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Gutter splash blocks - are you doing it wrong?

by Karyn Brown

Everyone knows that mosquitoes need water in order to lay their eggs, so every homeowner should be vigilant about eliminating any source of standing water on their property.

I have noticed that in Central Texas, a large number of homes have their gutter splash blocks installed backward, which means that water accumulates in them from rain and sprinklers, creating a sneaky little breeding ground for mosquitoes.

It seems that most people don’t know exactly what the splash blocks are for, and they don’t give them any thought. When I first became aware of splash blocks, I assumed that their purpose was to keep the stream of water from a downspout from splashing dirt all over the place and making a big muddy mess. That is certainly one of their purposes, but they are also supposed to direct water away from your house so that it doesn’t pool around your foundation.

In order to do channel water properly, there needs to be some grading around your house. Take a look at this video from This Old House that explains all about how to keep water away from your foundation. At about 1:12 there is a short discussion of splash blocks.

Take a quick look at the splash blocks around your house and see if they are installed properly. If they aren’t, it will only take you a few minutes to turn them around and eliminate another place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.

Chunky Gazpacho Soup

by Karen Marquardt

This is a fantastic summer soup, that paired with some crusty bread and cheese makes a perfect no cook meal for a hot Texas summer. This cold garlicky tomato soup is easy, tasty and healthy. I like it paired with Brazos Valley Cheese’s smoked Gouda (available at area farmers markets).

  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, chopped, seeded and divided
  • 2 large tomatoes (or several small meaty roma tomatoes) chopped, seeded and divided.
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped and divided
  • 1 red pepper, chopped and divided
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped and divided
  • 3 cups V8 or other vegetable juice
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced or crushed
  • dash of Tabasco or Sriracha
  • salt to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper

In a blender or food processor, puree half of all the vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, green and red peppers, onion). Reserve the remaining vegetables. Add the V8, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, Tobasco, salt and pepper. Blend again. Refrigerate covered for at least two hours. Just before serving, stir the reserved vegetables into the pureed mixture. Adjust salt and pepper.

It's Cicada Season!

by Karen Marquardt

The sounds of summer here in Texas include the loud and seemingly constant song of cicadas. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know much about them.They get called katydids, locusts, and pests. We seldom ever see these bugs except for the discarded husks they leave behind. But what is up with these insects, how do they make their noise, why do they leave those creepy shells behind and when will they go away?

The most distinctive feature of cicadas are their sound. Cicadas are the loudest insects in the world, as we Texans know by experience. Most people know that crickets make their noise by rubbing their wings and legs together; cicadas do it differently. Cicadas are like little instruments with a vibrating membrane and a resonance chamber. On the sides of their abdomens they have a vibrating membrane-like structure called a tymbal and the males have enlarged air-filled abdomens that act as a resonating chamber. Cicadas move their abdomens in and out very rapidly, turning individual clicks into the seemingly continuous sound we hear. The males sing to attract females. They sing the most during the hottest weather and have become associated with the dog days of summer.

The other most obvious evidence of cicadas are the empty husks that they leave behind. This is the final molt of the cicada nymph as it emerges from the ground. All that sound is a mating call, and cicadas mate and lay their eggs in trees. Females cut slits in tree bark to lay their eggs and in six to seven weeks the nymphs hatch and fall to the ground and burrow in. Nymphs live underground and feed on plant roots. Some species, called “periodic cicadas,” spend 13 or 17 years under ground; but most emerge in two to five years. They will molt several times while underground and then when they finally emerge from the ground, they molt once more and leave behind a husk.

These insects have several predators, including the cicada killing wasp. They are eaten by birds and squirrels as well. Their song is often loud enough to repel birds, and can prevent predation. In some parts of the world, they are also eaten by people. But most of them are killed by a fungus, or old age. Males die shortly after mating and females continue to lay eggs.

As for the whole katydid/locust/cicada confusion, each are distinct varieties of insects. Locusts and katydids are more closely related to crickets and grasshoppers than to cicadas. Day time buzzing is cicadas, and katydids and crickets take over the night hours. There are over forty species of cicadas in Texas, and they will be around until the weather starts to cool.

Enjoy the dog days of summer, and the daytime song of the cicadas. To hear some of their songs you can find them on this Texas A&M website.

Attracting Butterflies To Your Garden

by Karen Marquardt

Everyone loves butterflies, and most people want more of them around. There are several ways you can attract butterflies to your garden.

The first part of attracting butterflies is understanding their needs. Butterflies are insects that go through four complete life stages, each with different needs. Two of these stages, butterfly and caterpillar need food sources; and two stages, pupa and egg need shelter. Understanding the food and shelter needs of different butterflies helps attract them to your garden.

Most butterflies, as adults, feed on nectar producing flowers but others feed on everything from animal dung to tree sap. Planting nectar producing flowers, particularly native plants, will entice butterflies into your yard. You can also set up feeding stations, with nectar and fruit. Adult butterflies also feed at different heights, so providing a variety of plants in also necessary. Some of the great Central Texas butterfly flowers are coneflowers, passionflowers, mistflower, pentas, lantana, pavonia, zinnias, milkweed, sunflowers, queen Anne’s lace, and butterfly bush. The most common recommendations for attracting both bees and butterflies is to plant flowers, especially ones that provide a resting place (think large and flat, like a daisy).

Butterflies also need host plants, where they lay their eggs and where caterpillars feed. One of the biggest aspects of inviting butterflies into your garden in a tolerance for caterpillar chewed leaves. Caterpillars are voracious eaters, and can leave plants looking awful. Adding plants that you don’t mind seeing chewed on can keep butterflies in your yard. Most swallowtail butterflies, my favorites, like plants in the parsley and citrus families. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on milkweed plants, and many other butterflies like milkweed. Fritillaries like passionflowers, and other butterflies favor different trees and flowers for host plants. Many of the native plants which host butterflies are seen as weeds, but are crucial to butterfly reproduction. Host plants can be added to the backs of beds and other places where the chewed leaves can be tolerated. I always plant dill in my herb garden because I like the butterflies, not because I love the flavor of dill.

One of the last considerations for attracting butterflies is to provide a water source. Butterflies like shallow, low, mineral rich water so adding a small dish with damp crushed granite will provide water for butterflies.

If you provide for their needs, you will have butterflies. Plant flowers, lots of different kinds and different heights, allow the occasional weed, tolerate caterpillar chewed leaves and enjoy a garden full of butterflies!

