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An Effective and Non-Toxic Solution for Getting Rid of Yellow Jackets’ Nests

6/23/2011 11:46:28 AM

Tags: yellowjackets, yellow jackets, pests, insects, insecticides, natural insecticides, pest control, pesticides, bees, honeybees, non-toxic, peppermint, mint, Miriam Landman

I’m not someone who delights in killing pests, and I don’t often advocate for their demise. In fact, I usually do my best to avoid killing them (for example, if an indoor spider gets too close for comfort, I usually capture it in a jar and release it outside). Last summer, however, I had to make an exception to my live-and-let-live policy, when I noticed that yellow jackets had built an active nest right next to the front door of our house.

Yellow Jacket photo by D GrieblingIt was an underground nest in a flower bed along a pathway. There were so many yellow jackets coming and going from the nest throughout the day that we couldn’t keep our front door open for very long, and I worried that our dog would inadvertently step on the entry to the nest and get swarmed and attacked. Furthermore, I learned that yellow jackets sometimes raid honeybee hives to steal their honey, and they have been known to kill honeybees in the process. This is a sufficiently good reason to get rid of the jackets, in my opinion. Some of our neighbors have honeybee hives, so it felt like killing these yellow jackets was a just and neighborly thing to do.

(Honeybees are suffering from a Colony Collapse Disorder. Note: If you have a problem with a swarm, nest, or hive, check out online photos of bees, yellow jackets, hornets, etc. to make sure you know which of these you’re dealing with. Honeybees and other pollinators are extremely important, and they almost never sting; please don’t kill them.)

I didn’t want to use toxic insecticides, which could kill the flowers in our garden and poison our dog and the honeybees, along with the soil and groundwater around our house. So, thinking we were being clever, my husband and I tried putting the garden hose down the nest entry hole and flushing the nest out with water. This scheme did not work. We tried it a few evenings in a row, and the tenacious buggers would shoot out of the nest alive (seemingly unfazed by the water) and quickly rebuild a new entry hole. One evening, they went into attack mode and my husband got stung. They won these battles, but we were determined to outsmart them and win the war — without resorting to the use of Raid, professional chemical insecticides, gasoline, or any of the other toxic and hazardous substances that are commonly suggested.

So I started researching non-toxic solutions. Through my online reading, I learned that mint oil can kill almost any insect, and that yellow jackets also don’t like soapy or boiling water… We happened to have a quart-size container of Dr. Bronner’s “magic” organic peppermint castile liquid soap in the house. The bottle was only half full, so we filled the rest of it up with water to make it a 50% diluted quart. Then we waited ‘til it was almost dark outside (this is the only time you should ever deal with yellow jackets, as they’re all inside the nest and inactive at night). We poured the quart down the nest’s entry hole (it’s best to do this with an extension device, like a hose or a gas can or watering can, to keep your body further from the nest opening — and you should also wear protective clothing). We immediately followed that up by pouring in a kettle full of boiling hot water, which washed the mint oil further down into the nest. We didn’t see a single yellow jacket emerge from the nest that night, and we haven’t seen any around here since. It worked!

RECIPE 

1/2 quart (2 cups) Dr. Bronner’s organic peppermint castile soap, diluted with
1/2 quart (2 cups) water [poured into the nest via a hose or watering can with a long nozzle]
Followed by 1 tea-kettle full (approx. 1 quart or 4 cups) of boiling water 

Bear in mind that it’s possible that boiling soapy water would work on its own, without adding any mint oil. Likewise, mint oil might work without using boiling water. I haven't tried it that way, so I’m not sure. If you’re worried about killing plants or flowers around the nest, you might want to try a highly-diluted mint oil solution and forego the use of boiling water.

Also note that, while this solution worked for this ground nest, it would  not be appropriate for some other situations, e.g., when you don’t know where the nest is, or when the nest is in the walls of your house. For those types of situations, try using Rescue traps (or a homemade soda-bottle equivalent) instead; these work by using a non-toxic syrup (sugar-water) bait, but you can also use a meat bait late in the season. I’ve tried the traps; they work on yellow jackets, and as advertised, they do not seem to attract or kill honeybees!

