My Five Summer Yard Hacks

by JEFF VANDERMEER for The Orion Magazine


NE OF THE COOL
 (yet weird) things about deciding to rewild our yard here in Tallahassee is picking up knowledge unavailable in any user’s manual. Sure, a book on growing native plants in Florida will tell you the type of wildflower to use for sun or in part shade, and whether something will grow better in limestone or with pine straw. But will it tell you what to do when you’re maybe too successful and the critters come calling?

Maybe, maybe not—even though the point of rewilding is usually to make the yard a better sanctuary for wildlife. I’m here to share some summer yard hacks that might just help you be good to the environment and our animal pals without them getting on your last nerve.

Got yellow jackets? Not for long.

I love yellow jackets because summer tanagers and other birds love them. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a summer tanager in a state of bliss pluck a yellow jacket out of the air and then crunch down on it. They’re a valuable source of protein for migrating birds, and also, frankly, I’ve walked past yellow jacket ground nests for months with nary an angry glance my way. As with most things, it’s how you conduct yourself. I try to be calm and slow and steady in the yard.

Still, yellow jackets can be belligerent—they’re the social wasps that unfortunately give the unsocial, peaceful wasps a bad name. Mostly, this irritation of yellow jackets occurs in October, when their queen dies. A queen dying would make anyone surly, but especially yellow jackets.

So, what should you do if they become a problem?

What I discovered is that most common solutions are either terrible for the environment or, well, complicated. The most thorough way is for someone experienced to don a beekeeper’s outfit and vacuum out the ground nest after dark, when the yellow jackets are asleep.

The other time-honored way is the dubious one of pouring pesticide into the nest or, worse, pouring gasoline in and sealing the nest (illegal in most places). In addition to ruining the environment around the nest, these methods are not reliable, because the queen often escapes—and then goes on to produce a million more even angrier yellow jackets.

So, in wanting to do right by the neighbors who have legitimate concerns, I came up with an effective solution that also happens to require very little effort on my part. At dusk, when the yellow jackets begin to sleep, put a spoonful of peanut butter next to the mouth of their ground nest. In the morning, more likely than not the entire nest will be dug up and every last yellow jacket and grub eaten. It’s like a holiday miracle! Only it’s usually happening in July or August.

Who’s the secret hero of this story? Raccoons, who love yellow jackets. The only problem is, without the strong scent of the peanut butter, raccoons may not find the ground nest for weeks or months. Other creatures also love to dig up yellow jacket nests, but again, on their schedule, not yours. So, you just have to nudge the process along a little.

I’ve used this method four times now, and three of the four times it only took one night for the nest to be destroyed. (I promise that you will not habituate any neighborhood raccoons to being fed if they get a scoop of peanut butter a couple of times a year.)

Read more here.

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