Is there someone in your household who absolutely freaks out when wasps start to buzz around?
Well, there’s a lot of freaking on going on around my house these days. My daughter cannot seem to help herself — she starts flailing about in a strange panicky dance whenever a wasp or several of them start plaguing her. Not a wise move, I tell her, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.
Wasps may seem to be your enemy, but they’re not. Some wasps (such as the slender inch-long paper wasps) leave you alone, more or less. The shiny, stout-bodied but narrow-waisted yellow-jacket wasps, on the other hand, are simply very focused on their sugar-gathering chores in the late summer, exhibiting persistence and a bulldog-like tenacity.
My friends and their daughters are certainly familiar with them, and I’m sure you are too. Their population is at its highest in the fall since their hard-working queen has been producing larvae all summer, so there really are a lot of them looking for food. As the days get shorter, flowers and other plants start to die back, so wasps become opportunistic eaters and — my oh my — are they happy to crash picnics and backyard meals. Unfortunately, yellow-jackets can also be aggressive around food sources (even if it’s your supper), and will sting when they feel threatened.
So give them lots of room. There are common sense rules, such as no flapping about. And if you eat or drink outdoors, minimize the food you expose. Cover serving dishes of salads, meats and deserts or better yet, serve them from inside the house.
If you eat outside, you’d be best to eat quickly and clean up your dirty dishes as quickly as possible. Also watch your plate and drinks such as pop or beer to avoid eating a wasp. Wasps do regularly crawl into tins of pop or beer and can easily end up in your mouth, where they will sting, so avoid tins. Finally, if wasps are numerous, you may just decide to surrender and go inside to eat your dinner, and nobody would think the worse of you.
Other basics include keeping garbage and compost well covered. Also avoid setting out dishes of cat or dog food outside. Wasps cannot resist ripe or rotting fruit, such as pears or apples, so if you have a fruit tree, it makes sense to clean up fallen fruit.
If you’re planning an outdoor event in your backyard, you may want to set a few traps beforehand to reduce the population. See natural-insect-control.com or visit Lee Valley (leevalley.com) for a non-toxic wasp trap. You can also make your own with a pop bottle (see pestcontrolcanada.com for instructions). Some people also swear that rubbing or spraying tea tree oil, neem oil where you notice they seem to congregate, or in areas where humans hang out, seems to discourage them.
If you must get rid of a yellow-jacket wasp nest, consider hiring a pest control specialist, especially if the nest is large or difficult to access.
– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; firstname.lastname@example.org.