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BooksJanuary 21, 2019

Flies! Ugh. The plague of summer. Here’s how to kill them without toxins

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Wendyl Nissen, in an extract from her new book of household tips, advises natural ways to kill the worst thing about summer – flies.

Flies drive me absolutely nuts and, unfortunately, with hens come flies. Up north the flies are especially bad in the heat of March and I must confess that after putting out bowls of lavender oil and slathering myself in it, they still come back for more and I end up, shamefully, spraying the little buggers with fly spray. But I only do it twice a day: once first thing in the morning and then at night when they have all retired to the ceiling. I know how not-nana that is. I also use a really cool chain fly curtain on my front door, which really helps keep them out of the house.

I do know that certain essential oils repel flies – citronella is one, as are lavender and eucalyptus. But you have to put a lot of it out and get it into the air somehow. Oil burners are one way, spraying it around is another or you could leave it in lots of little bowls around the house. You can wipe it on surfaces, or light incense. In my experience it takes a hell of a lot of essential oils to make a fly think twice. I know this because one hot summer’s afternoon the kitchen was full of flies and Paul and I were making a huge batch of my lavender laundry liquid. When we do this the whole house takes on the odour of lavender oil and it’s actually very soothing.

“Look, no flies,” I said to Paul after about 10 minutes.

They had all disappeared. But we had also gone through about 100 ml lavender oil while making our laundry liquid.

I’ve had marginal success with soaking ribbons in lavender or citronella oil and then hanging them up from lampshades and in open doorways, but they last for about half an hour and then the flies come back.

A fly. Image: Pixabay

I do have a recipe for an outdoor fly trap (see below) that seems to keep them away, and there’s good old fly-paper like Nana used to make. When I tried it the flies got caught alright but I found myself just a little bit too much of a modern miss to enjoy seeing bits of sticky paper stuck with dead flies hanging in my kitchen. You can buy rolls of fly paper at the hardware store and they do work a treat, but it’s up to you whether you can bear the sight of dead flies hanging about in your kitchen.

My mother tells me that when she was a child they had a gecko that lived in their kitchen on a string suspended across the ceiling. His job was to catch flies and that’s what he did. My house is mad enough already with chickens, cats and dogs running about, I just don’t need a pet lizard – especially one that might climb down and into my bed.

Nana also would have used a fly swat. I can remember as a child watching adults who were rather adept with the old swat and then feeling vaguely ill as they hung it back up on the wall, still smeared with the remains of dead flies.

I’ve also bought one of those electric tennis racket fly swats that zaps the fly when you hit it, but who has the time to run around swatting flies? I had hoped the kids might like it, but after one day of fly killing it was discarded into the cupboard.

In recent years, pyrethrum sprays have come on the market and these do work. They are aerosol cans that you set and they spurt out a spray of supposedly natural fly deterrent every few minutes. I used one for a while until I realised that while pyrethrum is natural, it’s still a toxin – and it’s toxic to flies but also bees, fish, pets and us. Then I looked at the chemicals they add to the pyrethrum to get it to spray and suspend in the air. I came home from that research trip, walked into the house, picked up the can and threw it in the bin, much to Paul’s annoyance.

Wendyl’s safe fly spray

8 ml citronella oil

2 tsp washing-up liquid

1 tbsp methylated spirits

2 tbsp white vinegar

150 ml strong tea

850 ml water

Mix together the citronella oil, washing-up liquid, methylated spirits, vinegar and tea, then add the water. Pour into a spray bottle and set the nozzle to release a reasonably concentrated spray. You can also spray this on your skin as an insect repellent.

Fly paper

¼ cup golden syrup

½ cup sugar

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and then paint or spread the mixture on long strips of brown paper. Leave to dry on a tray and then hang where flies are a problem.

Outdoor fly trap

Mix some blood and bone with water and put in the bottom of a plastic bag. Seal the top and then poke a few holes in it, just large enough for a fly to get in. Hang from a tree and wait for the blood and bone to go off. Make sure it is hanging a long way from the house!

The Natural Home: Tips, ideas and recipes for a sustainable life by Wendyl Nissen (Allen & Unwin, $39.99) is available from Unity Books.

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