Really Bad Year for Yellow Jackets

Bill Devlin
Adams County Master Gardener

I started getting ready for fall by scheduling an appointment for the furnace repair man to perform preventative maintenance on our crawl space furnace. In order to access the furnace, one must enter a sunken small doorway accessed thru a sunken window well. As the repair man approached the window well, a swarm of yellow jackets approached him. He said 'Good Bye, reschedule when they are gone'. Thus my first encounter with the Yellow Jacket began. On close inspection after things calmed down a little, I found a 3" by " slot between the metal rim of the window well and the bottom of the well. After treating with every bug spray I had, and Malathion, with absolutely no result, I finally bought some "Hornet and Wasp" spray with a 22' reach, and it finally did the trick.

So ends part one of this continuing saga.

Part two started quite innocuously. We had a lilac bush that over 15 years had outgrown its bounds. We cut it off, but it didn't go quietly. Its roots put up about 50 (yes, count them, 50) shoots, that quickly returned when they were cut off. I then used the chemical brush killer available in stores and it finally did the trick. We were the left with about 50 unsightly dead shoots, each attached to a fair amount of root. She who must be obeyed decreed that my highest priority in yard work was the removal of the shoots and replace with iris. (If you don't get the 'She who must be obeyed' reference, I refer you to the PBS series Rumpole of the Bailey.)

Knowing that the roots would quickly defeat any attempt to spade them out I went to my trusty Breaker Bar. For those unfamiliar with this tool, it's a long bar weighing about 20 pounds with a sharpened point on one end and a hammer head on the other. If you lift it on high and thrust it into the ground, it will penetrate almost any thing, dirt, rocky soil, rotten wood, etc. with its bottom blade. Eureka! I have found the secret of digging up dead roots and removing them. I got about 10 roots and dead sprouts out of the ground when disaster struck, or perhaps I should say disaster stung. I hit the mother load of yellow jackets. I took a sting on my right cheek first, and then my left. I made a very hasty retreat to lick my wounds, so to speak.

Upon later inspection, I found a hold in the ground about 1 " in diameter that was the source of the disaster.

Based on my earlier experience with the furnace man, I decided that head protection was in order. I then purchased a couple of yards of bridal veil netting to put over a straw hat to keep the critters from my now throbbing cheeks. The lady at the sewing materials store suggested kerosene in the nest as an old family remedy. I purchased another two cans of Hornet and Wasp spray, and emptied one can into the hole. I also used a distilled petroleum product since it was about 10 feet from the house and reasonable safe to do so.

That seemed to do the trick. I still had my obligation to She who must be obeyed so I proceeded to take up all the remaining sprouts and roots. In the process of doing this, I was able to recover the entire Yellow Jacket nest. I was very much astonished at the extent of the population and the elaborate hole that the insects made in the ground. Of the remaining two pictures, one is of the breaker bar as it digs out the roots, and the other is obviously of the yellow jacket hive with my bridal veil for background and a pair of yard shears for perspective.

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