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Outdoor Eating Without Pests

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 21 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Food Eating Outdoor Picnic Wasps Ants

One of the great joys of the summer is the chance to eat outdoors – and one of the biggest miseries is the irritation of attendant pests that it seems to attract. Whatever the event – barbeque, picnic or more formal affair – as soon as you choose to serve food outside, the likelihood is that at least a few unwanted gate-crashers will be trying to buzz, creep or crawl their way to the party. Fortunately, however, a little bit of prevention can often help to stop many of them from spoiling your fun.

Don’t Extend an Invite!

For many of the uninvited guests, the attraction is the food itself. The typical menu, rich sweetened food, fruits, alcohol and soft drinks, is as attractive to insects and their kind as it is to us. Taking food – particularly in large amounts – into what is effectively “their” front room can rather act as an open invitation to join in. One possible way to minimise the problem is to plan on actually serving food and drink indoors – or at least under cover – and simply eat and socialise outside, though this approach is not always possible, nor is it foolproof.

Even if it is not possible to keep the food indoors, keeping it covered until it is wanted – and storing leftovers and scraps in sealed containers – will help. Making sure that bottles, glasses and drinks cans are not left lying around unattended and that the outside of bins used for waste and any storage containers are kept clean will also go a long way to making your outdoor eating less attractive to pests on the look out for a free freed. On the other hand, offering pests an easy meal some distance away from where you and your friends are eating can be a very good distraction. Wasp traps, for instance, can be bought or made and filled with a sweet sugary solution, providing a very effective way to keep your own bit of space pest-free.

Arranging the Eating Area

If you often eat outside, if possible try to vary the locations of cooking, eating, bin placement and so on, to avoid creating favourite feeding stations. Many pests are surprisingly quick to become accustomed to finding food in a particular place; ants, for instance, lay down chemical paths as they forage which act as road-maps which others of their kind will follow to a good spot. For the same reason, a thorough clean up afterwards is essential.

Some colours – especially yellow – will attract insects and some, such as wasps, are attracted to fragrant flowers; obviously it is a good plan to avoid these in and around the eating area, if you can. Some fragrances can be useful in keeping bugs away, however. Burning citronella oil is a well known trick, though it needs to be used with care as the smell can taint the food, while rosemary and sage, either as live plants around the barbeque or used in the cooking itself also seem to help.

While most of the flies, wasps, ants and their kin who free-boot their way into events are there to eat your food, some have come to eat you – well, your blood at least! Mosquitoes and midges are the ruination of many an evening, especially in northern England and western Scotland, where they descend in droves on the unwary. Timing things to avoid them and picking sites away from ponds or lakes may help the picnicker, but for an evening barbeque at home, a few control measures are probably going to be required especially in areas where they are particularly prevalent. Citronella candles are fairly effective, though as noted before, they need to be used carefully. A variety of electronic killers have been developed for domestic use which lure mosquitoes and other insects with a powerful ultraviolet lamp, zapping them with 1,500 volts when the land. Different size units are available, the most effective for night-time eating being the ones sold for gardens and patios, which are designed to keep a radius of 10-12 metres bug-free.

Enjoying outdoor eating without the unwelcome attention of an army of pests can sometimes seem almost impossible, but with a little forethought and careful housekeeping, it should be possible to reduce their opportunities to ruin your enjoyment.

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