Black Flies and Black Clouds

HELP!!! There’s a Blackfly in my Eye (and ears … and nose and mouth!). The Mountain Farmgirl is planting her gardens in New Hampshire this week … but she’s had more than a few deterrents! From rain to hail to clouds of black flies … find out how one ‘gets going’ on those gardens when the going gets very, VERY tough!

Well, I’m back from my son Noah’s wedding, and it was absolutely, stupendously WONDERFUL! I’ll have the photos in my possession by next time and tell you ALL about it!! But between planning for this big family event, and then being out of state for it for almost 10 days, our gardens are getting in late this year. VERY LATE.  Another reason is that the weather has not been terribly cooperative. Here in the White Mountains we’ve had a very late spring. In fact, my TULIPS and daffodils were still blooming over Memorial Day weekend and the peepers are STILL singing when evenings are warm enough to lull them out of their , chilled, semi-catatonic state. This is unheard of, even in northern NH!!  Usually by the second week of June everything is not only in the ground, but well-established and thriving. Well, there is an exception to every rule and this year we more than prove the point.


At our Lodge near the base of Mt. Washington, we have about 5 acres of ground along the Ellis River, most of it planted in beautiful gardens for which we have won some awards in years past. When we purchased this property almost 8 years ago, we inherited a longtime Gardener and several assistants who took care of everything from tending perennials, planting the annuals, weeding beds, fertilizing, mulching and putting everything to bed again in the fall. Gardener that I am, I didn’t complain because I had more than enough details to look after and learn about as a new innkeeper. Then last April my gardener told me that she was building herself a house (Go, Girl!!) and would not be able to continue. It was a bit late in the season to contract the job out, and we were also feeling the red-ink effect of several years of a poor economy, so I jumped in with both feet and very willingly said, “I’ll do it!!”.    I was so glad I did. As much as I love what I do as a writer and an innkeeper (which are both callings as well as livelihoods), I absolutely NEED to be in the great outdoors and not in a room answering the phone or on my laptop on a beautiful summers day!


 Call it beginner’s luck, but longtime guests commented all season about how the gardens had never looked so good. Maybe it was the seaweed mulch that had been put down the previous year, or maybe the garden divas were just with me, performing their magic, but I think the gardens almost WERE the best they had been. (And being outside on sunny days did wonders for my disposition!). This year there was never a question about whether or not I would do it again … I was IN! 


But itching as I was to get my fingers in the dirt, the delays have been a bit distressing. Despite little snowfall this past winter, we’ve had a pretty chilly spring and lots and lots of rain. There have been several hail storms, (which actually made me very glad that my delicate little plants were not yet in the ground) … and since my return from our son’s wedding, the weather has been extremely changeable, unsettled … and I’ll admit it, just plain annoying. Beautiful and sunny one minute followed by intensely black skies and torrential downpours 15 minutes later! Mmultiply this by two solid weeks and you have a recipe for one frustrated gardener.  But Farmgirls everywhere know that complaining (ESPECIALLY about the weather) doesn’t get the plants in the ground, and so I’ve been making hay when the sun shines and dodging raindrops in-between. As I write this, I’m happy to say that earlier today the last of the plants went into the ground. The planting hurdle is over.


But for the next month (at least in NH) there is a new challenge to contend with: Black Flies!! In full force for at least the past week, these little critters leave quarter-sized welts that feel like I’ve been bruised by a baseball bat AND have poison ivy simultaneously. Ouch! Itch!!  And on me at least (but I might just be hyper-sensitive to them) they are as ‘itchy and hurty’ two weeks later as they are when the critters first strike. The latest count reports casualties of well over 100 welts from head to toe.  Next time I will wear a bee-veil type of netting over my head, and spray myself with bug repellent from head to toe.(Thank goodness this didn’t happen before Noah’s wedding! I look like I have a world-class case of the chicken pox!).  Being in desperate straits, I visited my North Conway ‘neighbor’ Deborah, who started a local organic body products business from her farm called ‘Fields of Ambrosia’. She has hit upon some formulas that really seem work. Since being eaten alive I purchased her Black Fly Anti-Itch cream that surprisingly soothed the bites so much that I stopped scratching … a minor miracle. It also seemed to shrink and lessen the unpleasant duration of the welts. I am going to try her Black Fly Insect repellent next time I’m out there weeding and mulching. Although it doesn’t contain DEET, one of its ingredients is E. Citriadora, which outperformed every other non-DEET alternative in tests. It also has Citronella, Lemon Eucalyptus, Pennyroyal, and Tea Tree oils … all attracting me while keeping away the little nasties! You might want to experiment with combinations of those things if you are plagued by black flies where you live.


My other remedy (when I needed a break from the elements) was to substitute some indoor gardening  in the form of sprouting! I’ve been starting some microgreens (peas and sunflowers) and some interesting sprout combinations using mung, alfalfa, adzuki, fenugreek and lentil seeds. Yum! But that is a topic for another day.Many Farmgirls have emailed me asking for some info on sprouting, and I promise you some soon. 

Next time, however, I will share my part as Mother of the Groom, as I am bursting at the seams to tell you all about my son Noah’s wedding which was held on May 25!