Hummus Four Ways

by Karen Marquardt

No summer party is complete without dip, and one of my favorite dips is hummus. Hummus in it’s basic form is a chickpea and sesame dip that is popular all across the Mediterranean, but individual recipes can vary widely. Here in the U.S. we have become used to the basic hummus and variations like olive, roasted red pepper and southwestern. This Middle Eastern staple is easy to make, and easy to modify. Please enjoy.

Basic Recipe:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cans cooked chickpeas (about 3 cups), rinsed and drained
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce
  • salt (to taste)
  • ¼ cup tahini (available at Asian and Middle Eastern markets)
  • ½ cup sesame seeds (optional, but they do give a brighter flavor to the hummus)
  1. Toast sesame seeds in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Keep the seeds moving to prevent burning. Grind in food processor or blender.
  2. Saute onions and garlic in oil until onions are translucent (just for fun, you can use a red onion, and have pink hummus when you are done)
  3. In a blender or food processor, process all the ingredients until a smooth paste is formed
  4. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a little paprika. This recipe makes 3-4 cups of hummus, and is easily divided to make the variations.

Variations:

  1. Olive hummus: Finely mince 2 tablespoons of Kalamata or other strongly flavored olives. Blend half into 1/4 of the basic recipe. Serve with remaining olives on top with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Sun-dried tomato hummus: Dice 1-2 tablespoons of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes. Blend sund-ried tomatoes into 1/4 of the basic recipe. Top with a drizzle of the oil from the tomatoes.
  3. Southwestern style hummus: Add ½ tsp cumin, ¼ teaspoon chili powder and 1-4 tablespoons diced green chiles (I use canned because I always have them on hand) to the basic recipe. Can be topped with some diced green chiles and cilantro.

Why Am I A Mosquito Magnet?

by Karyn Brown

Mosquitoes love me. I can be with a group in a buggy area and everyone will get two or three bites, while I will get 20. I used to think it was a fluke, but it turns out that this is a real phenomenon, and about 10% of the population is just like me.

Why is this? Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer, and nothing I can really do about it, but it has to do with the many different aromatic compounds (about 400 of them, in fact) that make up the human scent. My particular scent includes more compounds that attract mosquitoes and fewer that repel them.

Would it help if I ate a lot of garlic?

Studies involving eating garlic have shown no measurable effect on attractiveness to mosquitoes. Rubbing it on your skin can help for a few minutes, but who really wants to do that? Although they do prefer certain people over others, in general mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide, lactic acid and dark clothing. So the best thing to do if you need to go outside is to cover up with light, loose-fitting clothing, and try not to move around too much.

What about all the other repellents that we hear about?

The most effective is without question DEET, which masks carbon dioxide and lactic acid and lasts for several hours. It also helps if you stay in an area with good air movement, such as near a fan, as mosquitoes don’t fly well in wind. The rest of the repellents I have researched are less-than effective:

  • Bug zapper….not effective, kills mostly non-target insects such as moths
  • Citronella (applied topically)….repels for 20 minutes or less
  • Citronella candles….only effective in the very near vicinity of the candle
  • Dryer sheets (rubbed on clothes and skin)….no measurable effect on mosquito behavior
  • Garlic (ingested)….no measurable effect on mosquito behavior
  • Garlic (applied topically)….short term mosquito repellent
  • IR3535 (Avon Skin So Soft)….effective for about 20 minutes
  • Lemon eucalyptus oil….studies have shown some promise
  • Listerine (applied topically)….no measurable effect on mosquito behavior
  • Scented shampoo/soap/perfume (touted as attractive to mosquitoes)….no measurable effect on mosquito behavior
  • Vitamin B (ingested)….no measurable effect on mosquito behavior

Will it ever get better?

It might! Your scent changes over time, and some people become less attractive (or more!) when they become pregnant, enter puberty, or go through any number of other bodily changes. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Mosquito Squad can help you enjoy your yard even if you are the Austin’s worst mosquito magnet. You can choose between our conventional and all natural treatments for getting rid of those nasty biters!

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

by Karyn Brown

Fresh fruits and vegetables are delicious and nutritious, and they can be combined and prepared in endless combinations to enrich your diet and improve your health. Of course we want to start with the freshest produce available, and of course we want it to be clean so that we aren’t inadvertently eating pesticides and bacteria! Even if you grow your own produce organically at home, it still needs to be washed before eating it. Insects crawl around on plants, dirt blows around in the wind, dust settles on surfaces, rain carries particles with it and you never know what the neighbor’s cat might be up to! What is the best way to get your produce clean?

According to Better Homes & Gardens, cool clean water is all you need to use to get your produce clean. We have read that almost 75% to 80% of pesticide residues are removed by cold water washing alone! There are many other recommendations online for do-it-yourself produce washes if you want to nudge that percentage up a little higher. We haven’t tried all of them, but here are a few that seem to do the job without negatively impacting the flavor of your food.

2% Salt Water Wash

Combine 4 tbsp salt with 1 gallon water and soak produce for about five minutes. Rinse, dry and store.

White Vinegar Wash (for sturdy fruit with thick skin)

Add 1 cup white vinegar to 1 gallon water in a large bowl and soak produce up to one hour. Scrub gently, rinse, dry and store.

Salt and Lemon Juice Spray (good for greens)

In a spray bottle, mix 2 cups water, the juice of 1 lemon and 2 tbsp salt. Spray on greens, let sit for about a minute. Add 1 cup white vinegar to 1 gallon water in a large bowl and soak about 15 minutes. Rinse, dry and store.

Lemon Juice Spray (good for berries)

In a spray bottle, mix 2 cups water and 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice. Spray on the berries, coating them thoroughly. Soak in fresh water for about 15 minutes, dry and store.

Apple Cider Vinegar Spray

In a spray bottle, mix 1 cup water, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup lemon juice. Spray onto produce and let sit for about 30 seconds. Rinse, dry and store.

Mosquito Predators

by Karen Marquardt

Everyone wants to know how they can get rid of mosquitoes naturally, and predators always come up in the discussion. Mosquitoes have many natural predators; purple martins, bats, mosquito fish, dragonflies and others. Unfortunately, most of these predators are not terribly effective, except around permanent bodies of water.