Dr. Bronner’s entertaining, pontificating text-filled label (I recommend reading all of the fine print if you haven’t before) states that the soap is good for 18 different uses: from washing pets and babies to washing dentures and cars. Yellow jacket / insect eradication isn’t one of the listed uses, but it seems that it should be. I’m planning to experiment with using the stuff to repel mosquitoes, get rid of ants, and keep fleas and other bugs off of the dog.

I’d like to hear about other people’s experiences. Have you had good luck using mint oil soap for pest repellent or for any other purposes? And have you found other solutions for ridding your yard of yellow jackets without using poisons? 

 

P.S. Check out the Dr. Bronner company’s good work on social and environmental issues (e.g., fair trade, truly organic ingredients, profit-sharing and good benefits for employees, charitable donations, etc.). And if you’re curious about the eccentric Dr. Bronner’s life, rent the fascinating documentary Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox.


Miriam Landman is an accomplished writer, editor, and sustainability advisor with expertise in green living, green building, and sustainable communities. For daily links to sustainable solutions and success stories, connect to her Facebook page for The Green Spotlight.

Yellow jacket image (above) taken by D. Griebeling  



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Post a comment below.

 

PhysTeach
10/18/2013 3:49:48 PM
I've had great success removing yellow jackets with a shop vac filled with a couple inches of water a just a dash of dish soap (don't use too much or you get bubbles.) I removed over 1000 yellow jackets by putting the hose right up to the hold (at the top of my siding) and turning on the Shop Vac for a couple hours. I put together a tutorial video and posted it to youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytMcIpIRL3w

Kegly
10/15/2013 9:00:55 AM
I tried a variation of the peppermint soap and hot water. I used 8 ounces of soap mixed with 8 ounces of water. But instead of a tea kettle of water, I used 5 gallons of boiling water heated on a gas cooker. After dark, I poured on the soap/water mix, then immediately followed with the 5 gallons of boiling water, and sealed the nest opening with a shovel of dirt. The next day, a few roaming YJ's came around the nest, but so far, everything is clear of them

Susie
8/23/2012 3:23:22 PM
I've had about 5 yellow jackets in my bedroom every day for a few weeks. I would call an exterminator, but the person I live with is a hippy and is very afraid of chemicals. So to please her, I tried your solution yesterday. In less than 24 hours, I've killed about 40 yellow jackets in my room. Apparently the solution is attracting them & making them very angry as they are far more energetic than normal. In other words, this was an epic failure. Now it's time for my preferred method, chemical warfare!

peng chloe
2/20/2012 5:38:06 AM
Kevin sutton, request you not to do it of your own as it needs to be done very carefully. call up pest control service provider and they will handle it. on a similar problem, we called http://www.noosapest.com/ and they addressed the problem.

wd duty
7/28/2011 4:52:23 PM
Will share my yellowjacket story. My wife alerted me to the fact that each day she was finding yj`s in the kitchen. I began the hunt and found the j`s were entering the basement via a small hole in the block foundation. While in the basement one day I was stung. I had tried several remedies? and none worked. The light turned on-- I had an outdoor bug light hanging near my house. I took the b light and placed it near the spot I thought the nest might be ( I have insulation to deal with). In a couple of days I inspected the area and found a mound of dead jackets on the floor. No more jackets-- but I keep the light handy for any more invasions. Hope you have the success I did.

Joby Galagher
7/8/2011 10:37:22 AM
For in ground nests, for me there is only one way - A GLASS BOWL. I was shocked at how well it worked. If it is sealed well to the ground, they are trapped, but the glass makes them think they can get out, so they keep trying, rather than digging out another way. It takes a few days, but as long as the bowl is not moved, they will die. I even spent time watching them (and knocking onh the glass to get them riled up, which seems to kill them faster.) They will fly around furiously trying to get out through the glass. It even got steamed up at times. After a little while, there would be piles of dead yellow jackets around the perimeter of the bowl, which they would actually collect and take back into the nest. Once there is no more activity, remove the bowl and seal the entrance so it does not get used by another nest, and there you are.

X3985
7/7/2011 11:43:37 AM
I found a formula that works and is eco friendly 1 part denatured alcohol, 3 parts water and to a quart of this add 2 table spoons of dishwash liquid. (don't use citrus scented or orange scented as it somehow reacts with the alcohol and smells real bad)

Miriam Landman
7/6/2011 1:33:54 PM
Thanks, everyone, for sharing what's worked well for you! These are great tips. It's good to know that there are a number of effective, non-toxic, and relatively simple solutions to yellow jacket (and other insect infestation) problems. Best wishes for a sting-free summer!

