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Black Fly Control: Is there hope in permaculture?

 
Posts: 114
Location: Ontario Canada, Zone 5b
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Hi Paul & Permie friends,

I'm from Ontario, Canada and up here in some parts we deal with what we like to think of as the 'black plague' in late spring/early summer. Basically, around the end of spring and beginning of summer great swarms of bloodthirsty female black flies do their worst on animals and humans alike. Interestingly, the male black flies just hang out, pollinate and drink nectar while the females seek out their victims, drinking their blood and flying off to reproduce, leaving them with wounds akin to leprosy within milliseconds. In some parts of Northern Ontario it is so bad that you can not leave your house safely without wearing a hazmat style bug jacket and duct taping around your wrists and ankles (I'm not kidding).

Now, you might think, why not get some bats? That might clear it right up! Well, sadly, bats won't eat the things because the flies only come out during the day. Birds maybe? Maybe. But if there are enough black flies to kill Alberta cattle or wandering human tourists, I don't think birds have a chance. Although, I may be on the pessimistic side.

We've tried eating tons of garlic, rubbing this or that on our skin, staying away from sugar, even attempting zen like states in the hope of gaining supernatural invisibility against these creatures but to no avail.

We are beginning to implement permaculture techniques in general since they are super rad, and I am wondering if anyone has had experience or may have some ideas on how to create an environment that black flies won't be interested in. After searching for ideas on the internet and other permie forums, I am beginning to lose hope.

Now, these aren't your typical house flies. These are Black Flies or Simulium yahense if you want to get fancy, or 'Sand flies' if you're in New Zealand. They need moving water to breed and can travel many kilometers from the free flowing water they emerge from by determination and catching a ride on the wind. They love to hang out in long grass and hate the wind. Walking in the forest during peak black fly season is next to impossible unless you are wearing a bug jacket, and even if it is perfectly sealed at least 10 will find a way through some how and attack you from the inside and you won't know until you get home and notice the blood stains on your shirt/pants/socks etc.

Since it has become quite a problem in Northern Ontario and different parts of the country, municipalities are implementing black fly control by dumping larvicide into the rivers during breed time and then again and again since they breed repeatedly over the course of a few months. This has worked to drastically reduce black fly population in certain areas, but the affect it has on the environment remains to be seen.

I'm not looking to wipe out the species or anything (especially since they are supposed pollinators of blueberries) but I would like to be able to go outside without an astronaut suit to plant in my cool hugelkultur beds. I thank you all in advance for your ideas and suggestions.

Here's a little song about black flies to help inspire your creative ideas:



Sincerely,

Vida
 
steward
Posts: 2719
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I've noticed a lot less Black Flies once I got a few dozen chickens. During black fly season I like to sit on top of the pig shelter surrounded by chickens and see how long it takes for one to get through my chicken defenses. Even if they manage to land on me, the chickens get em fast.

If you have water nearby where they breed, you can encourage small fish to take up residence. That will help with the larva... maybe.

There's also fly resistant clothing and hoods for you to wear. Bug Baffler is one that comes to mind. To avoid the flies, try doing yard work when the flies are laying low. Early morning and after dark and cloudy days. I've gotten used to the idea of doing some spring plantings by way of headlamp at night just to avoid the swarms.

I've also heard that they are attracted to certain colors like blue and green. White seems to offer some protection and it's easy to see them on white clothes. They aren't all that fast, so mushing them is easy. BUT THERE'S JUST SO MANY!
I've even heard of people coating a blue piece of plastic with that sticky bug trap glue and placing it on their hat. Supposedly the flies attack from above and land on the blue sticky trap. I haven't tried it but I do know that they tend to be hovering right overhead all spring.
Early in the season they aren't so aggressive, but as time goes on they get down right ballsy.




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One in the hand is worth... Itchy hand
 
pollinator
Posts: 348
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Anyone know if muscovies will tackle these little vampires? I know they're big fans of mosquitos....just not sure if their eyesight is sharp enough and their bills are small enough

God I hope they do...planning to get some baby mother-duckers this spring to help with the biblical swarms of mosquitos and the like

If they don't do black flies, though, I may never get "spring fever" again
 
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Pour bleach in every single drain and each toilet let the bleach sit as long as possible to kill off larvae or drain eggs. Drains are a breeding ground for them to lay their eggs. Dry every pillow in the dryer for 15 min on high heat with wet washcloths soaked in peroxide. Peroxide is the other bleach. Wipe down all surfaces with bleach. Look for dirt in places you don’t notice everyday like the bottoms of garbage cans in your house, next to the stove and fridge. (You might have to pull them out and look for old drips or spilled sugar) Spinkle salt on all your carpets and leave them for a couple days then vacuum it all up. Salt is dehydrating for them to lay eggs. Air out your house and wipe down arms on chairs and furniture for fungus. This sounds like a lot of work but it only takes a couple hours and will eliminate fruit flies and gnats. Hope this helps.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 895
Location: Canadian Prairies - Zone 3b
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Haha, saw this thread and said "I gotta introduce you guys to the Blackfly Song!" But the OP had it covered.

Not just Ontario/East Coast either. Tree planters in northern British Columbia have BF tales as well, and we're not talking best friends.
 
Tristan Vitali
pollinator
Posts: 348
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Tristan Vitali wrote:Anyone know if muscovies will tackle these little vampires? I know they're big fans of mosquitos....just not sure if their eyesight is sharp enough and their bills are small enough

God I hope they do...planning to get some baby mother-duckers this spring to help with the biblical swarms of mosquitos and the like

If they don't do black flies, though, I may never get "spring fever" again



Note to others in case someone happens along wondering the same thing...the answer is no. They haven't been affected by the swarms like mammals are (the LGD lives in a screened box all spring), but they don't even bother trying to eat black flies. Nothing works for them when you have clean running water anywhere nearby.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1606
Location: northern California
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Not sure if this will work for blackflies but it might be worth a try....several places I've lived the mosquitoes were so bad that I made up a smudge pot....basically a metal can on a chain with a few holes in the sides, into which I put some dry stuff and get it burning, then follow with some slower stuff that will make a lot of smoke.  Sort of like a bee smoker (which would also serve the purpose).  I would take this everywhere I went in the garden, and swing it around me like a priest with a censer, and then set it down such that any air current would keep the smoke wafting around me! At least mosquitoes, and many other insects too, cannot stand to be around smoke!
 
pollinator
Posts: 735
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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I live in North West Ontario where the mozzies will bite you through your jeans from under a canvas chair. Blackflies are worse.

We just pretend they don't exist, and avoid the bush for a month or two while they're at their peak.

It's the thing you don't mention when talking about a permaculture paradise. There are natural predators but they can't eat an entire cloud of these little suckers.
 
Tristan Vitali
pollinator
Posts: 348
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Alder Burns wrote:Not sure if this will work for blackflies but it might be worth a try....several places I've lived the mosquitoes were so bad that I made up a smudge pot....basically a metal can on a chain with a few holes in the sides, into which I put some dry stuff and get it burning, then follow with some slower stuff that will make a lot of smoke.  Sort of like a bee smoker (which would also serve the purpose).  I would take this everywhere I went in the garden, and swing it around me like a priest with a censer, and then set it down such that any air current would keep the smoke wafting around me! At least mosquitoes, and many other insects too, cannot stand to be around smoke!



Smoke definitely makes a dent in the clouds. We use old metal bowls stationed strategically around the gardens while planting - get some coals built and dump handfuls of wet leaves and pine needles on them, then hope the wind doesn't shift too often  Without that trick, planting wouldn't be started until july!
 
pollinator
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Seems like your best option would be to target their larvae. What predates their eggs and larvae in the water? How can you encourage more of those to take up residence in the streams?
 
Tristan Vitali
pollinator
Posts: 348
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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s. lowe wrote:Seems like your best option would be to target their larvae. What predates their eggs and larvae in the water? How can you encourage more of those to take up residence in the streams?



When you have the stream on your property, and no others within 2 to 5 miles, that might be a good option. I believe the larva is food to many of the predatory insect larva that go on to help feed various fish, especially trout, populations. The problem we face with these buggers is that they take up residence in any clean, cool waters moving 1 mile per hour or more (up to some threshold I'm not aware of) and hatch out in such large populations that the swarms move around on wind currents, reaching sometimes hundreds of feet above ground level. They spread out for miles in every direction, usually but not always downwind of their hatch site.

As an example, we're between 5 and 8 miles from the main river and 3 miles from major streams in multiple directions, all good trout habitat (read clean, cold moving water), about 250 feet higher in elevation from the streams and 400 feet higher than the river. This entire area swarms with black flies starting from early to mid may, depending on weather, and lasting until usually the first or second week of july. The only sites in this area that don't see much activity are the sandy, gravelly and/or barren sites with little vegetation or the extremely dense natural monoculture forests such as the dense cedar stands where the canopy has completely closed out direct sun. Neither of these is a diverse ecology, and so not something I'd want to mimic here for food forests and perennial garden systems. It seems that their favorite sites to settle when the swarms move out are areas with damp but not wet soil, open sites with available brush and tall vegetation, and open forests like orchards. That basically covers the perennial gardens and food forest type systems that are so productive we often try to mimic.

It really is a catch-22. If the problem is the solution, and the more restrictions you're dealing with, the more elegant your solution will be, the solution to this one should be truly, mind-blowingly elegant!

 
pioneer
Posts: 164
Location: Russia, ~250m altitude, zone 5a, Moscow oblast, in the greater Sergeiv Posad reigon.
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If they hate the wind, make a wind tunnel! Find out the prevailing winds at the time of year when black flies are most troublesome, and then let them in, clear a path for them straight into zone 1. That, combined with smoke, a diversity of poultry and perhaps gourds for purple martins might bring them down to tolerable levels. Off the top of my head, a salve or poultice for black fly bites should probably have burdock and plantain in it. That is the kit I would use to deal with black flies if I had to.
 
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