Purple martins are often mentioned as birds that eat “thousands of mosquitoes” and it’s true that they do eat mosquitoes, but like most predators they prefer larger prey. A nice fat insect like a fly, moth, dragonfly, butterfly or June bug will give a purple martin a lot more bang for the buck than a skinny little mosquito, so those are the kinds of insects they will target. Also, purple martins tend to feed high up in the air, far over the height where most of the mosquitoes we are interested in spend their time. The mosquitoes that bite humans don’t generally go any higher than about 20 feet in the air. So purple martins do eat mosquitoes, but they only make up about three percent or less of their diet.

Bats are thought to be great mosquito predators, but the same story is true for them as for the purple martins. Even though we have millions of bats in the Austin area, for most of them, less than one percent of their diet is mosquitoes. In fact, studies of bat guano often show mostly undigested beetle and moth wings. Even if they are not ideal mosquito predators, there are plenty of them, and the bats in the Austin area do make an impact on mosquito populations, as well as many agricultural pests.

The Western mosquitofish, on the other hand, is very effective at mosquito control. These little fish, which measure only 1.5" to 2.5" long, are thought to be native Texans. Their scientific name is Gambusia affinis, and they bear live young and can reproduce up to five times per year. This means lots of hungry baby fish! They feed on aquatic invertebrates, particularly mosquito larvae!. They can eat over 150% of their body weight a day and their high breeding rate and voracious appetites make them ideal for mosquito control in ponds and stagnant water. Mosquito Squad of North Austin can supply these little fish to customers who request them.

Dragonflies and damselflies are also good natural predators of mosquitoes through all stages of their lifecycle. Like mosquitoes, dragonfly and damselfly larvae are aquatic, and the former is hunted by the latter. Adult dragonflies and damselflies feed on adult mosquitoes. Seeing these beautiful insects around your pond means you are getting natural mosquito control! Other pond critters, such as frogs and toads, will feed on both adult and larval mosquitoes. Having a varied environment in your pond that supports dragonflies, frogs, toads and mosquito fish will help the mosquito control in your yard.

Each of these predators makes a dent in the mosquito population, and they are all assets to your yard, controlling other pests and adding beauty and interest to the natural environment. They may not be enough to keep us comfortable, but they are good to have around!

Sparkling Peach Sangria

by Karen Marquardt

Mosquito Squad isn’t all about getting rid of biting pests! Like you, we like to spend time with our families outdoors. Peaches are just now hitting the market in Central Texas and we love shopping at any of the many Austin area farmers markets to find the best fruit available. This sangria recipe makes use of these delicious gifts from nature. The sparkling wine in the recipe makes a lovely, light, summer beverage perfect for brunch and there is even an alcohol-free version for kids! Many summer evenings, I hang out with my neighbors on the cul-de-sac and this sangria has made it to more than one get-together.

4 peaches, sliced
½ cup fresh mint or lemon balm (optional)
½ cup elderflower liqueur such as St. Germain
1 750 mL bottle light, sweet, white wine, like Chenin Blanc, Moscato, Reisling or Gewürztraminer
1 750 mL bottle sparkling wine, I like Prosecco
Fresh raspberries (optional)

Mix peaches, mint, liqueur, and the wine. Slightly muddle the mint and peaches. Refrigerate overnight for fullest flavor. Add sparkling wine and serve. You can either mix it all together, or pour the peach mixture into a glass and top with sparkling wine. I like the more blended flavor when it is all mixed together. It you want a sweeter version, you can add ½ cup simple syrup (mint infused is nice!). For a kid friendly version, substitute elderflower syrup (Ikea carries it), white grape/peach juice and peach flavored sparkling water. Raspberries are a nice addition.

Featured Park - Memorial Park Round Rock

by Karen Marquardt

Memorial Park is what I think of when I hear the phrase “small neighborhood park.” It is located at 600 N Lee Street in Round Rock and can be a little hard to get to, but it is worth finding. It offers a few amenities, including a softball field, but is mostly just a green and shady place to spend some time outside.

There are many parks along Brushy Creek in Round Rock and Cedar Park, including Memorial Park. It is a small park, but spans both sides of the creek. It is an excellent park for small children, with fishing, a new-ish playscape, easy hiking and ducks to feed. It is a short walk from this park to the round rock in Brushy Creek that gives the town its name. This stone marks a crossing place for the cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail, and you can still see ruts left in the soft rocks by the passing wagons. The ducks and squirrels are friendly, but the geese, like most, can be a little aggressive.

Memorial Park is always busy on the weekends with people fishing and picnicking at the many tables and grills. Fishing in the park is a mixed bag. There are sunfish and small bass in the stream, but the large carp and catfish are more fun to catch. The carp are up to about three feet long, and put up a nice fight. There are also decent sized big catfish in the creek. Big trees make it pleasant on hot summer days, so take a few hours some time soon to go check out this local gem.

Meet the Squad


Sairjis, Levonte, Stephan (in back), Rich (in front), Jason, Kapreece and Laura

by Karyn Brown

Spring has definitely sprung, and we are busy working to provide the best mosquito control available. Mosquito season starts in March and gets really busy in May, so we have been hiring, training, purchasing equipment and taking care of customers for about two months already.

In order to provide the most thorough and effective mosquito control for your yard, we typically work in teams of two, with one technician taking care of the front yard while the other takes care of the back. We know exactly what to do to give you the best control, whether you choose the all natural or the conventional treatment, but we also move pretty fast! We are in and out of most yards in 15-20 minutes or less, and once the product has had 30 minutes to dry and settle, you and your family can get back to enjoying your outdoor living space.

I am extremely happy with the 2017 team so far! We have a lot of fun together and everyone is dedicated to our mission of helping customers enjoy their yards. When you see the Squad at your house, come out and say hello to the best technicians in the business!

Organic vs All Natural

by Karen Marquardt

In Austin, we are very aware of the need to protect our environment. We recycle, we try to reduce packaging and we want to have as little impact on the environment as we can. Many of us enjoy buying organic produce and finding alternatives to using harsh chemicals around our homes. But words like “organic,” “natural,” and “green” are thrown around quite a lot, so let’s talk about what these terms mean.

Use of the term “organic” is highly regulated, particularly in the pest control industry. You can find all of the rules and regulations on the USDA website, but the gist of it is that only products that have met a series of strict requirements may be labeled as organic. Organic products are not necessarily more effective than other products, and they are not necessarily more environmentally friendly, especially if they are not applied according to the label instructions.

Confusingly, in chemistry, the term “organic” refers to any chemical compound that contains carbon. By this definition, gasoline, isopropyl alcohol, cocaine, propane, sugar and many other materials are organic, and this has nothing to do with the manner in which they are produced.

