Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jacket Entering Hole

Yellow Jackets often create a nest in the ground under bark.

As Marion was looking out the window recently she saw Rich abandon the lawn mower and race across the yard swatting and jumping as he ran. What was going on?

He’d pushed the mower up close to wood mulch around a tree and disturbed a Yellow Jacket nest.   They boiled out of their underground home and attacked. Rich was stung five times as they chased him across the yard.

Many people have unpleasant encounters with this aggressive insect every year, especially in late summer. Their stings are painful and it’s a rare and fortunate person who only gets stung once.   Multiple stings are normal. First, get away from the nest and alert everyone else around about the nest. Then, put ice on the stings to keep swelling down.  Watch for and treat more serious allergic reactions.

The life history of Yellow Jackets is interesting. Many species live in the United States. Some, like the German yellow jacket, are exotic while others are native. Most have the familiar yellow and black pattern, although a few species may be black and white. Only the queen overwinters, and in spring she makes a nest that’s usually underground but can be found in other locations. She’s an egg laying machine. By late summer the colony can have thousands of members.

This insect is generally beneficial. Adults eat a wide array of fruits, meat, sweets and insects but normally they feed their larvae insect parts. Although they consume pesky insects, they often forage in trash cans and they love picnics. A definite problem because there is nothing beneficial about being stung many times. The experience can be traumatic to a child.

Yellow jackets don’t go out of their way to sting, but they do readily attack anything they believe threatens their home. Generally they won’t attack a person walking quietly in the area.  But anyone who disturbs the leaves or sticks near their entry hole will be chased by dozens of yellow jackets as they boil out of their nest and attack.

If the nest is in a place with much human traffic, it is prudent to destroy it. That requires pinpointing the entry. To find it, carefully approach the area where the nest is suspected. Look for a small hole, often under a piece of wood, with insects coming and going. Avoid making noise or disturbing leaves, mulch, or wood. A pair of close focusing binoculars can aid in the search.  Once the entry is located follow these steps:

  • Wait until after dark when all insects are down in the nest.
  • Approach the entry hole with a flashlight, a spray can of wasp killer, and a piece of carpet.
  • Spray the poison down the hole and cover it with the carpet to keep fumes and insects inside.

Remember to only destroy a nest if the insects pose a stinging threat.  Otherwise leave it alone for these beneficial, although cranky insects to live.

A side note is that several colleges and universities like Georgia Tech and Black Hills State University sport the Yellow Jackets as their mascot. Appropriate Buzz and Sting!

The Magic of Clovers and Fireflies

Clovers in lawn

Soft and fragrant underfoot, clovers naturally fix nitrogen in our lawns.

A man whom Rich hadn’t seen for years recently approached him in a parking lot. “You once wrote a newspaper column suggesting that people not spray their yards for insects or weeds. We took your advice and magic happened,” he said.

He explained that a couple of years after he stopped spraying, white clover appeared in the yard and fireflies graced the evening darkness. “We’re enjoying both,” he added.

A major problem with poison sprays is that they aren’t usually selective. Often people spray to rid their lawn of grubs without realizing they also are killing fireflies, pollinators, and a host of other interesting and beneficial insects and the animals that dine on them. If you poison dandelions, you also kill clover that fixes nitrogen naturally and a wide range of other flowering plants that add diversity to the lawn and buffer it from unusual growing conditions.

FIREFLIES

What child has not delighted in chasing fireflies on a warm summer evening and, perhaps, catching a few to watch light up the inside of a glass jar? In fact, an adult friend who grew up on the eastern plains of Colorado was enchanted with them when she visited Iowa one summer. Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are common across much of the Eastern United States. Some blink yellow while others green, but whichever color they blink it is probably an effort to seek a mate. Some firefly species live in the West, they just don’t glow! The larvae, sometimes called glow worms often live in rotting wood where they seek insect prey.

