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Yellowjackets and Hornets, Oh My!

It’s that time of year. Hornet, wasp, and yellowjacket colonies are building up.  In some ways they are beneficial insects. As predatory scavengers they devour aphids, caterpillars and other problem insects and they do some pollinating, but they don’t take kindly to being jostled or mowed over so when they choose to build nests in high traffic areas we feel the need to eliminate them. We try to avoid poisonous pesticide sprays and we have developed a few non-toxic strategies that seem to work if the conditions are right.

For yellowjackets who are nesting in relatively smooth ground we use the old glass bowl trick: Go out at night and invert a clear glass salad bowl over the entrance hole. Push it down firmly so the edges of the bowl are in the earth. In the morning the yellow jackets will fly out of their nest and since they don’t understand glass, they will fly up into the bowl and continue doing so for the next week or so until they are all dead. You need to monitor the situation regularly to be sure they are not sneaking out under the edge somewhere. If so, gather some clay or thick mud, and after dark use the mud or clay to seal around the edges of the bowl.

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Bald-faced hornet colonies are more problematic. If they are out of the way, we leave them alone and wait until after several hard freezes (which kills the occupants). Then we collect the nest and hang it in the rafters of our open porch. It provides Carolina wrens a warm roosting place in winter and it is said that this discourages wasps from nesting in the area. (For more on this, check out The Wren and The Hornets.)

When we realized that a colony of hornets were building a nest on a bush at shoulder height right next to our driveway, we knew they had to go. So one night I got dressed up in my bee suit (with gloves and a veil) and put on a red headlamp (which insects don’t respond to). I carried a regular flashlight, a pair of pruning shears and a large plastic garbage bag. I propped the flashlight on the ground about 6 feet away so it would illuminate the nest and attract any angry hornets. Then I moved in with the pruners, snipped away the surrounding brush, then as quickly and smoothly as possible, I slid the large plastic bag over the nest and clipped it free from the branches.

The few hornets that escaped ignored the red headlamp on my head and flew down to the flashlight on the ground. I put the bag with the nest in the freezer overnight. Mission accomplished. No stings attached. WHEW!

Thanks to Seaver Grum for the photo of the yellowjackets in the bowl . 

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