To meet the demands of environmentally conscious customers, Mosquito Squad offers an all natural service. The product we use for this service is made from the extract of various plants that repel mosquitoes. We say it is “all natural” because all of the ingredients are found in nature and are simply concentrated into liquid form. It does not, however, meet organic labeling guidelines. We also add a surfactant to help this product emulsify in water and stick to the surfaces we apply it to.

At Mosquito Squad, we care about the environment too. We use just enough of our product to provide the best result that we can. Whether you choose the traditional service or the all natural service, we are confident that you will see great results.

Dyed Deviled Eggs

by Karyn Brown

Easter doesn’t seem complete without dyed eggs and deviled eggs. This recipe combines the two for a pretty addition to your holiday meal.

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Food coloring (I like the neon colors)
  • Vinegar

To make:

  1. Hard boil your eggs, using any method you prefer. Older eggs are easier to peel because the air pocket is larger and the membrane is less sticky.
  2. Peel the eggs
  3. Slice eggs the long way, removing and reserving the yolks
  4. Place several drops of food coloring, a teaspoon of vinegar and 2/3 cup of water in a cup and mix, repeating for all the colors you want
  5. Add sliced egg whites to bowls of dye and leave in until they are the desired hue
  6. Remove the whites and drain
  7. Mix yolks, mayo, mustard, salt and pepper and pipe or spoon into egg whites
  8. Cool for 30 minutes before serving

For a more sophisticated flavor try this deviled egg recipe:

  • 4 oz gorgonzola or other blue cheese
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons bacon crumbles
  • dash Worcestershire sauce

To make:

  1. Allow blue cheese and butter to soften at room temperature for 30 minutes
  2. Mix butter and cheese together until creamy
  3. Add egg yolks, Worcestershire sauce and bacon bits
  4. Mix well
  5. Spoon or pipe into egg whites.
  6. Chill before serving

Mosquito Predator: Dragonfly

by Karyn Brown

Many people are surprised to find that mosquitoes don’t have that many predators. Possibly because they are so small, most other animals don’t bother hunting them. Why should they, when the air is full of big fat moths and other insects that would make a more satisfying meal?

One animal that does prey on mosquitoes, however, is the dragonfly. This amazing insect was one of the very first winged insects and evolved over 300 million years ago. They have two pairs of wings, a long body (between 17 mm and 15cm) and large multifaceted eyes. Fossils have been found of dragonflies with wingspans up to 30 inches! Their two sets of wings work independently, allowing for tremendous maneuverability. They are found on every continent except for Antarctica, and they have been known to travel across oceans.

Adult dragonflies eat other insects including mosquitoes, and can consume hundreds of mosquitoes in one day. They are usually found around lakes, ponds and other water because their larvae are aquatic, just like mosquito larvae. In fact, even the dragonfly larvae eat mosquito larvae, so they are a double threat! Dragonflies do not bite or sting humans as adults although the larvae can deliver a painful bite.

The University of Texas published a guidebook called Dragonflies of Texas" that you can buy for less than $20 with a description of the many beautiful species native to Texas.

So next time you see one of these amazing insects skimming along the ground, you can thank it for all the hard work it does eating those pesky mosquitoes!

Know Your Mosquito: Aedes albopictus or Asian Tiger Mosquito

by Karyn Brown

The Aedes albopictus mosquito is also called the Asian Tiger Mosquito. It migrated to the United States from Southeast Asia, landing in Houston around 1985 and reaching Austin not long after. It is easily recognized by its black and white striped body and legs. It is a smaller mosquito, between 2 mm and 10 mm long (its size varies depending on the conditions when it hatches), and it is a quick and aggressive biter that will fly off mid-meal if you attempt to swat it, completing its meal later from the same person or someone else. Bites are more noticeable than from some other species, and tend to be around the ankles and lower legs. In fact, these mosquitoes are sometimes called “ankle biters.” Aedes albopictus is active at dusk and dawn, but also during the day, resting primarily at night.

There are several important diseases that Aedes albopictus can transmit, including the yellow fever virus, dengue fever, chikungunya, West Nile Virus, several encephalitis strains and potentially Zika, as well as dog heartworm.

There are several factors that make this insect an important pest for humans in Texas and around the world.

  1. It tends to live near people and we are an important food source.
  2. It likes to lay eggs above the waterline of stagnant water or water that has collected in containers such as plant saucers and plastic containers. An ounce of water or less is sufficient, and sources like these are prevalent around human settlements.
  3. It bites other mammals, including dogs, cats, squirrels, deer and other mammals, and it bites birds, so it is capable of carrying diseases across species.
  4. It is common for a female to take blood from several individuals in order to lay one batch of eggs, allowing for disease transfer between humans.

Aedes albopictus is a weak flyer and does not travel far from where it hatches, less than 200 meters, so if you have them in your yard, their breeding source is within about 1/10th of one mile of your house. Look for puddles that last more than three days, bird baths that aren’t dumped out and refilled every other day, plant saucers, French drains, sagging or plugged roof gutters, tree holes, old tires, and any other possible containers or pools of standing water.

Aedes albopictus eggs are laid singly and they are tiny, about 1 mm in length. They can overwinter and then hatch in the spring when conditions are right. The entire life cycle from egg to adult can be as short as 7 days if conditions are right, and the female will take her first blood meal within three days of emerging. Adults live up to about one month.

Know Your Mosquito: Culex quinquefasciatus

by Karen Marquardt

The common name of the Culex quinquefasciatus is the southern house mosquito, and that really says it all. It is very comfortable in human homes. It is largish and brown, and generally feeds at night, but can be active at other times. Often it rests in a quiet area of your home, then bites you during the night. If you’ve ever been lying in bed and heard the high-pitched whine of a mosquito, it was probably a southern house mosquito. It is most comfortable in warm climates, and is one of the most common mosquitoes in the American South.

Southern house mosquitoes are also known as “quinks” because their scientific name, Culex quinquefasciatus, is difficult to pronounce. In Texas, they are most common in the spring or fall, but are found all summer. They prefer to take their blood meal from birds, but are considered indiscriminate eaters, which means that they will also readily bite humans and other mammals. They take multiple blood meals in their lifetime, meaning they can bite more than once.

Nutrient Rich Water

Southern house mosquitoes like to lay their eggs in water that is nutrient-rich, which is just a fancy way of saying nasty water full of rotting vegetation; such as leaf-filled gutters, persistent rainwater puddles, culverts, tires, and the like. The females lay eggs in floating rafts of about 100 eggs each, and can lay several rafts in one cycle. The eggs remain in the water for about two weeks, hatch, pupate and then emerge as adults. They can have several generations in one year, and overwinter as pregnant females.

The southern house mosquito’s indiscriminate dining habits also make it more than an annoying nuisance mosquito. Because it feeds on both birds and mammals, and takes multiple blood meals, it can act as a vector for disease. In Texas, it is considered one of the primary vectors for both St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE) and West Nile Virus. For both of these diseases, birds act as a reservoir of the virus. When a mosquito bites an infected bird, and then a human; it acts as a bridge and transmits the virus to the human. Very few viruses can be transmitted this way, and many, including West Nile, can be minor. Most people infected with West Nile are asymptomatic, meaning that they just don’t get sick. Both of these diseases, however, can be serious, and infrequently even fatal. Many counties in Texas, including Williamson and Travis, monitor mosquitoes for WNV.

13 Facts About Mosquitoes

by Karen Marquardt

Everyone knows what a mosquito looks like, and most of us are all too familiar with what a mosquito bite feels like, but beyond that most people don’t really know much about these fascinating insects. Read on for some interesting facts that you can use to amaze your friends at your next outdoor party.

  1. Mosquitoes are not all the same. In fact, there are over 3000 species of mosquito worldwide, and about 85 species in Texas. Mosquitoes are found on every continent except Antarctica, and in every ecosystem from desert to jungle.
  2. Only the female mosquito needs to have a “blood meal," which means that only the female is a problem for humans. The male mosquito spends his life eating (mostly nectar from flowers), and mating.
  3. The eggs of some mosquito species can be completely desiccated, or dried out, for up to six years and still hatch successfully when exposed to water. For these floodwater species, having the egg completely dry out is a critical part of the life cycle.
  4. A female mosquito can detect carbon dioxide from up to 75 feet away. She senses the plume of exhaled carbon dioxide given off by her prey, then homes in using a variety of other mechanisms.
  5. Not all mosquitoes feed on humans, or even on warm blooded animals. Some mosquitoes only feed on reptiles or amphibians.
  6. That annoying high-pitched whine that you hear when a mosquito gets near your ear is caused by the mosquito’s wing beats. Some species beat their wings as fast as 600 times per second. Some mosquitoes even synchronize their wing beats with each other to check for compatibility before mating.
  7. Some people really are mosquito magnets. A human being’s chemical signature is made up of around 200 chemicals, and the signature of each person is unique. We do know that mosquitoes tend to prefer women over men, they like floral scents, they are attracted to lactic acid and they like stinky feet. The also target people who have been drinking beer. That just leaves about 195 other factors that might be making you a target. It has been estimated that about one in ten people are mosquito magnets.
  8. Mosquitoes are considered by many to be the most dangerous animal on the planet, due to the diseases that they can spread. Mosquito-borne illness, mainly malaria, kill about one million people every year.
  9. Most mosquitoes are not considered strong flyers, achieving maximum velocity of about 1.5 mph. A strong breeze or fan can keep them grounded.
  10. Scratching mosquito bites actually does make them itch worse. The swelling at the site of the bite, often called a welt, is the body’s reaction to an anti-coagulant in mosquito saliva. Scratching the itch stimulates the body’s immune response and makes it itch more.
  11. All mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle, but they don’t need much. A tablespoon of water may be enough to breed hundreds of mosquitoes.
  12. Mosquito swarms in the arctic actually change caribou migration and movement.
  13. Mosquitoes have existed longer than people. Evidence shows that they have been around at least 100 million years!

The Truth About Mosquito Hawks

by Karyn Brown

The Truth About Mosquito Hawks

I went to a friend’s house this morning and saw two mosquito hawks by his front door, which reminded me that it is already spring in Central Texas! This is the time of year when we begin to see these large, erratically-flying, leggy insects bobbing around our light fixtures or hear them banging into our windows at night. Many people think that they are large mosquitoes, which is understandable given their similar appearance. Others think that they eat mosquitoes because they are commonly called mosquito hawks.

Thankfully they are not mosquitoes, but they don’t eat them either. They are crane flies, and they neither bite nor sting. They are ridiculously large, however, and can have a wing span of up to 6.5 cm.

The crane fly is, as the name suggests, a type of fly. They are found worldwide and are especially diverse in the tropics. The adult crane fly has a slender body and long skinny legs that are easily broken. The adult crane fly typically doesn’t eat at all, but emerges from the larva stage in February or March and lives just long enough to mate, lay eggs and die. The larvae, called leatherjackets, are often found in December and January under layers of decaying leaves in wet locations such as ditches. The larvae feed on the decomposing plant matter around them.

Next time you see one of these bizarre insects, no one will blame you for running for cover, but there is no need to call Mosquito Squad just yet. They won’t hurt you, and we will be ready to help you when the REAL mosquitoes start emerging!

The Ideal Yard

by Karyn Brown

Yard Design and Mosquito Control

If you are considering doing some work on your yard this year, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to reduce the numbers of mosquitoes that like to come into your yard. Often, people think that if they just get rid of all the plants, they won’t have any more mosquitoes, but this is NOT TRUE! Please don’t take out all of the beautiful plants and trees that make your yard inviting. Relatively empty yards, with just grass and a fence, can actually have worse mosquito problems than lush yards.

We all know that mosquitoes need water to breed, so you should certainly review The Five Ts of Mosquito Control to make sure your yard improvments minimize breeding areas. And judicious use of Mosquito Repellent Plants can be helpful when planted in a window box, but let’s talk about how mosquitoes behave to understand why having a nicely planted yard is actually best both for you and for the mosquitoes.

Mosquito Harborage

Mosquitoes like cool, green and shady, just like us! Most are relatively weak flyers, so they like shelter from the wind. They also like to fly short distances and then rest somewhere that they can hang upside down. Many species of mosquitoes are adapted to living close to humans (and feeding on them) which means they like to rest under decks and other structures, under the eaves and under patio covers. Some mosquitoes will readily enter homes to rest there until you are sleeping. Male and female mosquitoes have somewhat different habits, but both like the same sort of shelter.

Mosquito Food

Mosquitoes feed primarily on nectar and fruit, and the males never take a blood meal. They also use vegetation as shelter, otherwise known as harborage. Female mosquitoes need blood to lay eggs, otherwise they also feed on plants.

What Attracts Female Mosquitoes?

