Ministry Of Controversy

Have I Become “Organic Until”????

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Sure, I’m organic.  I don’t use any chemical fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides, or -cides of any kind.  For that matter, I don’t even use organic pesticides in my garden. If the bugs want to eat it, let them. I can always order a pizza.

But then.  Then!  A colony of wasps moved into a vertical planter mounted on the fence right outside my kitchen door.  This was my fault–the planter didn’t get watered while I was away (I failed to ask anyone to water it), and it dried up and became a nice safe box, perfect to hold a busy colony.

At first the wasps were interesting.  I mean, a colony of anything is interesting.  But I’d read that they get more aggressive as the season goes on.  And this is right outside my kitchen door, in an area I have to walk past regularly, so I can’t stay out of their flight path.  Also, the fence is actually closer to my neighbor’s house (and windows) than my house, and our neighbors are a couple of severely disabled guys and their caregivers.  Wonderful people, and the last thing I want to do is introduce a wasp nest into their lives.

Then I did see them start to get more aggressive.  Something had to be done.

I asked around, hoping to find a Wasp Whisperer who would come take the whole colony away. A few years back, somebody came up this way regularly to collect colonies because their venom had some medical use.

Or–really–whatever they wanted to use them for, I just liked the idea of safe, quiet, quick removal.

But the Wasp Whisperers were not around this year, and other advice didn’t pan out.  I tried spraying the planter box with the hose, giving it many long, long soakings from a safe distance, but this did nothing to deter them.  I tried a few other measures that people suggested. And in case you’re wondering whether the planter could have simply been bagged and lifted off the fence–no.  It was screwed in really well, and access to some of the screws was behind what is now a wasp’s nest.  Maybe not great planning on my part, but there you go.

So then you know what happened? I had to go out of town again.  And again, and again.  And I had about twenty other things to take care of before I left.  Plumbing problems, car repairs, all the stuff that needed doing.

And so I added “wasp removal” to my list, along with all the other regular stuff.  Which meant that the day came when I picked up the phone, called the most eco-friendly pest control company I could find (which is not to say they are organic), and asked them to come out and deal with it.  “Dealing with it” meant that a guy showed up in some protective gear, had me sign a form and bring the cat inside, and then he went over and sprayed the hell out of it, and I wrote him a check, and we don’t have wasps outside the kitchen door anymore.

So is that it?  Am I “organic until the wasps really start to bother me”?

Does it help if I feel guilty about it?

And now I am once again faced with a pest infestation and six weeks of travel coming up and a pile of errands and chores to do before I leave.  We have mice in the kitchen!  Most likely encouraged to come up through some gap in the floorboard because a month ago, when we had raccoons under the house, I called the raccoon guy, who went under the house, assured me that they were away for the afternoon, and showed me what to board up to keep them out.  So now there are no raccoons under the house–and no neighborhood cats, either.  I always used to see them darting in and out from under our patio, and now maybe I know why. They were getting the mice, and now nobody’s getting the mice, and the mice are getting us.

Plugging up holes, setting traps, letting the cats/raccoons hang out under the house again…here I go with another long list of options that I hope does not end with “call the pest control company.”

Actually, I’m not using rodenticides, no matter what, no matter where.  So I guess there is a line I won’t cross.  There it is.  Where’s yours?


wasp image via Shutterstock.

Posted by

Amy Stewart
on August 28, 2013 at 5:39 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.


  1. Then she should have said synthetic fertilizer and not continued to propagate the irrational chemophobia that is taking hold in certain circles. But considering she probably will use epsom salts even that wouldn’t necessarily be accurate.

  2. considering that I hear people eschew chemicals frequently and then suggest adding epsom salts or magnesium sulfate as a chemical free alternative to conventional horticulture practices, I think you give people too much credit.

  3. We found a yellow jackets nest in the ground right by the driveway. Where my townhouse mates park. It was under my fig tree. They didn’t seem bothered by it so we left it, but I was worried about the aggressive part in the fall. I was going to use an old farmer’s trick of an upside down glass bowl over the nest (only works for ground dwelling wasps though). I’d never tried it, but I was hoping it would work. I never had to though as one of our other pests – the neighborhood skunk – dug them up and killed the nest. After it was dug up it took a couple of weeks for all the wasps to disappear, but they did. I usually curse the skunk as it rototills my mulch nightly looking for worms, but now I’m a little less annoyed at him.

