem more aggressive when it's damp out. Our mosquitos haven't been bad for a few years but we have considered one of those SkeeterVacs. We've had some years where all you have to do it step into the grass and they spring up! Terrible! When we had a dog she'd go out to do her think and they mosquitos would come back with her! We'd encourage her to run back to us just to get away from them! If it wasn't for the beauty of our countryside I don't think anybody would hang around in the summer only to be bitten and chewed on!

  54. We have 'midgies' and 'mozzies' and they all love nibbling me! So I usually spray if I'm going out in the garden in the evening - they are pesky! Hope you're eye is better!


  55. Hello! Looove your blog.. especially the New England posts. I am a native southerner living in upstate New York. I am completely disgusted by the Blackflies here. I didn't take time to read through all comments, but if no one sugguested it yet, let me - Avon Skin-so-Soft!! That is the only thing I found that will repeal those nasty blood suckers. I even wipe a little down the doggie backs. Keep up the wonderful blog!

  56. Oh my goodness I was raised in the midwest. I remember the bugs! We are so lucky here in north central California...we have a few flies, and bees but nothing that keeps us from having our doors wide open!

  57. Hi Sweetie, Here we have green horseflys. Man what a welt. I recently heard of 2 things I am trying as repelants this year. One I saw on Pinterest. Hang clear zip lock bags 3/4 full of water + add one penny to each bag and hang around your garden as a fly repelant. Hung my first 2 bags last night. Gotta get to the store for more bags today. Results will be reported on my blog later. Another one I will be trying this year is to put a Bounce laundry sheet in your pocket when you go outside. It is supposed to repel all bugs. Give it a try and let us know how it works.
    ~ ~Ahrisha~ ~

  58. Oh my goodness... this does sound like a challenge... I must be silly but I have never heard of a Skeeter Vac before... off to investigate... Happy Sunday Joan... and be careful!! xv

  59. Debra,
    Thai Lemongrass, Peppermint can make your really works rubbed on your skin....
    to avoid being bitten, sorry to hear about your little bug bites.


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