Bee Careful

I had a bit of excitement around here this week.  I discovered we have (had!) a yellow jacket nest in the rock wall around our large maple tree.

Ask me how I found out.

Yep.

It all started with compost.

The cool weather has finally returned to Virginia, and the leaves are falling in earnest.  We had the remnants of TS Karen earlier this week, and lots of leaves were knocked loose by her winds.  I had been eyeing that compost gold all week, hoping to make time to rake them up and put them in my pile before the next round of rain (several heavy days of it, if the weathermen are to be believed . . . ) hit last night.

Leaves are an awesome addition to your compost pile – maybe the BEST addition.  They provide a lot of nutrients, they don’t attract bugs (gnats, flies, etc.), and they don’t get stinky like some kitchen scraps can.  Aside: I hope you know that you NEVER use any animal products (with the exception of eggshells) in your compost pile!!  Veggie scraps can get a little sour smelling, though.  So can grass clippings if you have too many and they are constantly wet.

Leaves are light and easy to move (unless you’re raking on a windy day, in which case I’d have to question your judgment), and the best part – they are FREE!  About the only thing you have to pay attention to is what kind of tree they came from.  Most types of leaves are great in any quantity.  But Oak leaves are very acidic, so you may want to use them sparingly.  I’ve also read that you should never compost Black Walnut leaves because they contain a chemical (called juglone – don’t say you didn’t learn anything today) that kills other plants.  Having neither oak nor black walnut trees in my yard, I was all set.

So yesterday afternoon, I finally had time to go out and rake.

In order to gather the leaves for the compost pile in the most efficient way possible, I use a giant tarp.  I rake the leaves up onto the tarp, drag it to the next spot, rake some more, then pull the whole thing around to the compost pile and dump them all at once.  I’ve tried using bags, boxes, buckets, pretty much every container you can think of, but the tarp seems to be the fastest method.

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So I’m out there raking the leaves from around the base of the maple tree, along the rock wall, and out of the flower beds.  I guess yellow jackets don’t like people (unless they’re holding a cup of apple cider).  Or yard work.  Or people doing yard work.  And they certainly didn’t like me.  They started coming out from between the rocks, just a few at first, then by the thousands (ok, that might be an exaggeration).

I dropped the rake and RAN.  And you know what?  Those little bastards chased me!

Luckily, it was a cool day, and I was wearing long pants/sleeves and a hat.  But they still managed to sting me in about the only place they could – my neck.  OUCH!  I haven’t been stung since I was a kid, and I’m not sure I have ever been stung by a yellow jacket, so I was a little worried.

It hurt like crap, and I felt a little tingly and weird afterwards.  It could have been because I was totally freaked out, but just in case, I took some Benadryl.

Then I sat at my computer with an ice pack on my neck and planned their demise.

In between internet searches and youtube videos on how to get rid of yellow jackets, I peeked out the window (the closed window) and took a few pics.  This is where they have the entrance to their batcave, right at the end of the wall.  You can see where I casually put down the rake and walked away.  Uh huh.

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Apparently lots of people take care of such nests by pouring gasoline down into the hole.  I was really hoping for something a little less . . . flammable . . . so I decided to call the pest control company.

Normally, I limit or eliminate the use of chemicals wherever possible in our home and yard (and I use NONE in my vegetable garden), but in this situation I was more concerned about my kids being attacked.  My son (who’s eleven) just learned how to use the mower, and he cut the grass right in this spot last week. I’m SO very thankful they didn’t come after him!

The pest control guy came right out and sprinkled magic poison fairy dust onto some of the rocks and inside BOTH (yes, there were two) entrances to their hive.  Or nest.  Or whatever you call it.

Boy were they mad.  But do you know that pest control guy, who showed up in shorts & a t-shirt, didn’t get stung once?  I guess because he wasn’t doing any yard work.

Then we had to wait several hours for all the stragglers to come home and get dusted before I could go back out there.  Here’s a couple of them now . . .

Yellow jackets are members of the WASP family.  Like hornets, they are very aggressive, predatory, and can sting repeatedly.  They are not bees.  If this had been a bee hive, I never would have destroyed it.  Instead, I would have called someone who could move it to a more appropriate location.  Of course, that probably wouldn’t even be necessary because they most likely never would have attacked me in the first place.

Bees are extremely beneficial, and without them, our food supply (and hence our way of life) is in grave danger.  We rely on them to pollinate all manner of fruit and vegetable blossoms so that those will, in turn, give us apples, cherries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.

Perhaps you have read some of the reports of mass bee die-offs, lately.  This is no joke.  Please consider carefully before you use pesticides; and if you must, please take every precaution to achieve a targeted application.  I made sure this gentleman knew my stance on chemicals, asked him what he was using (low toxicity puff powder), and asked him to be as careful as possible when treating the area.

This section of my yard is away from human/pet traffic and has no nearby water sources (drains, streams, etc.) for the poison to wash into.  I feel like I was as careful as I could be.  As much as I didn’t like it, sometimes you have to make a trade off to keep your family safe.

Later, when all was clear, I went back out to finish my raking.  I did not take the leaves near the wall because I didn’t want to risk putting any of the poison into my compost pile.

Here is my compost pile after the addition of the first round of leaves.

leaves2

As you can see, it’s nothing fancy.  Just an unused corner of my backyard.  The only reason I have the little fence there is because the dog kept treating it like a free buffet.

This will “cook” down over the coming weeks.  It’s perfect timing since we are getting several days of rain which will help the process along (and keep the leaves from blowing away).  In a couple of weeks, I can turn the pile and add some more kitchen scraps and newly-fallen leaves.  By next spring, I should have a bunch of good, nutritious compost to add to my garden.

And hopefully a bunch fewer wasps.

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