  4. Just an FYI for future wasp nests…if you are real careful…dousing the whole nest with soapy water will stun them, they fall to the ground (hopefully your porch) and you step on them to finish them off. My son informs me they will die from the soapy water, anyway, but I do the stomp just to make sure. By the way…we only employ this method (any method!) if they are, as yours were, right in the line of traffic and a danger to anyone. We try hard to let the rest of the pollinators do their thing.

  5. I have an almost foolproof method of getting rid of yellow jackets. You need to have skunks in the neighborhood though. You have to melt some bacon fat and pour it around the nest entrance after dark. Repeat for several nights. Very soon, the nocturnal skunks will be attracted by the bacon fat, then discover the hornet nest and they will dig out the nest and consume every last hornet and egg. This has worked many times.

  6. My line I don’t cross is doing something just because…I research everything first. Find out what it is, what my options are. And I use extension sites/books, not the advice of a chemical bottle in Home Depot, or random garden forums. I don’t really care about organic or not, but I do care what option makes the most sense– both in safety and effectiveness. Most of the time, I do nothing. Even the hornets nest I discovered is remaining right where I found it. (they’re bald-faced hornets, non-aggressive)

  7. I try not to use pesticides – not even the organic ones – because they kill the bees and other ‘good’ bugs also. And no synthetic fertilizers or herbicides. If that means my Viburnum carlesii looks pitiful in late spring with rolled up and distorted leaves just when it’s blooming, so be it. BUT when the satellite guy comes to move the satellite onto the roof and whines about the wasps drifting around, the wasp spray comes out. Or if we find a wasp nest in the ground in the yard right before the neighborhood association has their annual fall picnic at our house, we spray it. We rake up the windfall apples to try to reduce the number of yellow jackets hanging around, but we do nuke them when necessary. I confess that when I lived in PA, in poison ivy territory, I regularly used Round-up to keep it out of the hedge. So far we haven’t had it here in our part of upstate NY, but I’m sure it’s on its way with the warming climate. So I should say “right now” I don’t use herbicides.

  8. Do you all remember the tend of people paint their homes sky blue back in late 80’s and early 90’s. Well in the beginning it was to deter wasp and hornets because they they thought they were seeing the sky and fly away but that lost to the tend setters.

  9. I find the nasty things in my kitchen drawers occasionally . . . Heavy-duty fly swatter , then dish soap & hot water to clean the drawer & contents. Hideous bugs. For them, I’ll set poison traps!

  10. Wait until after sundown when all wasps return to the nest and are quiet. Just a couple spritzes from a can of wasp spray takes care of the whole thing if it is in a place that poses danger to people. It isn’t necessary to call a wild man with a huge sprayer to pollute the whole neighborhood.

  11. Soapy water works for hornets that are in a dangerous place – no stepping upon required. I loved the bacon grease tip (and you are giving the skunks a free meal – nice!) I let non-aggressive wasps, such as paperwasps, alone. The poison baits for mice are really terrible to put out there in the environment, as are the nerve poisons (insecticides). It’s nasty, nasty, stuff that hurts us all, especially the good pollinators, so if you can avoid it, please do! We use old-school traps for mice, which are gruesome and time-consuming; I’m grateful that my husband takes care of the nasty job of exterminating pests.

  12. Your chickens eat slugs? That’s wonderful! Mine won’t, although they will clean up the eggs. I’ve been fantasizing about having ducks, who absolutely would take care of the slugs.

  13. Here is an organic solution to deal with the mice. I have used it successfully on the mice in my garden shed (I haven’t had to deal with mice in the house yet).
    Mix cement (unmixed, just the dust part) with cornmeal. Set it out where the mice will eat the cornmeal mixed with the cement. This will kill the mice. It’s not pretty, but it works and anything that eats the mice after this will not be harmed by pesticides.

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