To enjoy an evening firefly display leave edges and corners of your yards unmowed. Perhaps position some wood there to gradually rot and provide homes for their larvae. Certainly avoid insecticide spray!

CLOVER

Many species of clover are common across much of North America but the one most often found in unsprayed yards is the White Clover. It can be planted but usually just avoiding herbicides for a few years will encourage it to move in on its own. Clover blooms provide wonderful pollinator food while sprinkling a lawn with attractive white flowers. The plant is a legume, meaning that it is able to fix nitrogen and improve soil health – naturally! Why anyone would want to kill such a valuable and beautiful plant is beyond us.

Sometimes the very best lawn and yard management is simply leaving it alone. Stop spraying and the result is likely…….beauty.

Lyme Disease and Ticks

We are proud of and fortunate that our yard is home to a wide array of fascinating plants and wildlife.

Ticks in solution

Only a good friend would know that we want pictures of creepy crawlies and save them for us for our blog!

But, last year Rich encountered a wild animal that he wishes he’d avoided. A deer tick found and bit him, although he never saw the tiny eight legged creature. A classic symptom of Lyme Disease is a red rash shaped like a bull’s eye. But Rich never had one. Instead he became overwhelmed with lethargy.
“I never felt sick, just tired, and kept thinking I’d be fine in a day or two,” he said.

But the fatigue dragged on for months, so he called our family physician who urged him to come right in. She gave him a thorough check over, and prescribed a chest X Ray and a Lyme Disease blood test.

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Backyard Beekeeping

Bee on cup plant

Bees forage on many plants. Create pollinator pockets to help them out. Then harvest the honey from your hives.

Interest in beekeeping is heading toward the stratosphere. Although the number of bee colonies may be declining more and more are showing up in suburban and urban yards.

We kept bees for years and enjoyed watching them visit garden flowers. Their honey was delicious. We didn’t stop beekeeping from lack of interest. It simply became a time priority. Bee colonies need attention in May and June, just when we like to wander off camping, go fishing, canoe the river, or work in our garden. Something had to go, and for us it was the bees. But, we still miss them and beekeeping may be your perfect hobby.

Here are beekeeping aspects to consider

  • It is fascinating. Tend a hive and you may kindle a lifelong hobby.
  • It’s complex. Keeping bees requires knowledge, time and strength. Having a mentor is the best way to learn, but many organizations now sponsor classes, and books, websites, and YouTube videos abound to help with the learning curve. University of Minnesota’s Extension Office has an excellent site on beekeeping basics.
  • It can be costly. You’ll need hives, coveralls, veils, smokers, hive tools, a honey extractor and bees. Bees and equipment can be mail ordered and some stores sell them.
  • Honey is heavy. Plan on hefty lifting.
  • With the relatively recent arrival of several new parasites, diseases, and the still somewhat mysterious colony collapse syndrome, it’s getting harder to keep colonies alive and productive. Colony death is common.
  • Home produced honey is delicious.
  • Bees are outstanding pollinators and may make a garden more productive.
  • Beekeeping is not allowed in some towns. Check local ordinances before jumping in.

A great way to start a bee hobby is to find an established beekeeper and volunteer to help.  Working with a mentor is an opportunity to decide whether beekeeping is for you before investing in equipment and bees.

An Internet search will help locate a beekeeping class in your area. Simply type “beekeeping class in (your state)” into the search engine and chances are good you’ll find a class nearby.   YouTube Videos aren’t as hands on as taking a class or working with a mentor but they are helpful. One of our favorites is a 25 part series on YouTube done by Dr. Keith Delaplane of the University of Georgia. We found it at FarmUS12 on YouTube.

Baldfaced Hornets

As leaves tumble off our trees each fall we usually spot one or two round or football shaped gray wads of paper clinging to branches. They’ve been there all summer but hidden by leaves.

This fall many people will discover similar baldfaced hornet nests and be alarmed that they’re sharing their yard with stinging insects.

