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Spring Tips to Start Cottage Season

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Blog by Ragan Zilic Lovegrove | May 3rd, 2017

Congratulations, friends! We made it through another winter, and a brand new cottage season is about to get underway! The grass is growing, trees are showing new leaves, and an army of eager cottagers are beginning the return to God’s Country. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran – pardon the pun – or you’re brand new to the cottage life, here are a few tips to start the Spring off the right way!

Get That Garden Growing

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.

~Luther Burbank

Those of you who know me know that I cannot wait to garden. I have been getting my hands dirty since I was a child alongside my dad in southern Ontario. When I first moved to Muskoka, I tried to plant some of the plants that I had grown up with, but to my despair they did not grow as well as I liked! Not wanting to give up, I did some research, found some amazing nurseries in the area, and now my garden is one of the prettiest places in Muskoka – though I might be a little biased.

If you’re also a gardening enthusiast, or you’re looking for tips about gardening, I would definitely recommend joining the local horticulture society, and for amazing advice and tips (and an excellent source for your gardening needs, just contact Tim at Sandhill Nursery on Aspdin Road.

Here are some of my favourite tips to keep pests out of your garden:

  1. Try companion planting. I never need to spray chemicals on my garden because I plant this way, and all it takes is a little research and planning
  2. If you’re dealing with slugs; place a small container of beer in your garden – they love it!
  3. Baking soda can be used as a natural and effective way to deter disease on your plants
  4. Marigolds – one example of a great companion plant – will keep aphids away from your vegetables.
  5. Add lady bugs to your garden – these adorable little critters will actually attack other bugs – and you can even buy them!

Black Flies – Oh My!

Yup, we get them. I remember my aunt (who has lived in the area most of her life) always told us southerners about these dreadful black flies. I wouldn't pay any attention because down in Tillsonburg and then Toronto, who really sees any insects? Well up here you do – the fact that this video exists is proof enough!

Here are some helpful tips on dealing with black flies, courtesy of the Farmer’s Almanac:

Black flies like dark colours (silly me, as I always wear black, so it’s wise to invest in some white, ladies!). You can even go and buy yourself a bug net that you wear – not the most attractive, but very handy. To repel these little critters, you can try vanilla extract, lavender or even the moisture from a pine branch. Avoid perfumes or anything sweet-smelling – they love that. If When you notice bites, you can sooth them with aloe vera or witch hazel – you can find all of these things at the Great Vine in Huntsville.

It’s not neat to use DEET

I’ll admit it – I used to spray my home. I am terrified of spiders, and a can of spray certainly did the job! Now that I want to preserve my planet, my lungs and my puppy’s health, though, I have had to learn eco-friendly ways to get rid of pests.

  1. sprinkle cinnamon around your house; it smells great, and they say pests will not cross over it.
  2. Use a mix of vanilla extract and water. If you like the scent of lemongrass, lavender or mint, you can add those essential oils to the mixture too, and you’ll smell great while fighting off the pests at the same time. 
  3. plant herbs around your entry doors to keep the pests from getting indoors – pests don’t like the smell
  4. Citronella really works, but avoid those stinky candles – who knows what’s in them, anyway? Plant citronella around your home to get the same effect more naturally.
  5. Use citrus peels to keep spiders away from places that you want to be.
  6. Mix equal parts white vinegar and water and spray away – corners, cobwebs, you name it! Also makes a great natural cleaning solution (see below).

Out damn spot…

So, you have opened up your cottage but you notice a damp, musty smell…is it MOLD? (Hint: yes, it is)

I got very sick from black mold a few years ago, so I am very cautious about mold now. It can –and does – grow in any type of home, so if you think you have it, you probably do. The more important question is how to get rid of it. I have spoken to experts in this field, and they have told me that bleach doesn’t work – it’s not worth using it at all. Fortunately, there are natural solutions – again, sorry for the pun – that are effective and much safer to use. Try any (or all) of these:

  1. tea tree oil and water
  2. white vinegar sprayed right on the spot
  3. hydrogen peroxide and water

Set the Table

Food is thy Medicine


Despite great improvements over the last few years, it can still be a challenge to get really great organic produce in the area. That’s why I am really excited about places like the Muskoka North Good Food Co-op and the Bracebridge Natural Food Market. In the winter months especially, I rely on Diannah at Northern Produce Fruit and Vegetable Market – I get fresh produce delivered right to my door every week. She really makes it easy to have fresh, healthy food on hand all the time!

The appearance of spring also means that more and more Farmers markets are starting to pop up all over, and there are a few that will be open this month. Huntsville, Gravenhurst and Bracebridge are all open the week of May 17th – learn more at Discover Muskoka, or check out my favourite farmer’s markets in Muskoka.

What are some of the things that you’re excited about this spring? Do you have any tips for starting cottage season this year? Let me know in the comments.

Find more useful tips with Cottage Life's Opening Weekend Checklist For Your Cottage

Photo Credit: Michel Bosma

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