LIVING WITH WASPS

The absolutely most blood-curdling screams I have ever heard in my life occurred when my 8-year-old daughter and the neighbor kids annoyed some mud wasps.  I was outside the house and moving toward the cries before I even knew I was out of my chair.

...The business end of a wasp. (photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenbegin/3606383219/

So, though I’ve never been stung, I have a healthy respect for wasps.    Their stinger is actually a modified egg-laying tube attached to a venom sac.  When you are stung, it’s like getting a hypodermic needle full of fire.  Then there is the fact that wasps live in groups, and so you are likely to be stung by more than one member of any nest you disturb.  On top of that, there is the issue that some of us are allergic to the toxins and have life-threatening responses.  Not a pretty picture.

If you build it, they will come.

Wasps were not who James Earl Jones was talking about in Field of Dreams, but they might as well have been. If you build it …… Many wasps find the eves we create in our structures to be a dream site for a new nest.  Before our barn was even finished, the wasps were setting up housekeeping.

.Not in the greenhouse, little guy.

I now look at each nest on a case by case basis.  After all,  the literature says that paper wasps are less aggressive than many other wasps.  On a certain level, they can be considered good neighbors.  They feed on other insects, including caterpillars, flies and beetle larvae, and in this capacity can be considered beneficial by gardeners.  Beyond that, they were here first.

Still, there are certain areas of zero tolerance, and inside the greenhouse is one of those areas.  Needless to say, the greenhouse holds an attraction to wasps like no other spot in the building.

I have researched natural wasp nest removal techniques.  They all involve serious protective clothing, a two-person swat team and some kind of crazy scheme about covering the nest with cloth and sinking it with a heavy stone under water for a day or two.  Or detaching the next, dropping it into a box and putting the lid on fast.  Then filling it with cold water.

Well, you know what?  I don’t think so.

I just can’t see it ending well.

I have resorted to a commercial product, which I use as minimally as I can.

It’s a good idea to confront your foes very early in the morning or in the evening when it is cool, and the wasps are drowsy.  In case they are not as drowsy as you hope, here is a link to treating wasp stings.

As far as I’m concerned, wasps in the outside eaves are welcome to hang out and duke it out with the other insects.

This winter when the needles dropped from the tamaracks, we were amazed to find this massive wasp nest in the middle of the grove.  Two winters ago, we thinned these trees, which involved studying each one carefully – and we saw no nest then.

These little fellows build fast, and they build with flare!

WHAT’S YOUR WORST OR BEST WASP ENCOUNTER?

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12 replies

  1. Shortly after we moved to Gurnee our son, about 7 at the time, went out hiking with his summer camp. Apparently one of the kids stepped on a nest (think they were yellow jackets) and the whole group was attacked. Our son got stung 5 times. He was okay, but his face was a bit odd looking – as in puffy – for a day or so. It must have been a nightmare for those poor camp counselors. Screaming kids and wasps.

    • Yes, those little warriors can be fearsome. I had a similar experience. I convinced a friend to bring her kids and hike in a county park with me and my kids. She was normally more of a go-to-the-mall type person. The kids started down the trail ahead of us and ran up to a little wooden box on a post that said “Trail Maps.” Then they reached in, they found out the hard way that wasps had moved in. oh my! Multiple stings. Traumatized kids. sigh

  2. I have had two encounters with a wasp. The first as a child in a market when it attacked me for no reason – it was late in the year. The second I was walking past a bush on the sidewalk and it dropped down onto my head and again stung me for no reason.

    Vinegar is also a good remedy for bee stings or a fizzy soda if your out and about. Wasp stings are alkali and so an acid like vinegar or fizzy soda will neutralise it. Baking soda also does that because it is only a weak alkali. Bee stings on the other hand are acidic and that is why it is better to add the baking soda.

    • Hi Joanna. It’s amazing how intensely we feel an insect sting, isn’t it? I have been stung by bees, and everytime I had an instantaneous sensation from my head to my toes that something was very wrong. We can’t ignore it. And we don’t tend to forget it either. Just remembering a bee sting is giving me an involuntary shiver.

  3. I think I would want to be wearing protective clothing for that.
    Lucky for me, all the wasps I have encountered on our land tend to be the ones that build paper nests — usually up high where I can ignore them.
    The scream that got me out of my chair and outside the house before I knew what I was doing came when my daughter and the neighbors tried to pour their own concoction into a wasp hole in the ground in the middle of the day. That was unwise.
    Your method sounds much more effective.

  4. I use a commercial chemical spray can – the spray reaches out some 20 feet or so. I ordinarily don’t use chemicals, but wasp nests around the house are unacceptable. Also ants where they don’t belong. If the wasp nest is in a tree close to the house, I won’t worry about it. In fact, I don’t even worry about small wasp nests at some places on the house. But on a few, rare occasions I do resort to chemical sprays. They simply are the most effective way to deal with the critters. No “true believer I’, not after living out in the country for 10 years.

    • Hi Dennis,
      Good to hear from you.
      Yes, I agree. Using the precise pesticide sparingly seems like the Integrated Pest Management approach. I only fear and remove those wasps who have set up housekeeping on a collision course with my daily routines.
      Wasps are some of the only insects that live communally, and there is something so reminiscent of our own experience to see them building their dwellings. I only disturb them when I absolutely must.
      Denise

  5. I’ve searched long hours for a solution to discouraging an unwanted wasp invasion. Glad to have come across this site. A couple of years ago paper wasps began invading my small (8’x12′) greenhouse. With open vents, windows and doors, my 40 hr/wk job and the fact that I’m really resistant to using toxic chemicals, makes it difficult to keep them from building nests. I’m not keen on sharing this space having been stung by a hive at 12, and this year, I think (knock on wood) I’ve got the advantage! I’ve made screens for the openings and developed a natural repellent. So far, the combination of the two plus my trusty bug swatter has kept them under control. An added benefit, the spider population is healthy and their webs hold many wasps.

    • Thanks for your perspective and experience, Marci. I’d love to know more about your natural repellent. And the point about wasps in the spider webs is a good one. Every living thing has evolved in relationship with its environment and has a place in its natural setting.

      As an aside, I am teaching journalism at University of Wisconsin-Platteville this semester. I work on the sixth floor of an 8-story building, and since the weather has warmed, my office is swarming with wasps. I understand that the higher you go in the building, the worse they are, and no one is quite sure where they come from. I walked in this morning and had to swat 11 before I sat down. Normally, I would try to live and let live, but the poor things can’t get out, and I just can’t really concentrate when there are wasps around me — perhaps behind me. Perhaps about to land on me. In fact, they have never shown any interest in me yet, but I’m not evolved enough to share this 9×9 room with so many stinging roommates.

  6. Thanks Denise – I share your aversion to “sharing” closed spaces with wasps although one of the keys of natural aversion is to close all entry points. Sounds like they’ve set up nests and they will return every year; your building maintenance crew must have a clue. My repellent is made of: 16 oz Witch Hazel add 1/2 oz Cedar wood, 1/2 oz citronella, 60 drops catnip. I spray it on the areas they try to nest inside and where they try to enter the greenhouse. Not the greatest smelling stuff; I’ve not used it on my clothing intentionally, but I have to say with the combination of screened openings, plugged crevices and the repellent, I’ve begun to re-experience the love I have of growing in the greenhouse!

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