A fertile bald faced hornet queen overwinters under a log or in the ground. As the weather warms she flies to a branch and makes a tiny nest of paper-like material. She’ll lay an egg or two that hatches into a worker. Workers forage for tasty insect food and expand the nest. As the nest grows the queen lays more eggs until the colony has many hornets. By summer’s end it’s full size just before leaves begin to fall.

Bald Faced hornets are normally content to go about their business building their nest and catching tender insect food. They have little interest in stinging people unless someone molests their nest. Get too close or bother the nest and you likely will get stung many times. Dozens of hornets will instantly attack and multiple stings are the norm.

There’s a simple way to avoid being stung. Leave the nest alone. That may be easier said than done. A few years ago a neighbor teenager spotted a nest in a backyard tree. He hurled rocks at it, and his aim was good. Angry hornets boiled out and attacked! The boy retreated in pain but with an education he won’t forget.

As the weather cools the colony creates more queens that mate and then find a snug place to overwinter in solitude. Worker hornets die and the nest soon becomes empty and disintegrates during winter wind and snow.

Hornet nest

A bald faced hornet nest by a front entry. Leave it be until freeze up.

If you find a hornet nest in early to mid-fall LEAVE IT ALONE. It may still be occupied. If it must be removed wait until cold weather sets in. By then it will be abandoned and can be removed safely. At Winding Pathways we leave our nests in place and gradually watch them disintegrate.

Wah Wah Taysee – Fireflies

We walked as 19 individuals in a single community waiting with anticipation for the first glimpse of the magical firefly dance. From ages two to mid-sixties with a healthy mix of 20 somethings visiting the Indian Creek Nature Center for the first time, we shared, questioned, chatted and on entering the sacred space surrounding the Prairie Labyrinth, approached reverently. As we began, Teri P read the powerful verses from Longfellow’s Hiawatha about the night and the fireflies:

“All the air was white with moonlight, All the water black with shadow,
And around him the Suggema, The mosquito, sang his war-song,
And the fire-flies, Wah-wah-taysee, Waved their torches to mislead him;
And the bull-frog, the Dahinda, Thrust his head into the moonlight,
Fixed his yellow eyes upon him, Sobbed and sank beneath the surface;
And anon a thousand whistles, Answered over all the fen-lands,
And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah, Far off on the reedy margin,
Heralded the hero’s coming.”

Then, we walked. Each tapped the drum. The children ran eagerly searching…searching and returned somberly. Adult Pilgrims stepped into the labyrinth and fell into silent reverie.

But the night was not. As nature does when given the chance, the evening filled our senses. We wove in and out along the path to the center looking with soft eyes upon the emerging summer prairie.  Knee-high grasses cascaded to the ground. Virginia Mountain mint scented the air. Creamy Penstamen turned their tubular faces to the setting sun while butterflies gathered one more sip before dark. Field sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, robins, geese winging overhead called in succession and in the distance tree frogs tuned up for the night chorus. The west glowed faint orange like early evening fireflies do. The earth gave way beneath our foot falls. But, no where did we spy the enchanting flicker of a lightning bug.

In Center, we stood silently after the Firefly poem from “Song From the Sandhills” by Paul F. Long of Kansas. Remembering. Evenings full of magical light as these Coleoptera of the night etched their dance on our memories. In corn fields before potent sprays. In hedges and taller grasses between yards before hedge clippers and riding lawnmowers. In front yards and back yards before monoculture craze took over.

Then, one by one each of us caught a glimpse of a faint glow deep in the grasses. We pointed.  Nodded. Smiled. Shared silently.  More and more the winking in the prairie woke us up as the fireflies began their dance and story of intrigue – one of code talk, mystery, “femme fatale”, and murder! As the evening darkened and cooled, their lights changed to luminescent green, the pace picked up and the males began to appear higher up in the air.  Escorting us out of the Labyrinth.

We walked happily back to the Center as the frogs and toads in the pond chanted, “It’s OK, let them glow, go slow, go slow.” (Virgil Ellis)