When female mosquitoes are searching for a blood meal, the big billboard attractor chemical is carbon dioxide, which every animal breathes out. They also detect body heat and lactic acid, and they tend to prefer targets that are darker in color. Their sensory organs are well suited for finding prey, and they can do it from at least a yard away, as anyone who has gone outside without a mosquito in sight, only to be inundated a few minutes later can attest.

So even if your yard is completely bare, there is nothing to stop the mosquitoes from detecting you from next door and coming over for a meal, and now you have a boring bare yard that isn’t enjoyable for you either.

Mosquito Squad Uses Harborage to Eliminate Mosquitoes

When Mosquito Squad treats your home for mosquitoes, we treat all the places where mosquitoes like to harbor. That means all those nice plants and trees that make your yard shady and enjoyable become our key to eliminating mosquitoes! Our treatment will eliminate any mosquitoes resting there during treatment, and it leaves a residual that will eliminate any mosquitoes that fly in from next door and rest there. Remember how we said most mosquitoes only fly a short distance before landing? If there is a lovely shady plant treated by Mosquito Squad between you and the next door neighbor’s yard, the mosquitoes are likely to stop there for a rest and never make it all the way to you. That’s why we call it a barrier spray. We also work to eliminate breeding areas by tightening the tarps on grills, and we treat any areas with standing water such as big potted plants with saucers, bird baths and the damp spot by the air conditioner. We also tip over anything we think could hold enough water to make mosquitoes a problem.

The Ideal Yard

What this all boils down to is that the ideal yard for Mosquito Squad is also the ideal yard for most homeowners: well-kept, well-maintained, with plenty of foliage. So enjoy those lovely new plants and trees, and if mosquitoes become a problem, just give us a call.

Fighting Malaria In Cameroon

by Karyn Brown

In October of 2016, I had the opportunity to travel to Cameroon with Malaria No More. This is an organization that Mosquito Squad has supported since 2013, and when I heard that I could go and see how the donations are being used, I signed up right away.

I have never traveled to Africa, and it was not as easy as just hopping on a plane to New York! I had to get a Yellow Fever shot, a battery of other vaccinations, apply for a passport and visa, begin a regimen of anti-malaria medication, and then travel for about 36 hours before we finally touched down in the capital city of Yaoundé.

Cameroon

In case you don’t know where Cameroon is, it is on the West coast of Central Africa. It has a population of about 22 million, with several major cities, including Yaoundé and Douala, both of which we visited on the trip. The major languages are French and English, and there are hundreds of local languages. Paul Biya has been president since 1982, which means that the government is pretty stable, but it is also authoritarian.

The literacy rate is over 70%, although the rate isn’t quite as good for girls as it is for boys. Most children have access to state-run schools and the country has one of the highest school attendance rates in Africa, with the southern part of the country performing better than the north. The quality of health care is generally low, with only one doctor for every 5,000 people. Outside the major cities, facilities are often dirty and poorly equipped.

One of the most shocking statistics about Cameroon, though, is the life expectancy at birth, which is estimated to be 54.71 years in 2012, among the lowest in the world. I’m looking forward to living to the ripe old age of 100 (at least), so the idea of most people dying at just over 50 is frightening.

Malaria

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also supports Malaria No More, has done a great job of educating the world about how deadly malaria is. This graphic made the rounds on social media and it shows clearly that more people are killed every year by mosquitoes than by any other animal. The reason they are so deadly is not because they have teeth and claws, but because they carry diseases, and the most deadly disease by far is malaria.

Malaria threatens half the world’s population and kills nearly half a million people every year, most of whom are small children and pregnant women. It is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, which is a genus, just like the Homo in Homo sapiens is a genus. There are about 460 species of Anopheles mosquitoes, and we do have them here in Texas. The most important species are Anopheles gambiae, because out of the 30-40 species that transmit malaria to humans, these are the most efficient. That has to do with several factors. First, they do a good job of incubating the malaria parasite while not suffering any ill effects, second because they feed primarily on humans, and third because they can breed really well in water sources that are readily available around humans.

The Anopheles gambiae is is mostly active at night, between 10pm and 4am, and it’s a pretty skittish mosquito, which means that if you move it will fly away, so it really likes to bite sleeping people. It prefers to bite indoors, and it also prefers to rest indoors when it’s not busy biting people or laying eggs.

Malaria causes symptoms that typically include fever, fatigue, vomiting, and headaches. In severe cases it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma, or death. In addition to killing people, it is one of the leading causes of school and work absenteeism in areas where it is present. The economic burden of malaria across Africa has been estimated to be as high as $12 billion, and I saw one estimate of over $4 billion per year for Cameroon alone.

Malaria No More

Malaria No More is a nonprofit organization established in 2006 that aims to eradicate malaria by 2040. In the United States, mosquitoes do occasionally transmit diseases that hurt and kill, but for the vast majority of us they are just a nuisance, and we treat our homes and yards because we want to be able to enjoy the outdoors without getting a bunch of itchy bites. Mosquito Squad felt a responsibility to try and help in parts of the world where mosquitoes are a much bigger problem, and that led to our partnership with Malaria No More.

Through the efforts of Malaria No More and other organizations working on the problem, malaria mortality rates have fallen 58% among children under five since 2000.

What are the things Malaria No More is doing?

  1. Timely diagnosis – Rapid-diagnostic tests (RDTs) are expanding the world’s ability to confirm malaria cases in remote settings, ensuring that people get the right treatment when and where they need it.
  2. Treatment – Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are the frontline treatment for malaria. A full course of life-saving malaria treatment costs just $1 and cures a child in one to three days.
  3. Mosquito Nets – Long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs) prevent malaria by creating a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when transmissions occur, and can cover two people per net.
  4. Targeted insecticide spraying – Indoor residual spraying, or spraying on the inside walls of homes helps kill mosquitoes and reduce the rate of malaria transmission.
  5. Government Funding – Foreign aid represents less than 1% of the US federal budget, but it makes a huge difference. By bridging the current funding gap and helping countries deliver life-saving tools, we can keep the drive toward zero malaria deaths.
  6. Vaccines – Scientists and organizations around the world are working together to accelerate the development of a malaria vaccine and ensure its availability in the developing world.

Neighborhood Cleanup

One of the initiatives for Malaria No More in Cameroon is neighborhood cleanups and education. They work with local organizations to identify mosquito breeding areas and clean them up, and I was excited to see this in action. Our first trip was into this neighborhood in Yaoundé, where a depression had been accumulating water and garbage in between all of these homes. Malaria No More and a local youth group teamed up to bring in wheelbarrows and shovels, take away all the trash and level it out so that the water wouldn’t accumulate anymore.

