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Question. Mike: We have vegetables growing in anabove ground garden made of logs. About six inches from one of theplants is the entrance to an underground bee's nest. Is there somethingI could just pour in there, like vinegar, that would get the beeswithout poisoning the soil? Thanks,
---Gary Herrmann; Bala Cynwyd, PA
I have a yellowjacket nest under adecorative boulder in my front garden. One nailed me above thekneecap last Saturday. It felt like a 4-penny nail was stuck in there.I am against killing any bugs just for convenience sake, but I need toget rid of these pests. They are too darn dangerous. Anysuggestions for an organic way to drive them away? Keeping it green...
---Rich Beaumont; Haycock Twp, Bucks County, PA
Mike: We have wasp-like insects(about 2" long with striped abdomens) living in perfectly round holesin the ground in our front flowerbeds. They make these piles ofdirt that look like sawdust when they dig out their holes. Theyhaven't tried to sting us, but they are right around the front door,and I'd love to get rid of them. They have been visiting us everysummer for 3-4 years now. I try to fill in the holes in the fall,but no luck so far. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you,
---Cindy Lefkowitz; Havertown, PA
Answer. We get a lot of calls this time of yearfrom anxious homeowners about "ground nesting bees". There are twoinsects with stingers you might notice emerging from holes in your lawnor flowerbed right now, but neither are bees. (The only bees that nestin the ground are gentle pollinators that are only active in theSpring.)
If, like Cindy, the black and yellowinsects you see are around two inches long, relax; those are the famouscicada-killing wasps and they have no interest in stinging you. Themales don't have stingers, and the rarely-seen females often won't evensting when provoked! And besides, their season of dragging giantcicadas into those holes for their young to feed upon is almost done.To prevent their harmless presence NEXT year, keep your ground coveredwith plants or mulch; they only make their solitary nests in bare soil.
If those insects are under an inchlong, however, do NOT relax. Those are yellowjackets, a type of highlyaggressive wasp, not a bee. Although technically beneficial becausethey eat pest insects, yellowjackets are responsible for almost all ofthe so-called 'bee sting deaths' in the United States. They like tosting people, each insect can sting repeatedly, they generally attackin large numbers, and they can bite ya too. They are especiallydangerous this time of year. Their nests have gotten HUGE, and theworkers are on a constant prowl for food.
To keep individual wasps out of youroutdoor areas, don't leave pet food or human food outside, and keeptrash sealed tight. Oh and take it from me—always give opened cans ofsoda a little shake before drinking. Talk about ouch! And if you've gota nest in a frequently-used area, it must be destroyed.Insecticides—natural or organic—aren't recommended this late in theseason; the nests are so big and intricate that the sprays can't reachthe inner layers.
The best way I've found to destroy anest is to smother it. Fill a wheelbarrow with a big load of ice (likefrom a motel ice machine—its just the right size) and quickly dump itover the hole on a cool evening after the scouts have gone inside forthe night. The cold will prevent their attacking you. Then cover thehole and the area around it with a heavy tarp weighted down withbricks, a piece of sheet metal, a big wooden board or other heavyobject. Then cover that with soil or wood chips. Or cover the hole witha thick piece of clear plastic, seal the edges tight to the ground, andthe nest will cook in the sun once the ice melts. Be sure and pick acool night when these dangerous wasps will be unable to respondquickly—and 'bee careful'!
Trapsare the most effective way to capture yellowjackets trying to muscle inon a picnic or other outdoor event—and they can also be used to cut thenumbers in an underground nest. You can buy ready-made traps at anyhardware store or make you own: Just remove the cap from a glass orplastic container, drive a single hole into it with a Phillips-headscrewdriver, put a bit of bait in the container, and put the cap backon.
To keep the pests away from yourpicnic, place the traps on the outskirts of your outdoor area. Toreduce the numbers in a nest, place lots of traps near the nest in thecool of the evening—when the wasps won't be active. Try two differentkinds of bait—put some spoiled ham or smelly pet food in half the trapsand some apple juice or a piece of rotting peach in the rest. Sometimes the pests want sugar, sometimes meat. Either way, they'll fly infor the food, but they won't be able to fly out.
Last year, an inventive YBYG listenertold us that they had used one of those backyard bug zappers to destroya nest. The listener simply set the zapper right near theentrance to the nest—again, always do this on a cool evening—and thenturned it on. The aggressive wasps kept flying out trying to sting thezapper and were eventually all electrocuted. Finally—a good usefor those otherwise useless zappers!
And just this year, we've heard fromtwo different YBYG listeners-- Phil Getty from
New Hope, PA and Jim Lauther of PineHill, New Jersey—who used shop vacs to capture the pests as they flewout of their underground nests. Both attached their longest extensionpoles to the end of their vacuum hoses, positioned the poles close tothe openings, turned the machines on and let them run. Both reportedgreat success. (This is much the same solution the pros use when thepests build a nest in the wall of a house.) If you'd like to try it,position the hose of your shop vac right near the opening of the neston a cool evening and then turn it on the next day.
Be sure to leave the vac on for aLONG time; there could be five thousand yellowjackets in a nest thistime of year. Be sure to plug the hose right away when you're done sothey don't fly back out and take revenge. Then leave the vac sit in thesun for a few days to kill the occupants.
[Note: I sent an advance copy of thisanswer to our three 'questioners' and JUST got this response back fromone:
"Read the article you sent aboutusing a shop vac, and decided to give it a try. I stuck it on theopening, turned it on and ran away. Let it run for about an hour, thenhit some wood near the nest with a hammer to make sure no more beeswere in there, and none came out. Two days later, I opened up the shopvac and it was full of former bees. Very cool—and no poisons near thegarden. Thanks very much for the advice; Gary Herrmann."
Thank YOU for the report, Gar!]
Sensational First Aid for ANY Sting!
Get a jar of Adolph's meat tenderizerand keep it nearby whenever you're outdoors. That way, if you DO getstung by one of these aggressive wasps, you can cure it instantly! Justwet the area, shake some of the Adolph's (or any papain/papaya-basedmeat tenderizer) onto the sting, cover it with a damp napkin or clothand the same enzymes that break down tough cuts of meat will denaturethe protein-based venom. It'll be like you were never stung!
Of course, if you're allergic to 'beestings', don't go anywhere without your emergency injector this time ofyear.
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath