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(Host) Planning a Labor Day picnic? Commentator Charlie Nardozzi has some advice about dealing with that perennial picnic pest – the Yellowjacket.

(Nardozzi) Late summer picnics are a great way to enjoy the bounty from the garden. Sometimes though, you’ll have unwanted guests at your picnic, because late summer is also the time when yellow jackets are on the prowl for sugar, carbohydrate, or protein rich foods. And we all know what can happen if you get in the way of a yellow jacket’s desired food.

Yellow jackets are social wasps that usually nest in the ground. They often are mistaken for honey bees because of their similar coloring. Yellow jackets are a half-inch long and have yellow and black banding on their abdomens. They are smaller than honey bees, don’t have pollen sacks on their legs, and their bodies aren’t hairy. Yellow jackets also have stingers that can be used repeatedly, while the honey bees’ stingers can only be used once.

While above ground nesting wasps such as hornets can also be aggressive when you come close to the homes, the yellow jackets are on the prowl for food
and will fight for their meal.

Yellow jacket queens emerge in spring to find a suitable nesting site in the ground or in a hollow tree or behind boards of a house. The queen lays eggs and starts building the nest. As the workers hatch, their purpose in life is to continue nest building and feed the queen and young. At this stage the workers are actually a gardener’s ally. They feed on caterpillars and other harmful insects in the garden.

As the summer wanes, the number of adults increases while the insect food supply decreases. This causes yellow jackets to start looking elsewhere, such as your picnic lunch, for food. They aren’t choosy. Yellow jackets are attracted to fresh fish, meats, soda, ripe fruit, candy, and ice cream to name a few items.

If you fear yellow jackets are patrolling your yard, there are some controls you can use. You can construct a simple homemade trap consisting of diced raw fish strung 1 to 2 inches above a container of soapy water. After gorging themselves on the fish, the yellow jackets often will drop into the soapy water and drown. Commercial traps use yellow jackets desire for sugary water to attract them to a pouch or plastic container where once inside they can’t escape. Hang these traps near garbage cans or suspected yellow jacket nests.

To stop the yellow jackets at their source, find and destroy their nest. An easy way to locate the nest is to observe foraging yellow jackets as they return home with their food. Again, hang a diced raw fish from a tree 5 to 6 feet off the ground. Foraging wasps will chew off a piece and normally make a “bee line” straight to the nest. Nests are usually no more than 1,000 yards away.

Once discovered, spray the nest at night with an appropriate organic insecticide.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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