Until then, how are things going in YOUR garden patch? Are you all planted? Did you also have to battle the elements? Do you have any home remedies for insect repellents or balm for bites? Please write! If I get comments from at least 20 Farmgirls (share this with your friends) I will draw one of your names and give away a copy of the story The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness by Jean Giorno.   I’ll announce the winner in my next post.
Until then, Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from Cathi,
The Mountain Farmgirl





By: Adrienne
On: 06/11/2012 12:10:51
You must feel like the rest of the plagues will be arriving any time. You've already seen frogs and flies. If locusts show up... I'm glad to hear the cream is working for you and my fingers are crossed for a crop as lovely as you are!
By: sharon
On: 06/11/2012 12:16:37
Congratulations on your son's wedding. And wow, I'm impressed that you find the time to do all your own gardening!
We had swarms of black flies last summer here in the driftless region of Wisconsin. Vanilla extract was what worked best to keep them away. This year I've added an herbal concoction of my herbalist friend which contains essential oils of peppermint, rose geranium, lemongrass, wintergreen, lemon eucalyptus, citronella, cedarwood, plus ascorbic acid crystals (vit. C) catmint leaf and yarrow tops in a base of organic olive oil and aloe vera gel. I am super sensitive to the bites of all kinds of flying pests and this really has been my salvation.You can get this via Mari Botanicals Viroqua, Wi.
Looking forward to hearing all about the wedding next time.
By: Marie Bucher (ReeReeBee)
On: 06/11/2012 12:44:59
I live in Florida, so my garden has been in the ground for quite some time. I just picked about 5 tomatoes and a handful of basil this afternoon and the pot of tomato basil soup is simmering on the stove as I type. I don't have many flowers, but I have tons of succulents that are thriving. We've had steady rain for a week or so and all the little plants are tickled pink...and green...and red!
By: Pam Thomas
On: 06/11/2012 13:23:52
Hello, I live in the White Mountains also, but in the state of Arizona, and we have been have some funny weather here, you could send some of the rain to us, we need it. Just now getting in my kitchen garden, the flowers will have to wait this year. Glad you had a great time at your son's wedding. I love your e-mails and web site.
By: Debra
On: 06/11/2012 13:53:05
The best thing to keep flyies off you is Basci H From Shaklee it is great to wash your body in it too. When I go out in the yard I put it on me and then when I get done I have soap on me go take a shower. You can even spray your garden with it.
By: Carla
On: 06/11/2012 17:25:35
Redoing garden beds over here in Michigan. Last year the youngest pup decided he didn't care for the plants just wanted to get to the fish and frogs in the pond. So our will come the overgrown grass, transplanting it in another location and in will go perenials again. Love to watch the finches eat the coneflower seeds in the fall.
Black flies are terrible to battle while outdoors, just a few here. I have no better remedies, but we frequently burn some odd bits of brush while working in the yard so maybe the smoke keeps some of them away.
By: Phyllis
On: 06/11/2012 19:06:44
I am really enjoying your posts. I checked, & there are no Farm Girl chapters in my area. I reside in N Fla, & our gardening challenges here are a bit different. We start our seedlings in doors in March, or even Feb. the latest date to set them out is by the end of March. This is due to the heat killing nearly everything back by July. But then, we can do a second planting of many warm weather veggies in Aug-Sept, w/ a second harvest before frost. Many plants that other areas can have to produce in the Spring, are winter crops here. Oh!! But the joy of seeing the newly sprouted plants is just as wonderful as it is anywhere. Each Spring is a life affirming experience to me!

Congrats on your son's wedding, & your new daughter. This is also one of life's great joys!

May the joy of growing (plants & family) remain w/ you!

By: Heather :) :) :)
On: 06/11/2012 19:20:27
It seems like the biggest "pest" in my backyard are hundreds of moths. They're flying all around the backyard and in the trees. So I have to keep the screen door shut, to keep them from getting in the house.

I"m sorry about the black flies...Yuck, that does sound like no fun. However, I'm glad your gardens are doing well :) :)

OH, I love a good wedding...can't wait to hear some more about it. Congratas to you and the rest of your family :) :)

Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)
By: Patricia Yellename
On: 06/11/2012 20:18:14
Congratulations on your son's wedding - you all look wonderful! Oh, I feel for you with those black fly bites - we call them no seeums here in upstate NY. Two weeks ago I was planting flowers, and I still have the lumps and itches from their attack!! Thanks for the suggestion of bug repellent - I will sure try them! By the way, your gardens are just beautiful, and I can understand why you enjoy them.
By: April
On: 06/12/2012 10:06:45
Hi! I received an e-mail not long ago saying that if you put a penny on top of any kind of sting or bite for 15 min.. The copper immediately takes away the sting or itch. I tried it on
a mosquito bite and it actually worked. The email said that you could use band-aids to hold the pennies in place if needed. Hope it works for you! Green blessings!
By: cindy brothers
On: 06/13/2012 04:00:36
Hello from Texas, I love reading all of the Farm Girl Blogs
and having been reading Mary Janes Farm girl a little over a year now, and love it! sounds like you have got the black flies covered now. Just wanted to say how much this has brightened my days. I was diagnosed with cancer in march of 2011 and discovered Mary Janes about the same time, I love looking at the photos and reading the different articles and can escape to those beautiful places. Thank you.

By: meredith
On: 06/13/2012 05:37:53
Hi Cathi! Wow, your life has been a whirlwind this spring! Cant wait to see the wedding pictures, and more from your gardens too. i have never experienced those blackflies but have heard about them- how long do they hang around? All summer? ICK!
I hope the weather improves there, we have had much the same in Virginia this spring. Take care!
By: Ann
On: 06/18/2012 07:16:21
Hi, Cathi. I sympathize with you regarding the black flies. We have them here in Western NY and even with insect spray on, they will find the one area, even biting through T-shirts, to bite you. It's really difficult, but with my most recent bites, I did not touch them or scratch them and they faded much sooner than the one I could not resist scratching. Witch hazel is soothing and cortisone cream; otherwise, you just have to wait it out! Good luck with your gardening. And congratulations on your son's wedding.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir