Lyme Disease and Permaculture Part III: Positive Change is All Your Fault
Now that you have an idea of why Lyme disease is spreading and a few things you can do to avoid it right now, it’s time to get into the meat of why you’ve been reading these articles on this particular website. Besides everyone at Verge being awesome I mean. [Brownie points awarded to Justin: 10.]
A full discussion of Lyme disease and Permaculture would take a book, but let’s see what we can accomplish in 1000 words or so.
There are two strategies for mitigating Lyme disease on scale larger than individuals (meaning tick checks, the right clothing, etc.):
Deal with ticks.
Deal with what sustains ticks.
Most people choose one of two specific approaches:
Spray, baby, spray
Sit in the shower rubbing their skin with sandpaper and weeping with anxiety.
There’s a lot of unnecessary fear out there. Let’s check what Franklin Roosevelt would have said about that.
We have options. We are mighty. And we can use that might for great deeds, big and small.
It’s hard to give the ever-sought specifics to a global audience. What works in Alberta won’t necessarily apply in Holland. Here are a handful of broad ideas to help get you started:
Make your land inhospitable to ticks.
- Ticks are hardy, adaptable, fascinating creatures, but they have needs and existential threats just like everything else. They are not athletic in any sense. They cannot jump, fly, paraglide, or otherwise propel themselves in ways that neonatal humans cannot. If you’ve ever seen a baby crawl you’ll know that it isn’t the best way to traverse a complex landscape.
- If you put a barrier of mulch — especially cedar — or gravel between your land and the adjacent tick sector they’ll find it almost impossible to just waltz in. Now your swale ‘n’ trail or French drain moves water, acts as a path, and is an anti-tick force field.
- Along similar lines, certain plants may repel ticks. Here’s a small list:
- Chrysanthemums (especially Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium) contain a chemical that messes with the nervous system of insects and arachnids. Soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars used the flowers to keep fleas away, and today we’ve refined the chemical to the point of using it like DEET. Some chrysanthemum varieties have edible petals and shoots, and are reputed stomachics.
- Rosemary and other pungent herbs don’t have the same profound effect as chrysanthemums, but they can repel pests. Ticks are, anecdotally, more sensitive to citrusy aromas and mints. Lemongrass is fantastic. If you can grow it.
- Lavender oil is well established to keep moths and carpet beetles away from your wool garments, and it works almost as well as a whole plant. Lavender/feverfew plant combos are powerful for repelling all kinds of parasitic or biting pests.
- Hard-bodied ticks are not as prone to drying out as their soft-bodied relatives. [Insert joke about soft-bodied relatives here.] They are, however, susceptible to heat. They want to spend the day in cool, damp, shaded places so they don’t get barbecued. Keep turf grass short, moist debris tidy, and the wood pile dry and away from your dwelling. Design things sunny and clean enough to eliminate hiding places, or at least be aware of them. Those awesome dry stone walls that are so rustic and whimsical? Tick barracks.
- Interesting side note: some studies show that native tree and shrub species have fewer ticks chilling out around their bases than introduced species do. Nobody knows why. Maybe ticks are xenophobes.
Eat the ticks or integrate something that will.
- Guinea fowl are semi-domesticated game birds from Africa, and they are voracious eaters. A good estimate is that two guinea fowl will keep an acre of land clear of ticks. Keep in mind that they’re social, so two is not enough for their health and sanity. Also keep in mind that they’re noisy, so their health and sanity may end up inversely proportional to yours. Anything that eats insects and arachnids — chickens, for example — will probably eat ticks, but nothing matches Guinea fowl in sheer bloodthirsty kill-rage and appetite. Their ability to eliminate ticks in particular is uncanny. Sometimes they’ll spear the little devils with their beaks and leave them dead on the ground.
- If you choose to eat the ticks yourself, well, worm bacon and cricket chips are more palatable. Or you could eat the guineas and their eggs, thus, by transitive law, eating the ticks in a tastier, more nutritious form. Let’s hear it for science!
Encourage diversity and try to welcome certain animals
- A great part about Permaculture is that it already endeavours to create diverse ecosystems. We know we need to help Mother Nature along and get out of the way. Still, there are certain beings you want more or or less of.
- Rodents — the white-footed mouse in particular — are of particular importance in Lyme because they are reservoir animals, meaning they house the disease and pass it on to new generations of ticks. Plus they aren’t as easy to spot and avoid as larger mammals. Keeping them away is similar to keeping ticks away: get rid of hiding places and easy meals. Prey animals won’t willingly enter an area with no cover unless they’ve desperate. Remember that it’s good to have some of these fellows around so that predators have a reason to stay on long-term.
- Snakes, foxes, owls, and other predators love to eat mice and other delicacies of the small and furry variety. One snake nesting along your whimsical stone wall will keep a large area mouseless. Encourage these animals to use your land as a home, and be nice if you find them. Perhaps a cup of tea once in a while? Figure out what predators are native to your area and work habitats for them into the edge of your design.
- For large mammals, smorg of adult ticks, deer fences may be the right call, if not the most economical. Many people in Lyme-central use them around their main living space so they don’t have to spend all day removing ticks after simply checking the mail. A neat trick is using low, single-strand electric fence, then wrap small pieces of aluminum foil around it at regular intervals and coat them with peanut butter. The deer will lick the peanut butter, get a shock, and be wary of the area for as long as a deer’s memory lasts.
- If you know a friendly pack of wolves you can ask them to keep large mammals away from your property. Short of that you can get a dog to do the same job. Just remember to check the dog for ticks. They can get Lyme disease too.
Clarification on what kind of dog would fill the role described above:
Those are just the broad strokes. The specifics, as always, depend entirely on your other goals, climate, the lay of the land, and so on. One final thing I’ll mention is to decrease the edge along your tick sector. There are lots of other places to expand edge and enhance habitats. The places full of ticks and other disease vectors aren’t good candidates.
That’s it. This series is over. The question is whether it has overstayed its welcome, like the X-Files, or if it died before its time, like Firefly.