BOB BEYFUSS: Beware of shared home remedies online

The climate is still more humid than most of us would like, but in general our gardens prefer humidity rather than drought.

I hope you are taking advantage of the excess rainfall by collecting rainwater in barrels for future use. Be sure to use something to deal with mosquitoes that will reproduce quickly in any standing water. There is a product called Mosquito Dunks that releases a type of bacteria in water that selectively kills mosquito larvae. This bacterium is harmless to humans and wildlife and lasts up to a month.

Any place that has even a few inches of stagnant water for more than a few days is a potential breeding site for mosquitoes and should be emptied or treated. An alternative to using this product is to add enough vegetable oil to cover the surface of the container containing water. The mosquito larvae need to breathe air and the oil that covers the surface of the water chokes the larvae.

Last week, temperatures dropped in the mid-40s (39 in my house) in much of the region. Warm weather crops, such as tomatoes, may show signs of nutrient deficiencies caused by cold. Purple or yellow leaves, slow growth, the inability to germinate from the seeds are signs of cold soil. The good news is that all these strange symptoms will disappear miraculously once we have a few consecutive days of 80 days and 65 degrees at night.

These symptoms may appear to be nutrient deficiencies, but they resist the temptation to apply additional fertilizers.

I am starting to think that Facebook is becoming an electronic version of National Enquirer with many photos and testimonies that claim to be a "proof" of how a home remedy is a modern miracle. In many cases, these "miraculous" cures are quite harmless and just a waste of time, money and effort, but sometimes they can be very dangerous. I mentioned the danger of using substances such as petroleum jelly or dish soap so that ticks are "removed" from the skin instead of being removed with tweezers, as recommended by legitimate medical professionals. The old "home remedy" actually increases the chances of getting infected. Lately, I've seen suggestions for homemade insect repellents (tea tree oil) that are also potentially dangerous in the sense that they can make people give up repellents that work, rather than something that may or may not work. I have seen people who suffer from Lyme disease because they opted for a repellent of home remedies instead of a proven product. Home remedies are often preferred to "chemicals" because people suspect the "chemicals".

Because everyone has chlorine and ammonia in the sink, they are often considered much safer to kill weeds than a "chemical" that is "suspected" to cause cancer. Well, bleach contains "chemicals" that have been proven to cause cancer and if you mix bleach and ammonia, it will produce a toxic gas that can kill you if you inhale a sufficient amount of smoke. Vinegar is an effective household cleaner at the concentration of 5% acetic acid it contains, but concentrated acetic acid (20 percent) can also kill it if you inhale the vapors. Lemon juice is an effective cleanser, but the high concentrations of citric acid in lemons are also used to kill plants! Take special care with the mixture of household cleaners. Bleach should never be mixed with anything other than water! Mixing baking soda with vinegar in a closed container can even cause an explosion!

I am a supporter of many home remedies, in general, but I think it is important to evaluate the options on a case-by-case basis. Be wary of any home remedy that is promoted as a "miracle" or anything unproven that just seems "to make sense." Consider "risk versus reward" first of all. The "reward" of using tea tree oil as a tick repellent is to avoid the use of a pesticide that has negative side effects for the environment, but the "risk" of contracting Lyme disease is much greater than the reward .

Just because you saw it posted on Facebook, (many, many times) do not assume it's true. If it is a harmless remedy, such as mixing Epsom salts, vinegar and soap to wash the weeds, why do not you try it yourself before "sharing" with hundreds of others?

Bob Beyfuss lives and gardens in Schoharie County. Send an email to [email protected]

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