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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Buena Vista Garden, by Yarddawg

War in Boovieland

Recently I was out watering a hydrangea which was wilting from the recent hot, dry spell. I was minding my own business when suddenly it felt like my left arm was being brutalized with a welding torch. When I looked a yellow jacket was tearing my arm up. Yellow jackets, unlike bees and wasps which sting only once, can sting and keep on stinging. The singeing pain in my arm continued unabated for six hours.

Luckily it was just one soldier and not a swarm as often can be the case. My youngest son once stepped on a yellow jacket nest in a neighbor's yard when he was about 12 years old. A swarm of these nasty varmints got up into his shorts. Several stings later and almost completely naked he came screaming into the house. He was in a mess.

I am generally very tolerate of stinging creatures. If they don't bother me, I don't bother them. I prefer peaceful coexistence, but now the truce has been broken. Yellow jackets refuse to negotiate with humans. Thusly, I have officially declared war. Chemical war.

Yellow jackets get more and more aggressive as summer progresses. Late summer and fall they can become extremely dangerous which is a shame because yellow jackets are beneficial predators of other destructive insects. So, like LBJ, it is with heavy heart that I take this step.

Here's what I did:

1. Intelligence gathering. Know your enemy. Firstly (from a safe distance) I located the underground nesting area by observing the area. I found a small hole in the ground where workers were entering and leaving. If necessary try to carefully mark the area. Yellow jackets are active and aggressive during the day and return to the nest at dusk and are vulnerable during this period. I also scouted the area for quick unimpeded escape routes. In other words I was looking for areas to haul buggy in case I got chased.

2. Stockpiling of arsenal. I purchased one of those aerosol sprays labeled for wasps, hornets, and pissed off yellow jackets which emit a killing stream from about 10-12 feet. The attack needs to take place from a safe distance sort of like a cruise missile.

3. Patience. I waited till dusk, almost nightfall, but with enough light to see the target and see my pre-planned escape route. I also waited for calm conditions. I quietly circled and waited. This is important: Do not attack a yellow jacket nest in daylight. Also do not wait until too late in the evening so I flashlight would be required because the light might alert the enemy.

4. The Mission. Once the insecticide button is squeezed, I say squeeze like hell. Be brutal. Do not use short bursts. Squeeze for 30-45 seconds minimum. Then immediately squeeze again for another 30 seconds. This hopefully will suppress any trying to escape and do bodily harm.

5. Re-scout. Check the area the following day. Watch for any activity. Follow the same procedures outlined above and launch a follow-up attack (weather permitting) the next evening. I might even consider a third or fourth attack just because.

There are some who recommend a "green" approach to taking on these critters. One solution is to pour boiling water right down the hole. I don't like this idea for several reasons.
  1. This requires being right at ground zero; the nest opening. Ground vibrations can also alert the nesting yellow jackets. Once alerted and attacking what are you going to do with a gallon or two of boiling water. Several things can happen and none of them are good.
  2. Boiling water can not only scald the intended critter but can scald you as well.
  3. Boiling water can cause harm/death to plants if the nest is near the root zone of the plant as mine is. I consider this solution foolish.
Whatever you do be careful when messing with these critters. Read this from NC Cooperative Extension for more information.
- Yarddawg
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