Sunday, April 30, 2006

Busy as a Wasp

Yellowjacket Nest
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
It did not exactly please me to discover this yellowjacket nest on our back patio, suspended just above where we keep our bikes. Nor did it please me to find—not a foot away from it—this paper wasp nest. And it pleased me even less, as if that were possible, to find yet another paper wasp nest just outside our front door. Holy Shite! That's three nests if you're keeping track.

I’m in a quandary. I did some reading up on wasps, and it turns out that yellowjackets and paper wasps are both beneficial garden insects. According to Paghat the Ratgirl, Pacific Northwest gardener extraordinaire, they will kill “aphids, leafhoppers, caterpillars, beetle larvae, flies, & all manner of garden-munchers at a fantastic rate.” And that's a very good and desirable thing.

The situation is putting my organic gardening ethics to the test. Do I leave the nests be and put up with the potential risk of being stung and harassed? I’m quite sure Paghat would encourage me to do just that. According to her, “The best way to deal with them is personal calmness. It would be possible to sit quietly within inches of a paperwasp nest & observe closely their comings & goings, & there would be no risk at all. Instead of worrying about them, they should be feted as welcome visitors.”

It would be so much easier to make this decision if they’d just built their nests in some more out of the way place. Is that too much to ask? I mean, a yellowjacket nest and a paper wasp nest a few feet away from our patio table and back door and another one over the front door? I really don’t relish the thought of them stinging the mailman’s bum or swarming about and alighting on my food while I try to eat lunch on the patio, even if they are at all other times doing away with aphids and caterpillars at the above-mentioned fantastic rate.*

This weekend I intended to knock down the nests and then run like hell. That seemed the sane and humane thing to do. The nests are still small—works-in-progress being fashioned by a single female wasp/yellowjacket per nest. There are no eggs laid in them yet, let alone hatched larvae that turn into swarming and pestilent workers. If I knocked down the nests now, surely those two wasps and one yellowjacket would find somewhere else to rebuild their nests. They’re welcome to build nests (within reason—i.e., smaller than a soccer ball) under the eaves on the side of the house. I could deal with that.

I couldn’t quite bring myself to, as Paghat would say, “muck with their nests.” Part of it is fear of painful reprisals, but part of it is guilt, and part of it is a vague desire to respect the balance of nature (and rejoice at the thought of little bits of paralyzed cutworms and aphids being fed to wasp larvae). I haven’t even told B about the nests, because I’m pretty sure he’d empty an economy-size can of Raid on them tout de suite and I don’t want to go that route.

But I’m not a Jain or even anything close so I will probably knock down the nests, and if I’m going to do that I’d better not delay much longer. Anyone have any experience in humane wasp eradication?

*Adult wasps and yellowjackets do not themselves eat these pests, but they hunt them, paralyze or kill them, and feed them to their larvae. Grisly, no?


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