With the arrival of early spring, here are some Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips to protect your bees.
At the end of winter I’m ready for bee season to begin. I’ve got two “do now” tasks: cleaning bait hives and equipment for the spring swarms, and hanging the yellow jacket queen traps
Last fall when the weather got cold, all the yellow jackets died, all but the future queens. They survived by hibernating over the winter. In late winter on warm days, I find fat sleepy yellow jacket queens snugged under a shingle, squeezed behind the shed window, tucked under a wicker chair, or between stacks of old newspapers.
Yellow jackets have a proper job in the world eating dead meat carcasses and I’m glad they do that, but I draw the line when they harm my bees. I’m a big proponent of letting all things live, but a hungry nest of yellow jackets eating my honeybees is not up for negotiation. Nonetheless, each time I find a new queen, I say, “I’ll make a deal with you… I know you have good purpose in the world, but my job is to protect my honeybees. I won’t kill you if you go far from here and leave my honeybees alone.” This may sound crazy, but I’m sincere and that really is what I do.
What were my results? Semi-good. For the number of queens I spoke to, we had less yellow jacket attacks than normal, so maybe it helps. One year in midsummer I discovered two yellow jacket nests right in the garden, not a hundred feet from my hives. Surprisingly, one hive seemed not at all interested in my bees so I left them alone. The other hive was voracious and eventually I put out a homemade yellow jacket trap (I’ll share it in August) and that fairly well handled the problem. I lost a lot of bees to them, but at least I didn’t lose whole hives.
More Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips
Yellow jackets typically feed within a 500 foot radius of their nest, so yellow jackets outside of 500’ are free to go where they will. Inside the line I have different rules. Hungry yellow jackets can massacre an entire honeybee hive in just a few hours. I’ve seen it happen a few times and it’s terrifying. Years ago I decided I don’t want to put my bees through such battles so I’m proactive. I don’t let nests get started.
As soon as the weather warms just a few more degrees, the drowsy YELLOW JACKET QUEEN wakes up from her winter snooze and searches for an underground hole where she’ll make a new home and lay a battalion of workers. You’ll recognize the queen, she’s much larger than you’d imagine. Early spring is the exact right time to depose the queens and claim your bee yard as honeybee territory.
This is one of our best Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips: The easiest way I’ve found to catch the queens is with pheromone traps. These contraptions have yellow jacket mating scent inside a one-way-in, no-way-out container. Pick these up at your local hardware or garden store or online. They usually run $10-15 each and the refills are just a few bucks. I put a few out each spring.
Here is a link to the kind I use. I haven’t tried other brands but they probably work as well. Once you buy the traps, you only need to buy the pheromone refills in coming years. Click on the photo at left to order the product on Amazon, or look for it at your local hardware store.
Tip: Use DISPOSABLE GLOVES when you open the pheromone packet. It’s stinky and pervasive and if you do this with your bare hands, everything you touch will smell like a yellow jacket just handed you her phone number. The airborne scent will waft onto your clothing and hair. Wear an old sweatshirt you can wash on hot in the washing machine when you’re done. The first time I put one of these traps together, I could smell it on my hair and I had to shower. Don’t use your bee gloves! The pheromone is so pervasive that I bait and set out the traps on a day I don’t plan on being around honeybees at all. You do NOT want your honeybees to wonder if you chum around with yellow jackets.
For my ten acres I use four traps, one in each direction of my bee yard. I hang them in trees, on a T-post in the open field, and at the edge of the forest, each about 200-300 feet away from my furthest hives. Then I wait.
Take a walk around and have a look at how the traps are doing each week. Because they smell like stinky yellow jacket juice, they don’t tend to attract much else, though once or twice I found a stray wasp in there. If you get the traps out early enough, you’ll be surprised how many yellow jacket queens you’ll trap. EACH QUEEN YOU TRAP means 5,000 fewer yellow jacket workers will hatch out this summer.
Yellow jackets don’t come to your hives looking for honey — they want bee meat to feed their young with, and once they identify a target colony, they come in hordes. It’s a lot easier to catch a yellow jacket queen before she’s laid her eggs than it is to fight thousands of them off in August.
So that’s your job right now, before the queens wake up. Get yourself a few yellow jacket traps, follow the directions on the package for setup, then get them in your fields and orchards all spring. Since I started doing this I’ve had nearly no yellow jacket activity in late summer. I won’t say they disappeared completely because I do see a few here and there, but not like we used to get.
An important task among Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips: Learn to identify other wasps.
And while I’m on this topic, please learn the difference between yellow jackets and the innocuous and gentle UMBRELLA WASPS who are native pollinators. Leave those guys alone. Umbrella wasps build umbrella-shaped gray paper nests up under your eaves and other places that are fairly open. They live on the surface where you can see them. Yellow jackets nearly always live hidden underground.
If you get close to an umbrella wasp, you’ll notice they are very skinny in the middle while a yellow jacket is thick-waisted. These little native wasps are sweetly dispositioned and they will not bother you as long as you don’t do anything to harm them. I can pick these guys up on my fingers once they get to know me, and that’s because they actually have been shown to have the ability to recognize faces. If you’re nice to them, they remember. If you’re mean, well that’s another story. So be nice!
Workshops and Talks
Spring is swarm time, the time when the hives get ready to celebrate their success at growing their population enough to split themselves into two hives. Want to learn how to (gently) catch swarms in a kind and respectful way?
Upcoming Swarm classes
1. March 5 in southwest Washington, sponsored by the Preservation Beekeeping club.
3. On April 3 I’m speaking about swarms in Tacoma at the Pierce County Beekeepers club. More info, call Story at 253-670-3277.
4. PERMACULTURE DESIGN COURSE <– click here
I’m one of the teachers among a stellar group of instructors at a FOURTEEN DAY course in Montana, May 28-June10. This PDC is focused on homesteading skills. Do read the link, the breadth of ground we cover is remarkable — moving earth, understanding nature’s patterns, sourcing energy and fuel, improving soil, building a home with natural materials, even how to make a pond. I’ll be talking about bees, of course, how animals fit into the homesteading environment, and building communities based on kindness and respect. You will be surrounded by like-minded people and together you will learn the framework to survive and THRIVE in a rapidly changing world. Gee-golly-whiz, I can hardly wait. If you attend this class, Joseph and I will bring you with us to a local hot spring one of the evenings.
Have you read SONG OF INCREASE yet?
Thank you, dear readers, especially those who have written lovely words about the experience of reading this book. I thank you, the bees thank you. The book continues to do really well. Amazon, home of five million books, lists this book in 3 categories (entomology, sustainable agriculture, and gaia earth-centered spirituality) and it’s always in the happier side of the top 100 books in those categories, and some days it even pops into the top ten.
Read more reviews of the book.
You can buy it at your local bookstore.
Get the book from Powell’s by clicking on the cover here:
Live outside the U.S.?
Amazingly, it’s available!
See bookstore info for Canada, UK, Germany, Spain, Denmark, The Netherlands, Portugal, and all of Europe. Also Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The French release is still a few months away. The translator sent me the name and ooh-la-la, it sure sounds fun! Restaurer notre alliance avec les abeilles: Le chant de l’abondance
More Perky Stuff
Robin’s bee recording during the industrious comb-building phase
Put this on when you want to feel inspired to clean your entire house
and for free, listen here to the chapter in SONG OF INCREASE Robin and I made about meditating with your hive. Ahh….
Until we meet again, keep buzzing!