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Mary Lowther column: Battling the wasp territory takeover

The tiny yellow menaces have overstayed their welcome
What’s left of the wasp’s nest that threatened to take over Mary Lowther’s garden. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

While they would be uncomfortable houseguests, the wasps in my garden have been useful neighbours for many years. They generally mind their own business, which conveniently involves eradicating the caterpillars, themselves intent on munching tunnels through my cabbages. That all changed when they built an underground nest in my potato bed; the angry little horde that attacked my spade (and the woman holding it) was immediately recognized as a declaration of war.

Given their dietary habits, I am more than willing to share my garden with wasps. I am a thoughtful host, even leaving a shallow trough of water out in case they get thirsty, but the tiny yellow menaces have overstayed their welcome once they start building condos where I’m digging and sowing. They may not have stung me yet, but their intentions are obvious and I have planting to do.

After I discovered the nest I simply avoided that area, but eventually I had to do something. Armoured like a beekeeper I made a frontal attack on the nest with my hoe, hoping to break it up, but they swarmed me so much that I abandoned the attempt and ran for my life. This was obviously a job for David!

He set up a hose to blast water into the nest, hoping to drown them out, but that didn’t work. The determined invaders regrouped and repaired the nest, so today I put the beekeeper’s outfit back on, stealthily sneaked up while they were sleeping and bravely poured a kettle of boiling water on them before vamoosing back to the safety of the house. I suspect they plan to open a second front in my last potato patch.

Because the wasps were consuming the caterpillars on my brassicas, I never bothered covering them with Reemay this year. The downside is that my broccoli is now covered in aphids, which are evidently not part of a wasp’s diet. I guess that next year it’s back to the Reemay.

Now I know why farmers rototill their fields. It’s a trade-off; beneficial soil organisms get pulverized along with the soil, but so do wasp nests. Rototilling also produces a hard layer of compacted soil called hardpan where the tines compact soil under the top few inches, so one should dig through this hard layer after rototilling to allow vegetable roots to penetrate lower levels of soil.

Addendum: I poured a second pot of boiling water on the nest and I think this did the trick because I don’t see them anymore. It seems like a cruel method but it’s them or me and I can’t think of anything humane. There are lots of trees nearby that they can build their nest in so maybe they’ll get the message.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.