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Kill the Queen

March 01, 2010

As a gardener and general lover of nature, I have a hard time killing things sometimes. I have no problem ripping out invasive weeds or disease-infested plant material that is likely to do damage to the larger environment.

Docile, Non-pest Honey Bee in Summer Zinnia

Docile, Non-pest Honey Bee in Summer Zinnia

But, for some reason I still find myself hesitating when I encounter a pest insect. My experience could be likened to a cartoon character with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, but I don’t really know which side is the good and which is the bad.

Pests Face Deadly Business in My Garden

Pests Face Deadly Business in My Garden

Let’s be clear: I really don’t like to use pesticides. It continues to bother me immensely that we have rat traps on our property, but it bothers me a lot more when we have rats invade our house, so I find dealing with them outside maintains my tolerance level. And, last year when one of my large decorative patio pots was invaded by a nest of squatting yellow jackets, I tried all sorts of techniques to get them to move on. I drown them out several times, and we even applied pesticides in a failed attempt to kill the nest. In the end we lived with them all summer despite their angry traffic raging in areas we traversed many times a day. And, yes, we did get stung a few times, and I don’t want them back.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been doing a lot of spring cleaning in my garden and on two occasions I’ve encountered queen yellow jackets in the over-wintered duff layers in my garden. But, I haven’t killed them. And, I’m regretting my inaction now. The queens are waking up, fat and pregnant and looking for the perfect location to start a hive of their own. If we kill them now, we essentially knock out a potential summer hive. But I didn’t. I’ve got excuses like: how could I have smashed her as she sat on top of a pile of leaves in a yard waste container? But, in the end, I just let her fly away — hopefully very far away.

Bob Braves the Yellow Jacket Squatters in the Big Green Pot

Bob Braves the Yellow Jacket Squatters in the Big Green Pot

So, what if I see another queen? Let’s consider this post my declaration of war on yellow jacket squatters on my property. Not only is my defense for my own sting-phobic self, but it is also now to protect the population of honey bees soon arriving in my garden. The hives were delivered yesterday, and within the next two weeks the honey bees will be dropped into them. Unfortunately, yellow jackets will attack honey bees, so that’s one more reason to defend against them.

Okay, for those of you who are saying, “but yellow jackets can be good”. I agree. They can attack aphids and other soft-bodied pests. But you know what? So can lady beetles, and they don’t sting. Happily, I saw my first lady beetle of the season in my garden yesterday — just in time to tackle the aphids arriving early to a Seattle garden near you.

So, death to the queen. Pregnant or not, you better watch you you yellow-banded bitches!  I’m coming for you with a hori-hori bayonet and a honey bee mamma’s protective vengeful attitude. If you’re smart, which I know you are, you’ll move along and find another garden to inhabit this year.


  1. I think one banner year we trapped 28 mice in a months time. Thank goodness we don’t have rats here…I can’t imagine! Yellow jackets find my fruit juice trap irresistible, so if I set it out early in the season, I usually find them manageable.

    Christine in Alaska

  2. […] poison-free bee extractor who removed the unwelcome, potentially lethal ladies without incident. Dispatching with queens before they start up a colony is another way to keep unwanted bees at […]

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