Foreclosing on the Wasps

Wasp Nest, foreclosed

No, this has nothing to do with sub-prime mortgages or the bank meltdown. This is about some very surly 'social' insects. I discovered wasps in our compost bin this summer. Or, more accurately, the wasps notified us that they had moved in. After my wife and I were each stung in two days I found a wasp nest in the compost bin. Given their anti-social nature and their new residence in the compost bin I couldn't use toxic insecticides. So I did some research.

The wasps set up housekeeping in the lower back corner of the compost bin, where getting to them was difficult and risky. I started with a DIY Wasp Trap. The wasp trap was a bust, maybe my bait of mashed grapes in water wasn't sweet enough for their tastes. Round one to the wasps.

So, I tried another form of non-toxic wasp control. I found a commercial product that used a combination of Mint Oil and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. I decided to mix a brew of thick mint tea with a bit of dish soap to approximate the product's active ingredients. I poured this concoction into a garden sprayer and prepared to take the fight back to the wasps.

I geared up in a beekeeper's suit, brought a shop-vac and the soapy mint water (fortunately there are no photos of this spectacle). I sprayed down the compost bin and retaining wall around the wasp nest as best I could with the soapy mint water to no great effect. I'm not sure if the mix really deterred the wasps, but they were now minty clean. I then pointed the shop vac hose at the entrance to the wasp nest and turned it on. The shop vac did a great job of sucking up wasps as they flew in and out of the nest and I enjoyed hearing them rattle down the hose.

But, some of the wasps found the cause of their torment. Wasps may be social insects, but when you attack their home they are downright misanthropic. While the beekeepers hood protected my head and neck admirably there were chinks in my armor. The gap between my boots and pants was small, but enough room opened up when I crouched down for the wasps to sneak in. Having ants in your pants is nothing compared to an angry, buzzing wasp or three. Let's just say the wasps and I battled to a draw.

I researched and read more, but I found no better non-toxic, anti-wasp plans. So we waited them out. Wasp nests are abandoned each winter while the queen overwinters underground or another sheltered place. On a warm day early this March I opened the compost bin and found the wasp nest. I extracted most of the colony and now I see why my earlier battle as ineffective. I'm sure there are bigger wasp nests out there, but I was likely battling thousands of these insects.

The wasps have won my respect even though they lost the war. I will be MUCH more diligent about turning over the compost regularly this season to remove at least one possible shelter for them. Social insects or not I'm quite glad the wasps have moved out of the neighborhood.

More Info:

What is a Wasp-Hornet-Yellowjacket-Bee?

What's Buzzin' in My Garden?

Yellowjackets and Other Social Wasps

Wasp and Bee Control

Wikipedia - Biological pest control

GardenWeb Forums - Getting rid of Wasps/Yellowjackets

wikiHow - How to Make a Wasp Trap

Grandpa Kipp's Sure-Fire Yellow Jacket Trap!