I was out in the woodshed this morning splitting logs when I heard the faintest scritch, scritch sound coming from the walls. The woodshed has three sides, all made from cedar, and when I put my ear to the wall it sounded as if the noise was inside the boards. Curious, I set aside the splitting maul and went in search of the scritch, scritch.
What I found surprised me at first. The outside wall was inhabited by half a dozen yellowjackets that seemed to be licking the boards. They weren’t queens, but probably the first progeny of a new queen. At first I was confused until I remembered that yellowjackets chew wood into a pulpy material and use it to build their nest. The cedar—being unfinished—was a perfect material to chew into a paste. The sound was made by their mandibles ripping the wood fibers.
I decided to kill them—after all, either I kill them or they kill my bees. It took all of about 90 seconds to find my butterfly net but by then they were gone. Annoyed that I lost them, I went on a hunt. By circling the house a few times, I was able to net two queens under the eaves within about five minutes. At least I assume they were queens because it is early in the season and they were monster yellowjackets—about twice the size of the workers I had just seen.
This was a good catch as it may have saved me from having to deal with two voracious hives by fall. This is just a reminder to watch out for those ladies in yellow. What looks like just two or three annoying wasps today may be two or three thousand even more annoying wasps later in the year.
By the way, did I mention there is a fresh (as of yesterday) yellowjacket pheromone lure hanging three feet away from the shed? Believe me, they were totally unimpressed.
Just curious, what kind/brand of pheromone trap is it?
It’s a Rescue brand disposable trap, the kind filled with water and pheromone lure.
Thanks for the tip about getting those lures out in spring (hollow laugh). I had always considered yellow jackets an avoidable nuisance. Now that there are hives here to worry about, I guess it’s good that they’ve grabbed my attention even in July.
Yesterday I started pulling weeds from a load of compost that was piled, but not sifted, in spring. Aaaaah! Six stings at least, on hands and arms, and the guy was right who said honey bee stings are kind and gentle by comparison.
So my dilemma was how to get rid of this nest without making the compost unfit for use in a sustainable garden op.
This tip, for anyone else who finds the wretched creatures nesting in a place where you can’t use pesticide, is from my friends at Turner Organic Farm in Indian Hill, Ohio. Go out early in the morning when they are sluggish (after yesterday I’m thinking 1 a.m. or so) and place a large sheet of clear plastic completely over the mound of dirt, shavings, etc. where they are. Rock it down good, and leave it for at least 7 sunny days. It will cook the nest. I’ll let you know how it works, but anyone with the same dilemma might want to start NOW.
Extra tip: clay mud is good to soothe the stings.
Very cool idea! Thanks for the tip.
Rusty, you are amazing! I wish I had half your common sense (No doubt my bees do too). Following your reply of this morning, I googled ‘catching yellowjackets butterfly net’ and up came your blog.
Yellowjackets decimated two of my colonies last fall, despite 4 traps around the old homestead. I’m off to the hardware store to get my own net.
Just a thought about the yellowjacket lures: perhaps they should be located away from what you want to protect, as is advised for the use of Japanese beetle traps. In the case of Jb’s, not all are trapped, so lures are placed near your neighbor’s grapevine and they leave yours alone.(ha)