After the cleanup was done, there was a rally, with drums and music. Music is a really important part of Cameroonian culture, and it was really interesting to see this all happen. All of the kids and the families came out to listen and participate. First they had a demonstration, where Malaria No More educated everyone on how malaria is transmitted, what to do when someone gets sick, and how to use a bed net. You can see that they got a couple of girls to demonstrate how to set one up and sleep under it. They showed them how to tie it up at night, how to clean and repair it, and reinforced all the reasons why bed nets are so important. There was a lot of call and response, where the leader would say, “how often do you need to sleep under a mosquito net?” and everyone would reply, “every night!” Then the leader would walk up to one of the mothers and get her to answer questions on the microphone for everyone to hear.

Once that was done they played the K. O. Palu Anthem, which everyone knew and joined in singing, and it turned into a street party! K. O. Palu means Knock Out Malaria (Palu is French for malaria) and It really struck me how effective this was given the culture. I’m not sure this type of thing would be as effective in the US, but in Cameroon it’s really a smart strategy! The K.O. Palu Malaria Anthem features Cameroonian artists Xmaleya, Sine, Grace Decca, Duc-Z, and Kate. It’s really well known, and a great way to reinforce all of the messages that Malaria No More is trying to get out there.

K.O. Palu Anthem

Orphanages

Another Malaria No More initiative is to work with orphanages, where they can educate and protect a lot of children at once. So we visited two orphanages during our trip, this one in Limbe and another near Douala. Malaria No More had already been there and all the kids have bed nets already, but the orphanage helps out a lot of widows in the area, so we were there to reinforce the message and also to give out bed nets to the widows so that they and their children will be safe from malaria. As in the neighborhood cleanup, there were songs and dancing, call and response, and a lot of fun. I really enjoyed getting to get close to the kids and talking with them.

In Cameroon, these tactics and others have inspired more than 500,000 people to sleep under mosquito nets. And when a child dies every two minutes from malaria, it is urgent that we keep working hard to spread the message.

Schools

We also visited a local school and did a program there, and Malaria No More recently sponsored a contest in a group of schools to create videos about malaria and all of the educational messages that they are trying to get out there. They got something like 800 responses, and I have links to two of them that are really great! You may have heard that when you see a message you only retain a fraction of it. When you see and hear the same message you retain more, but if you learn it and teach it to others, the results are even better. What a brilliant strategy to engage kids and teach them what they need to know!

First Place

Second Place

There are a lot of great organizations out there doing good work in the world, and I’m happy that my company is associated with one. We donate as a company, many of my customers donate and I give a dollar for each customer each year.

Here in the U.S., even with the threat of West Nile and the threat of Zika, mosquitoes are still really just an annoyance. But in other parts of the world they are a much more serious threat. I believe that with continued hard work and focus, we really will see the eradication of malaria in our lifetime, and save the lives of millions of people.

K. O. Palu

If you would like to join this fight, you can go to swatmalaria.net and make a contribution.

Featured Park: Berry Springs Park

by Karen Marquardt

We are graced in the Austin area with a climate that allows year round outdoor activity. Austin’s many parks make getting outside easy and fun; about the only things we can’t do are winter sports like skiing! In our Featured Park series we will highlight parks large and small, and introduce you to opportunities ranging from feeding ducks to hiking for hours. Some are hidden gems and some are so well known that a trip to Austin is incomplete without a visit. This little park in Georgetown might be my favorite area park! It is small, quiet, and lovely. And for those on the north side of Austin, it’s an easy drive. This is a “passive recreation” park, and has no sports fields.

The 300 acre park is a former pecan plantation dating from the 1940s, and the site of one the earliest grist mills in Williamson County. There are hiking trails, a spring-fed fishing pond, a campground (tents only), picnic pavilions, a playscape, a beautiful flower garden maintained by master gardeners, pecans for snacking on, and the resident mascots are two donkeys. I’ve hiked, fished, camped, geocached, gathered pecans, fed the donkeys, and played with my kids in this park.

The first stop for any visit is the donkey paddock next to the parking lot. The donkeys, Bob and Amigo, live in a paddock which surrounds part of the old homestead and they have the softest hair! They won’t pay much attention to you unless you bring carrots, so be sure to bring some along.

Once you have petted the donkeys, you can move on to the rest of the activities. I love the pretty spring fed pond that is the site of the original grist mill. The dam was originally built in 1846, and has been washed out and rebuilt twice. There is a fishing platform (catch and release only) over remarkably clear blue water. This makes fishing with little kids super easy, because they can actually see the fish when it bites! On the shore of the pond is one of the burr stones from John Berry’s mill. The huge pecan trees provide lots of shade on a hot Texas day, and lots of nuts in the fall. In addition to the native pecan trees, there are many “improved” trees too. All the pecans taste great, but the improved ones are a little easier to get open.

There are about four miles of easy hike and bike trails within the park. The trails pass the amphitheater, Berry family cemetery, flower garden, fire pit, pond and campground. Some parts are open, while others are well shaded, and there are great wildlife viewing areas. While camping with the Boy Scouts one spring we saw at least 14 hawks from five species, several kinds of water birds, bluebirds, and many other fascinating birds. In addition to the tent only drive-in camping, there is also a hike-in camping area that is primitive, but lovely. All of the campsites are very quiet, especially considering how close the park is to downtown Georgetown.

The park was listed as one of the “hidden gems” of Georgetown for good reason!

Water Gardens

by Karen Marquardt

Water gardens are an asset to any yard. Adding water to your garden can attract wildlife, make soothing sounds and provide great visual appeal. There are a variety of ways to add both flowing and still water to your yard, from the simplest bird bath to the most complex pond and waterfall arrangements imaginable.

The first step in choosing any water feature is determining what you want, what purpose it will serve, and what size you would like. The scale of the water feature is probably the first decision you should make. A simple bird bath is enough for many folks; it will attract birds and add a focal point in your garden. Expanding from there are container fountains and ponds, disappearing streams and waterfalls, ponds, waterfalls and streams. The purpose of the water feature should also be considered. Do you want a fish pond, a cheerful fountain, a fantastic water garden, a waterfall to block road noise, a feature to attract birds and wildlife or just a quiet lily pond? Are you going to DIY or hire someone to build it for you? Other considerations are budget, placement, maintenance, style and scope.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make with ponds and waterfalls, is locating them too far from the gathering places in the yard. While placing a pond at the back of your lot might make a nice focal point, it does not maximize your enjoyment of the water feature. Most pond elements are meant to be enjoyed up close; smelling the lilies, seeing the fish swim by, and listening to the burble of the flowing water. This means the best location is usually closer to the house or patio. My pond is just off the patio; I can see the birds playing in the water from all the windows in the kitchen and family rooms!