Raisedbedfarmer
7/6/2011 1:08:15 PM
I lived in Bakersfield, CA and was bitten by fire ants. I removed the top of the nest with a shovel and poured boiling water in the hole and replaced the top. No more fire ants. I used the same technique in Indiana to kill yellow jackets which I am alergic to.

James Dhalluin
7/1/2011 7:18:00 AM
The Power Vacuum did the trick for us in the Barn. The yellow jackets was so bad we couldn't get in the door. We put a 10 ft. section of 3/4 plastic pipe to reach those areas that were out of reach then used a very little of the wasp killer in the intake..Got'em all..Worked good for bumble bees..and flies..Jim

Michael_82
6/29/2011 10:55:18 PM
I hear that a few Guinea hens assigned guard duty at the entrance works wonders snatching and eating every one that flies out. How about a shop vacuum? As the noise brings them out in a hurry, they get sucked right up. then plug the entrance as well as the exit hole and leave it in the sun for a few hours.

Kevin sutton
6/29/2011 8:44:07 PM
I just used dishwashing liquid and hot water. Filled up the wheelbarrow, dumped it and ran. It worked well.

Leeann Coleman
6/29/2011 4:31:50 PM
It's the mint oil. Wintergreen oil works too. I might speculate that tea tree oil might do the job, too, if it's all you have on hand.

Lars_1
6/29/2011 11:52:56 AM
The easiest (and completely non toxic) way to get rid of ground nesting wasps: Invert a clear bowl over the nest hole. you might want to throw some dirt or stones around the edges, but the top must stay clear. The inhabitants will, after a few days, exhaust themselves trying to fly away. Unable to get food they will die all on their own. No chemicals required.

Lisa_66
6/29/2011 11:02:06 AM
We moved onto 40 acres of previously unoccupied (by people) land when I was young. My sister was very allergic to bees, and we had a lot of yellow jackets around the new homesite. So my dad went down to the creek, caught a large sucker, and hung it by its gills from a tree limb over a large container of water. In short order that fish was literally crawling with yellowjackets. We could stand nearby and watch as they gorged themselves, becoming so full and heavy that, when they tried to fly away, they fell into the water and drowned. By the next morning the fish was just a string of bones hanging there, and I don't remember seeing another yellow jacket around our homeplace for the 10 years we lived there.

Mary Massingill
6/29/2011 10:47:52 AM
I have a problem with what I think is a type of bumblebee. They look exactly like bumblebees, but they are making their own nest, and are VERY AGGRESSIVE. I have been stung (this is in my garden) and I'm allergic. I have tried the flooding with the garden hose, to no avail. I'm afraid I'm going to have to try something, because I cannot be in my garden!

Ingie
6/29/2011 8:44:42 AM
A couple of years ago I had an incident where thousands of yellow jackets were unleashed by a raccoon having destroyed their nesting box. I used a mixture of green liquid dish soap and Mountain Dew (non-diet) mixed in approximately equal portions and poured into disposable pie plates. It took several days, but eventually all of them were attracted to the "potion" and drowned in it. As I recall from where I learned of this method, the sugar in the Mt. Dew attracts them while the soap coats their wings and bodies rendering them unable to fly. I haven't tried this method with other colors of dish soap as I originally learned it must be green -- might have something to do with the dye I guess.

Jean Fuller
6/25/2011 10:15:44 AM
We had a big problem with wasps building an underground nest near our pond. We reluctantly used a strong pesticide to get rid of them since they were very aggressive. I saw a natural solution on the Gardener's Supply website--a phony paper wasp nest. Wasps are territorial and don't mess around in an area that has been claimed by other wasps. We hung up two of these paper "nests" and haven't had a problem since.

Jo _4
6/23/2011 8:10:11 PM
I had a nest in a wall, and it was too far in to spray anything into the nest. So, we used the shop vac. We set up a system that held the hose in place over the hole and ran the vac sunup to sundown for 4 days. Most of the bees in the vac were dead, but we sealed it up at night so that those that were still alive could not get out. About a week later, we started to see a few around again, so we set the shopvac up again for only 2 days this time. We assumed these were the ones that had not been adults the first time. We assume all young and the queen died from lack of food since we never had trouble with them again.










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