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  • Writer's pictureAlex Subrizi

Whack the mozzies

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Having nearly conquered my entomophobia (as a child and young adult, most any bug would heavily creep me out), at age 58 I have not yet found a place in my heart for mosquitoes.

I date my intolerance to the first moon landing. I was four. My folks were in the living room with the grainy black-and-white images of Armstrong and Aldrin on the TV, airing too late, by parental decree, for me to watch. Yet down the hall in my bedroom I was wide awake, missing the big moment ...and battling skeeters. I eventually decided to join my parents, who by then were too entranced by what they were seeing to send me back to bed. Years later I'd smile upon learning that Aldrin's nickname was Buzz. 

At Poggiosole, the presence of mosquitoes, particularly around Begonia's and Le Rose's outdoor patios from mid-afternoon onwards, is the number one complaint from guests. Example (in Polish) from an otherwise glowing review on Booking:

"Komary, mimo sporej ilości „odstraszaczy” w które wyposażył Nas właściciel"

Read that aloud and you can practically hear them buzzing! Yes all the bedroom windows have screens, yes we hand out citronella candles and spiral-shaped zampironi, but the nippers have tended to prevail.

So this summer, after a bit of research, I've decided to throw down with a nebulizing system designed to whack the mozzies. 

Picture an above-ground irrigation system, with programmable Rainbird-style timer, but operating at 20 bar with 80 nebulizing nozzles spaced 2 to 3 meters apart (many are set in our hedges). This setup disperses an aqueous suspension of neem and citronella oil (the latter smells nicer, the former is funkier but a reportedly more potent repellent) at regular intervals on the grassy areas surrounding the patios and swimming pool. According to the BioZanz sales rep, an effect equivalent to "hundreds of citronella candles" can be attained (now that does sound like a stretch, and the candles would surely be prettier, but I digress). As a coup-de-grace a 1% pyrethrin solution is released pre-dawn, when most mosquitoes are resting on leaves and other damp surfaces, ready to fly their first "sorties".

Both the repellents and the pyrethrin (derived from the pyrethrum powder used to make mosquito coils) are made from plants, and none persists for more than a couple of hours in sunlight. Of course, although marketed as "bio", once the nebulizing system is installed it can dispense most anything, including more potent and persistent synthetic insecticides and repellents. But we often have dogs on the property, we're fond of local birds, wildlife, and the bees that frequent our lavender bushes, and we don't want our olive and fruit trees (not to mention our guests) exposed to extreme chemical wizardry. So, at least to start, we'll load natural, more volatile substances and cross our fingers.

The system will be operational from the second half of July. Watch this space for updates on its efficacy ⚡️☺️

Postscript, April 25, 2023: Last summer's results were mixed. On the plus side, guests appreciated the mere presence of the nebulizing system, with its regular emissions of neem and citronella oils in the afternoons and evenings. It's somehow reassuring to see the puffy, perfumed mist-clouds issuing from the hedges surrounding the pool and most guests liked the exotic smell of the citronella-and-neem-oil blend. On the minus side, mosquitoes, while noticeably reduced, were still somewhat of a problem. This was especially concerning given that last summer was exceptionally dry. Had the system really done its bit, adding its effect to last year's drought should have resulted in no mosquitoes whatsoever. So this month, when the BioZanz technician that set up the system returned to test and fine-tune it, he repeated the advice he had given me last year: to really whack the mozzies, synthetic and persistent pesticides are needed. I've taken heed: from today our pre-dawn emission of insecticide will, on alternate weeks, consist of a 1% dilution of Arpon Diazipol, a pyrethroid blend of cypermethrin (volatile) and deltamethrin (persistent). We'll continue to use natural pyrethrin for our pre-dawn misting the rest of the time. Impact on bees should be minimal given that bees are in their hives at 5 AM. And none of these chemicals, properly diluted, are dangerous to dogs (or people). Cats are another matter, but we've never had guests bring cats, and our own house cats will be brought indoors on the evenings before we spray the Arpon pyrethroid blend.

Post-postscript, June 24, 2023: Call me distracted, but it took me almost two months to piece together why, since our April re-opening, our BioZanz machine was springing leaks every couple of weeks and pouring significant quantities of highly concentrated Arpon liquid onto the floor of our supply and laundry room. After two such failures, two visits by BioZanz service technicians, and a conversation with one of the machine's inventors, the culprit was identified. Arpon Diazipol is a petroleum-based (versus water-based) compound, and its volatile components are chemically incompatible with the BioZanz machine's O-ring seals, as well as with the teflon-reinforced rubber tube of the machine's peristaltic pump. As a result, after just a few two-minute early morning emissions of Diazipol, the pump and exit valve seals of our BioZanz machine would fail, and an oily toxic mess followed, coating many of the machine's inner bits and then, aided by the 20 bars of pressure in the nebulizing circuit, form a puddle of insecticide on the floor 😱 (video) to be discovered hours later. Once I began to suspect Arpon as the cause of these mishaps I got a fair scolding from the machine's manufacturer, who was at pains to inform me that by using an unapproved product I had voided the unit's warranty. But then, graciously, on the condition that I thoroughly clean the mess I'd made before their tech arrived, BioZanz replaced the ruined peristaltic pump and nozzle circuit exit valve for free.

Bottom line: for our scheduled early-morning insecticide emissions, we're back to natural pyrethrins, diluted 1 part concentrate to 99 parts water. I'll keep the Arpon on hand as a "smartbomb" for spot treatments with a manual mister (and appropriate face mask). I'm almost grateful to have been forced back into a milder, all-natural regimen for what concerns our daily, automated mozzie-whacking routine.

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