Once you have decided, it doesn’t really end there. Most people start small and end up scaling up. I started with a small container pond and a few goldfish, now I have three small ponds, a bog garden, stream and waterfall. At the small end are bird baths, small free standing fountains and other container gardens. These small garden elements can be just as attractive as larger elements, and can add a great deal of charm to a yard. Larger ponds, with streams and waterfalls just expand the options. The variety of fish and plants expands with larger ponds, as does the budget and maintenance issues.

One of my favorite things about my pond is the visitors it attracts. I have had all sorts of birds from painted buntings to great blue herons visit my pond. On a couple of quiet evenings we have even seen screech owls bathing in the waterfall. We always have toads, frogs, dragon flies and bees. Other visitors include deer, raccoons, possums, and even a fox! The only unwelcome visitors are the ones that eat my fish!

Mosquitoes can be a problem in ponds, particularly if there is not adequate flow and maintenance. I scoop leaves and other organic material out of my pond regularly, make sure the pond and bog have good water flow and keep plenty of mosquitofish. Mosquitofish are native to Texas, and can be purchased inexpensively at pond specialty stores, but mine came from a stream, in a bucket, caught by my kid. They breed easily, and now I have hundreds! My bog and pond are heavily planted, and mosquitoes still come in from outside my yard, so I also use Mosquito Squad’s all-natural barrier spray. It can be sprayed directly over water without harming the fish, and it allows me to be a little sloppier with bog maintenance. Dragonfly and damselfly larvae also eat mosquito larvae, so a good ecosystem with fish, plants, and insects naturally keeps mosquito breeding at bay. You can also use mosquito dunks in your pond, but I have never needed them.

Mosquito Repellent Plants

By Karen Marquardt

Mosquitoes find their blood meals by detecting carbon dioxide, lactic acid and body heat. They are also attracted to darker colors. They find their other food, nectar, using similar methods. Since some things attract mosquitoes, it isn’t too surprising that other things repel them. In fact, there are several plants that do a great job of keeping mosquitoes away, at least from the plant itself and a foot or so around it.

Mosquito repelling plants are highly aromatic. Some have appealing scents, while others will repel people as well, so choose wisely! Extracts of these plants are used in various combinations to produce lotions, sprays and pesticides, including the product that Mosquito Squad uses in our All Natural treatment.

Many mosquito repelling plants come from the mint family, including catmint or catnip, horsemint, lemon balm, bee balm and peppermint. All of these also have additonal uses, as well as fragrances that are appealing to people. Some of these plants have the added benefit of attracting bees and butterflies. In my garden, the bee balm, sage and agastache (hyssop) plants are always covered in bees.

Some of our favorite culinary herbs also have mosquito repelling qualities, including rosemary, basil, mint, sage, lavender, various thymes, and hyssop. Citronella, which has a very recognizable scent and is well known to repel mosquitoes, comes from the citronella plant, which is very closely related to lemon grass. Lemon grass also repels mosquitoes and grows well here in Texas, while the citronella plant is harder to find, grows bigger, and can have very sharp leaves. They can also be invasive and are cold sensitive. Strangely, the mosquito plant, or citronella geranium, shares the scent, but not the mosquito repelling property.

Other mosquito repelling plants include marigolds, artemsia, tansy, cedar, eucalyptus, ageratum, onions and garlic.

With all these plants available, you would think that there would be hardly a mosquito around any herb garden, much less anywhere else in your yard. However, while all of these plants do repel mosquitoes, most just keep the mosquito off the plant itself, and perhaps the few plants right around it. If you enjoy working in your garden, you may get some relief from mosquitoes by planting them around your other plants, and it is a great idea to put them in window boxes or around doors to discourage the mosquitoes from flying inside. Of course a screen is still more effective.

Rubbing these plants on your skin will also repel mosquitoes for a short time, but they are most effective if you extract the oils and use them that way.

Welcome to 2017!

By Karen Marquardt

We’ve had a beautiful start to the new year, with lots of sun. Everyone is back to work and back to school after the holidays. Cooler temperatures are here for the weekend, typical of Central Texas’s usual shorts-one-day-and-parka-the-next weather. In keeping with the usual New Year’s resolutions of healthier eating (and the cooler weather), I thought I would start the year with veggie-heavy chili. The cornbread may not be quite as resolution-friendly, but there has to be some give and take, right? I call it Cheatin’ Cornbread and it’s about convenience, but by all means use your favorite scratch cornbread to make this recipe.

Chili

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef or 12 oz package of veggie crumbles (I like the zesty ones for chili)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 each green and red peppers chopped
1 7 oz can chopped green chilies
1 16 oz can petite diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tsp oregano
1/2-2 tsp cayenne pepper
1-2 tsp salt
1 can each black beans, great northern and kidney beans, rinsed
1 16 oz bag frozen corn kernels (optional)

Add olive oil to the pan and sauté the first five ingredients in a large Dutch oven until onions are softened and translucent. Add seasoning and the canned tomatoes. Let simmer a minimum of 30 minutes (I usually go an hour to get the flavors to come together.) Add beans and corn, and simmer an additional 30 minutes. I usually taste it at this point and adjust the seasoning. No batch comes out exactly the same, but it all tastes good. Serve with corn bread, and top with onions, cheese or your favorites.

Cheatin’ Cornbread

2 boxes Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
2-4 slices of bacon
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1 4 oz can chopped green chilies
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro or parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Cook bacon in a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Remove bacon from the pan, leaving a generous amount of bacon fat in the pan. Chop bacon. Pour corn muffin mix in a bowl, add bacon, cheese, garlic powder, eggs and milk. Mix until everything comes together, add remaining ingredients, pour into the hot skillet, and immediately bake at 425* until the top is lightly browned and a tester comes out clean. For a lighter/vegetarian option, omit the bacon, and heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet before adding the corn bread mixture. Using a cast iron skillet with heated oil will produce a crispy browned crust; but it isn’t needed for a great cornbread that matches the chili!

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