My young son was playing with some rocks and sticks nearby while I was pulling weeds from our perennial herb garden. I kept his small frame in the corner of my eye while I worked, smiling to myself as I saw him lean close to the ground in curiosity. He was apparently studying something fascinating.
I dropped everything, however, when I heard him scream—you mothers know what kind of scream I’m talking about. It’s the kind that makes your heart drop to your knees. “BEES OUCH! BEES BITE!” he cried, and as I whisked him up from the ground, I saw a mass of yellow jackets rushing out of a hole in the ground.
Thankfully, he only had two stings, but he certainly learned a valuable lesson on where not to shove a stick. And this was how we were put in the position of learning how to get rid of yellow jackets.
A Natural Method For Yellow Jacket Nest Removal
Equipment: Clear glass jar/container, larger than the nest entrance.
- Cover the hole with the container.
- Pile dirt around the edges of the container to seal it.
- Check the container daily. Pile more dirt if it becomes loose.
- After the yellow jacket activity has died off, remove the container and fill the hole with dirt. This will prevent another nest from forming.
You can see photos and more detail about this later in the post. For now, let’s talk about why this method works.
Understanding Yellow Jackets
The first step to understanding yellow jackets is identifying them! Though your gut response upon seeing something buzzing may be to grab the flyswatter, not every yellow-striped flying thing is a yellow jacket, and none are worth blind fear.
The terms used to talk about yellow jackets are often used incorrectly, so don’t be surprised to find resources online using the terms wasp, hornet, yellow jacket, and bee interchangeably. Though they’re not bees, yellow jackets are called “meat bees” because of their carnivorous appetites.
Though they aren’t hornets (indeed, there is only one species of hornet in the United States, and it’s HUGE), they are sometimes called “ground hornets.” Calling them wasps is accurate, as they are part of that family, but not every wasp is a yellow jacket.
In fact, the term “yellow jacket” doesn’t even describe a single species—it’s a term used to talk about several species in the genus Vespula and Dolichovespula. Will you need to know all these terms for a test later? Of course not, but understanding what you’re seeing will hopefully take away some of the fear that these buzzing insects seem to inspire!
Identifying Yellow Jackets On The Homestead
The yellow jackets you’ll probably find on your homestead are typically the size of a honeybee, with the characteristic yellow and black stripes that lend to their name. And like bees, they nest in colonies—but that’s where many of the similarities end. Rather than creating their own hive structure from scratch, they most commonly nest underground, often reusing an abandoned burrow.
They aren’t fuzzy like honeybees or bumblebees, nor do they feature the flattened back leg to collect pollen. Though the adults feed on sugary food like nectar or fallen fruit, they are also voracious hunters.
So, yellow jackets, even though they could certainly use some anger management therapy, do have a purpose. If you find a nest on your land, consider whether it is worth the effort to remove it or if it would be beneficial to your land to leave it. If they nest in an area you seldom use, you may only need to mark the area—utility marking flags work nicely—and be sure to steer clear.
Though they’re not as lovely as butterflies or endearing as honeybees, these battle-striped jerks of the insect world still can have their own place on the farm. These wasps are excellent at tracking down many pests and caterpillars that would otherwise bother your gardens. They chew these crop-destroying larvae up to feed to their own larvae, ridding you of scores of garden problems for free.
So, what is a homesteader to do when an underground yellow jacket nest is found? There are several options. The first is to just leave it alone. These insects DO have a purpose, and if their nest is out of the way enough, you can mark it with a fluorescent flag and steer clear when trimming the grass.
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Great, I've got ground wasps. I only discovered that these punks existed like a week ago and they terrified me, because, the thing is the size of my thumb. I was observing my delicata squash vines this evening after harvesting my cucumber vines and found this guy's hole underneath. Any experience out there with these punks? Will they protect my vines from squash bugs? Should I be extra careful when harvesting in a few weeks? 🍈 🍇 🥒 #groundhornet #hornet #delicata #squash #urban #garden #backyardgarden #urbangarden #gardenpests #organic
But what if the nest is in a high-traffic area, like where your kids play, or in the middle of the path on the way to the barn? Sometimes, yellow jackets have just picked a bad place to nest, and for the good of the people in your home, they need to go before they do some serious damage.
The nest I found, for example, was smack-dab in the middle of the path between the chicken coop and the barn—an area I walk multiple times a day. This was not a nest I could just avoid.
Removing An Underground Nest
“Wait ‘till it gets dark, get you some gasoline and pour about a gallon in. Then, get a match, drop it in and run!”. My neighbor’s advice on nest removal was effective, he said, but not the way we do things on our homestead.
My husband and I are slowly but surely healing our 12 acres, removing garbage, taking out sickly trees, and building up the soil. The last thing I want to do is pour poison into the ground. Additionally, we don’t want to have to go to the local Megamart and buy a pesticide. With little kids running around, with curious animals out foraging, and with lots and lots of bugs that we DO want to keep around, indiscriminate insect-killers are out of the question.
Removing A Yellow Jacket Nest: With Photos
Thankfully, we were able to completely remove the nest with no toxins, no sprays, and no need to run to the store. All you need is a clear glass container, bigger than the yellow jacket nest’s entrance, and a handful of dirt. A large Pyrex container, half-gallon mason jar, or a big, empty peanut-butter jar will do the trick. It’s that simple.
Though I didn’t follow his incendiary advice, my neighbor was spot-on in understanding yellow jacket behavior. Yellow jackets are diurnal, meaning they are only active during the day. Once darkness falls, they all return from their foraging exploits and hide back underground until daybreak. When you need to treat a nesting area, wait until it’s dark, and there’s no visible activity in or out of the nest. You should then be able to do your work unhindered.
Cover the entrance of the yellow jacket nest with the mouth of the jar, then mound dirt around the edges of the jar—about an inch around the sides should do it.
For extra effectiveness, we mounded ashes first—insects hate ashes—then covered the ashes with soil.
Gently press the soil around the jar to make sure that it is “sealed,” and mark the area with a fluorescent flag or some sort of marker. You’ll want to give the area some elbow room while the enraged yellow jackets wake up to your trap.
It may take a few weeks for the yellow jackets to die out. The first few days, they will fill the jar with a nightmarish swarm of activity. You may notice them trying to enlarge the opening of their nest as well. If they are able to dig free and get out of the jar trap, don’t fret—and certainly don’t try to fix it during the day! Just come back after dark and mound a few more handfuls of dirt around the jar.
Eventually, though it may take more than a month, all activity should literally die down. As we watched the drama unfold on our own trap, we noted that there were very few dead yellow jackets visible at the surface—we suspect that the living ones dragged the dead ones down for food. Even after the angry swarm has stopped filling the jar, give the trap a few more days before you remove it. Then in the evening, with a spade, fill in the hole to prevent future nest-building.
Voila! You have now safely and effectively removed an underground yellow jacket nest with no fire, no pesticides, no exterminator bill, and no threat to your personal safety. On our homestead, it’s never fun to have to kill something-—even when that something is a yellow jacket nest that attacked my son—but we’re glad to know how to do it quickly, simply, and effectively. With resourceful fixes like this in your back pocket, every homesteader can continue to solve daily problems with a bit of DIY ingenuity.