Any year with lots of rain and warm temperatures could be a boom time for mosquitoes. Don't even bother with bug zappers and clouds of insecticides: not only are they ineffective, they do more damage than good. The neighborhood mosquito fogging carried out by some municipalities is a 24-hour solution at best, and large-scale spraying kills bees and other beneficial insects. Insecticides aren't good for animals or humans, either.

Fortunately, a little planning can make your outdoor activities a lot more bearable during the summer months. Ready to swat your mosquito problem the healthy, natural way? Here are some pointers.

Go on patrol

Mosquitoes don't range very far. That's good news: if you can reduce their habitat and breeding grounds, you'll be doing a lot less slapping.

At least once a week during the warmer months, organize a mosquito posse. It's easier with more than one person. Start close to wherever you live and work outward. Be sure to give nearby abandoned and neglected property the once-over, as well. You're looking for sources of standing or stagnant water. That's easier said than done, because mosquito larvae can make do with a few ounces of water in the bottom of an old soda can, or beneath a leaky water faucet.

Old tires, uncovered boats, abandoned cars, puddles and empty flower pots are likely candidates. Remove and properly dispose of rubbish in which water might pool. Call your local government's code enforcement office and have them deal with neighborhood nuisances.

Pay particular attention to clogged rain gutters. You should clear these a few times a season. Drain, remove and invert — these are the best tactics for stopping mosquitoes before they become hungry adults.

Be unattractive (to mosquitoes)

Mosquitoes are remarkably well-equipped to track you down. Don't do them any favors by enhancing the chemical cues which lead them to you.

Fruit and floral-scented smells are a mosquito come-on. Unfortunately, both are pretty common in sunscreens. Look for an unscented formula, such as Aubrey Organics' Natural Sun series or Avalon Organics Baby Mineral Sunscreen. You can buy them online or at your local heath store.

Insects don't have great vision, but they are closely attuned to contrasts. Avoid dark clothing and you'll be less of a sitting duck.

There are two other powerful chemical signals that alert mosquitoes you're ripe for biting: carbon dioxide and lactic acid. While you can't hold your breath, it's easy to avoid CO2-producing campfires and open flames. You produce tons of lactic acid when you're exercising, so consider moving strenuous activities out of the late afternoon hours when mosquitoes are most active. It also helps to limit salty foods and those rich in potassium.

Investigate natural insect repellents

DEET is certainly good at discouraging biting insects. But it's nasty stuff, and some people don't tolerate it well.

Citronella, castor, peppermint, lemongrass and clove oil are among the natural alternatives you can try to keep mosquitoes at bay. Combinations of these oils are available in convenient sprays — check your local whole foods or health outlet.

Two things to keep in mind with natural repellents: you'll need to reapply every two hours or so (or after swimming); and some people are sensitive to essential oils. Try a bit before you leave home to make sure the product you've chosen won't cause you problems.

It's not necessary to apply insect repellents directly to the skin. They work by masking your natural scent and will function just as well on your clothes. This will also minimize sweat-off and the likelihood of a skin reaction.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2007