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Hornet Nests: OK in trees; NOT in the Ground

Q. Cate writes: "Greetings from Clarksburg, Maryland to Mike and the YBYG team. I have a tiny backyard where I grow in containers and a small, raised bed framed with metal that's 15 inches deep, 7 feet long, and 18 inches wide; mostly perennial herbs: thyme, marjoram, parsley, and oregano. In the last week to 10 days, I've noticed yellow {quote} "bees" coming up out of the soil under my oregano when I water. (Not a swarm but about 10 to 15 of them at a time.) I think they are hornets and I've attached some pictures to see if you agree. (They're the best images I could get, because, um, they're hornets!!). If they are hornets, what would be the best way to remove them without chemicals? My preliminary internet search seemed to recommend the use of chemicals, and I'd rather throw everything out and start over than go that route. Thanks for all you do!"

A. Thank you, Cate; because this is the PERFECT time of year to warn people about the only 'bee looking' type of insect that they MUST be wary of, especially when those insects appear in or near a garden bed. That means, yes, you do unfortunately have {quote} "hornets" nesting under your herbs. I say: "unfortunately" because underground hornet nests are populated by yellowjackets, the deadliest flying insects in the United States. (All yellowjackets are hornets, but not all hornets are yellowjackets.)

And your missive is doubly timely as my fellow Channel 39 and WLVR person, Audacious Art from Accounting (all hail they who sign the checks!) just called me at home with a similar but completely different question. Art's neighbor had just noticed a classic Warner Brothers cartoon hornets' nest in one of Art's shrubs and was worried that the inhabitants thereof posed a danger to the neighbor's children or grandchildren. (Art wasn't sure which, but math leads me to believe it probably isn't both.) Anyway, to illustrate the danger difference between these two types of hornets, Art mentioned that the nest hadn't been visible before the hedge was trimmed recently.

HELLO!? Anybody home? If some Jumoke trimming a shrub right next to a hornet's nest wasn't attacked, why worry about some kids playing (theoretically ) a yard away? The answer is cartoons. Whether its Donald Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tom and Jerry or Sniffles the Mouse, the first sight of that football shaped hive hanging in a tree is the cue for Elmer to get a broom, antagonize the otherwise gentle creatures and get stung multiple times upside his head. Don't be like Elmer Fudd (now there's a good t-shirt waiting to be made!); leave it alone and the bald-faced European hornets within will dine on your caterpillar pests until frost and then expire.

The nest will not be re-used by new hornets the following season, making it a nifty show and tell item the following year. Kids can take the now-deserted nest to class and cut it down the middle to expose the intricate architectural marvel that Nature has created inside. (Kids: For best effect, assure everyone that any hornets left inside are long dead; and then add "at least I hope they are...")

Same for yellowjackets. As frost approaches, a new queen will leave the nest, leaving the males to fend for themselves, which means they will quickly die. The nest will likewise not be reused the following season. But in July and August, it is buzzing with nasty, aggressive, mean-tempered and not-at-all-nice yellowjackets, which can (and do) number in the thousands. Approach the nest and you will be attacked. The first string of attackers will inject you with a pheromone that incites the other occupants of the nest to pile on. Run and they will chase you. Freeze and they will sting you. Yes, you are screwed, blued and tattooed. Once you get to safety, apply a meat tenderizer containing papain (made from the papaya fruit) to the stings to denature the venom. If they chase you towards a grocery store, buy a whole papaya, cut it into sections and rub the chunks on your skin.

If you are {quote} "allergic to bee stings", slam the Epi-Pen full of Epinephrine that you're supposed to have with you at all times into your thigh and then high tail it to the nearest emergency room or doc-in-a-box. Do not hesitate! Depending on the number of stings, you could be in serious trouble. Deadly serious.

But let's prevent that, shall we? Wait for a cool night and take an old canister vacuum or shop vac outside and plug it into a grounded outlet. As you approach your target, have a helper ready to spray any sleepy guards with Pam (or similar spray-on cooking oil) while you place the hose as close as possible to the entrance hole. Don't turn the machine on yet. In the morning, hit the switch and watch with fascination as the aggressive creatures rise up out of the nest to attack the noisy invader, flying to their doom by the dozens.

When no more yellowjackets appear, tape the hose shut tightly with duct tape and only then turn off the machine. Leave it bake in the sun for a few days and then dispose of the bodies.

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