Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Wasps squatting the kitchen garden

August 23, 2006

Wasp nest in the red currants
A wasp nest hiding in one of the red currant bushes preventing harvest

Last summer we were the best of buds, sharing berry bushes, this year my mere presence sends the wasps into such a frenzy that we barely fit in the same garden. I’ve already been stung five times, including one multiple sting on the inauguration of weeding season, when I put my hand straight into a nest. Fortunately I’m not allergic to wasp sting, and a big dab of wet mud seems to stop the spread of both poison and pain.

All over the garden I find the wasps’ summer homes and ceramic larvae nurseries. They’re especially attracted to the retaining wall between Kristine’s and my garden where there isn’t much growing except mint, sorrel, basil and shiso. I’d like to prepare this bit for next year by migrating my strawberry plants on over and filling the rest of the space with tallish perrenial flowers. But the wasps won’t hear of it, threatening me with aggressive gestures of, ‘I’m going to give you such a sting, you!’ anytime my hands go near their bank. Maybe it’s my very presence that has them up in arms, but they seem to be expanding their territory, squatting the rosemary bush on the opposite side with one of their papery nests. I can’t even get close enough to take a photograph, let alone get a proper marinade going for the mutton chops!

Wasp larvae housing occupying my garden hat
Two wasp larva nests attached to the chin-tie of my gardening hat

Yesterday I went to the garden at midday to observe what the wasps are up to when everyone else is taking siesta. Because it finally warmed up again, I decided to wear my gardening hat, which I’d left hanging unused in the shed for the past 3 weeks. When I reached to grab it, a rather large lizard plopped out, falling first upon my arm before landing with a thud on the floor. I shrieked, ‘BuhGAWWWGCK’ and did a rather silly backwards dance out of the shed. But much more unnerving was what I found in the rim of the hat; two adobe wasp nurseries. Armed with my elevated lizard heartbeat and a long stick, I detached them from the yarn and when they fell to the ground, I smashed them to bits with my sandal.


And then I felt like the most stupid beginning organic gardener in the history of the world. I hope that this one misguided action isn’t the first step on the road to neo-conservatism. You can imagine what would have happened if handguns were legal down here.

An old-fashioned and wholly ineffective wasp trap
This old fashioned wasp trap looks great and the calendula syrup I put in it tastes good too, but the wasps will have none of it

My judgement clouded by the the pulverisation of the ceramic homes, I resolutely declared war upon the wasps and set out an old-fashioned nectar trap. The wasps ignored it completely. ‘What, you don’t like my cooking?’ This morning I searched online for biological pest control only to discover that wasps are biological pest control, used as pest predators to kill much more harmfull bugs. Apparently I’m supposed to be jumping for joy that I even have them in my garden.

beneficial insect poster
This is the reason I should be happy about my wasps. I do grow a lot of brassicas and cabbages.

But I don’t relish the notion of repeatedly being stung, and because the wasps seem to be too smart for their calendula nectar trap, today I’m going to try a method I read about this morning. It seems that one can make fake nests out of crumpled brown paper and place them in proximity to real nests. Wasps are supposedly non-confrontational (!) and in their fear of an all-out wasp war, avoid the place with the nests alltogether. Fingers crossed this psychological approach to eviction really works, and not in a half-assed, hippy-dippy, organic gardening sort of way.

The nice thing about living in the Languedoc is that this is my biggest problem. Worse comes to worse, I’ll have to learn to live with wasps and save the thorough wasp cleaning for the dark of winter. There will probably be wasps enough all around the allotments next year, and my wasps will just have to do a little commuting, which can be consdiered a form of exercise. If anyone knows of a truly effective NON-CHEMICAL method to discourage wasps from nesting, please let me know. The underside of the retaining wall and it’s proximity to the waterway mud is a perfect wasp building zone, but I would prefer they experiment with new forms of architecture elsewhere. Neo-con, NIMBY politics…

debra at 12:50 | | post to


  1. Wasps? Try the organic approach. Malathion. Well it is an organic chemical. Works beautifully. No good? How about castor oil? It’s organic—used as a purgative (for us humans) in the old days. The little nasties will just get all pooped out…if you know what I mean. (I’ve never tried it on the wasps. Vile tasting as I recall.) Or, dress all in white like our local bee keeper, and leave no skin exposed…whatsoever.

    Comment by dad — August 25, 2006 @ 4:53

  2. I’m not going to use Malthion, Hell-oho! The paper bag fake nests that I read about on some hippy site of course don’t work.

    This year I’ll have to grin and bear it until the weather turns cold. And then… I’m going to cover up, throughly clean the underside of the retaining wall (in November) knock off and smash all the baby wasp nurseries. In March I’m going to spread the underside of the wall with a thick layer of VASELINE and hope that it doesn’t effect the lizards too much. In the NL there is this stuff used for cow udders, imaginatively called ‘udder salve’. It’s basically vaseline with an aroma and some calendula oil. Nursing mothers use it to prevent yucky nipple syndrome. I’m going to buy a huge tub of uier zalf and smear it on the wasp hangout part of the retaining wall. 2007 wasps investigating this zone as a hangout will stick to the uier zalf and if they live to tell the tale, will come home with negative feedback.

    Think it will work?

    Comment by debra — August 25, 2006 @ 9:03

  3. “Udder Salve”. Hmm! In cattle country in the American west, they sell something called “Bag Balm”—loaded with lanolin. It’s used to protect the cow’s udder from getting chapped (or maybe to protect them from the farmer’s chapped hands) during the cold, dry winters in the west.

    Look into castor oil. It’s organic; it’s natural.

    Or do the farmer Jensen (the bee keeper) thing and dress all and completely in white.

    Comment by dad — August 26, 2006 @ 4:50

  4. Hi,
    Please try The Original Waspinator!! It works…it’s chemical free.. Much better than the paper bag version.. Read some of the comments on the website. Wasps are benificial… and pesky.. but we can live with them with this product.
    Wasps also hate cloves..
    Happy gardening

    Comment by Vikki — September 16, 2006 @ 8:34

  5. i just heard on the show “this old house”, that if you paint the underside “sky blue”, they believe it is the sky & will not nest there. apparently- in the days before air conditioning- people would do this on their patios & wrap-around porches where they would sleep outside.
    haven’t tried it because i’m on a lease property, but email me with resuts when you try it. i’m in texas & we have every hornet/wasp known to man. g’luck!

    Comment by Celina — July 18, 2008 @ 2:40

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