Have I Become “Organic Until”????


wasp shutterstock_125558051

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.


  1. I believe when it becomes a health threat, which an attack from an angry hornets nest is, it is acceptable to use whatever means necessary to protect yourself and your neighbours. The mice issue, well up here if they are deer mice they can carry the hanta virus, which could kill you. So put out the traps, but I put out the poison as well.

    I feel bad about bringing out the chemicals too, but sometimes I think it is the best thing to do.

    If there are paper wasp nests in the early summer, I just remove them with a grocery bag turned inside out on my hand then tie it up. But the yellow jackets are aggressive.

  2. you don’t use any chemical fertilizers? um all fertilizers except elemental sulfur are chemicals. Some are just more complex than others.

  3. sky, some people only use manures, compost tea, and fish emulsion as fertilizers.

    Basically everything is a “chemical” (we are made of carbon), but I think the author meant “synthetic” fertilizers.

    • 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.

      All those fertilizers you mentioned are chemicals, no quotes necessary. The number of people that seem to not understand that is disheartening.

      • I think that most everyone here understands that the universe is composed of chemicals. We eat them, breathe them, are them.
        I think everyone here also understands that when gardeners discuss “chemicals”, they mean synthetic amendments & pesticides. Should we get away from the term? Sure, since it confuses those who are not yet dialed in to the lingo. But change comes slow, and browbeating people into correct terminology will only turn them away from the message & the messenger.

        • 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.

      • skr, according to the Oxford Dictionary, there are at least two definitions of “chemical”

        1) (adverb) of or relating to chemistry or the interactions of substances as studied in chemistry

        In this case, pretty much any substance can be defined as “chemical.”

        2) (noun) a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, especially artificially

        In this case, artificiality is a part of the definition.

        Given that “chemical” is a commonly used alternative to “manufactured” or “artificial,” I imagine that most people understood the point that the writer was making.

        • it says ‘especially artifically’ not ‘exclusively artificially’. Therefore artificiality is not a necessary condition to meet the definition.

          • Biology is just applied chemistry, chemistry is just applied physics, and physics is just applied mathematics.

            Sure, some people use the term “chemical” to mean “artificial” or “lab-made,” but that’s become a commonly accepted definition. You can’t argue against the natural evolution of language — “literally” no longer means “literally.”

    • Once we embrace the idea that most stuff is chemical, we can consider which chemicals should be used for which task. My garden is mostly what anybody would call “Earth friendly” or “natural” or “sustainable”, but I wouldn’t pour natural sea salt on my vegetable beds! Note that some organic pesticides and herbicides are worse than some synthetic ones.

      My garden is bathed in radiation every day, also, but the plants seem to thrive. Go figure.

      As for wasps, yeah, we spray. My wife is allergic, and a sting or three when I’m not around could be fatal. But she’s perfectly OK with bees and paper wasps, who do not act like JERKS. Stupid yellow jackets.

      By the way, I have one of those roller composters, and one year the wasps built a nest in it (big protected area, with wasp-size ports, filled with garbage – perfect! Until I came out the next day and gave it a spin – first time I’ve ever been stung more than once at a time. Killed them non-chemically, BTW. I came back after they settled down and kicked it over on its side. Then again after they settled down, I covered it with a clear plastic sheet and set bricks on the edges of the plastic so they couldn’t escape. They cooked, dehydrated, and died. This method can’t be used on most nests, however.

      I keep the composter in the garage now, and it’s a handy place to dump kitchen waste in the winter.

  4. 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.

  5. My line? It’s somewhat fuzzy.
    I call my yard/garden organic, but really, only certain parts are completely so. Food? Nothing synthetic on it or around it. But I’ve been known to be desperate enough to pull out the Round-up (gasp, right?) now & then in my battle against nutsedge or purslane or spotted spurge. Pesticides I’m really leery of. I’ve worked hard to grow a healthy population of mantids & ladybugs & lacewings to do battle for me. Widespread application of even the organic options might actually do more harm than good in my garden. I try to be as selective as possible, choosing bug-killers that target only the pest. But sometimes the best option is spinosad & hoping that it doesn’t land on any beneficials.
    But when it comes to creatures that may actually harm people – potential disease vectors like mice/rats, or aggressive, stinging bugs, etc – the gloves come out & I am willing to go the synthetic route if that is the option that will work.

  6. Regarding the mice, Amy – does your house have aluminum siding? I ask because mine does, and a few months after we bought it, our cat was coming up with so many dead mice that we were ready to start stenciling mouse silhouettes on the basement wall! Turns out that our house is a builder’s model (need I say more about cheap construction?) and it’s nothing but the framing with that Housewrap sheathing around it. The mice were climbing up under the siding and chewing through the Tyvek to get in. If so, go around the house with a dentist’s mirror and see if you can find obvious signs of entry under the siding. Then have a reputable pest control company (we have an outfit called Enviro-Tech) place bait stations all the way around the perimeter of your basement if you have one. Just a thought, at any rate. Cheers!

  7. Amy, I neglected to say that if you see signs of entry under the siding, stuff wire mesh up into those spots. They can’t chew through that; not easily, at least.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    But maybe your planter would prevent the skunks from digging out the nest. Or maybe there are none in your neighborhood.


  10. I believe I stated my line-in-the-sand in a comment I made here on GRant many years ago. Someone was blathering about being chemical free in their garden and condemning anyone that saw things differently. That stance might work in some parts of the world but out here in NC we have kudzu, poison ivy, yellow jackets and fire ants – all of which enjoy fluffy improved soil and most are particularly fond of raised beds with drip irrigation. Poison ivy seedlings sprout in my lawn and are a hazard to your lungs if you can’t hold your breath long enough to finish mowing the lawn (my grass is only used for pathways winding through the flowerbeds – simma down!). Yellow jackets switch from being carnivores during the early part of the year (do a great job on caterpillars) to getting shit-faced on rotting fruit in the fall. So just when you need to clean up the deadfalls, that’s when they get edgy and effective at chasing you all the way back to the house. Nothing compares to fire ants. They may be tiny, but they are sneaky. They like to swarm up inside your clothing and wait for some magic signal from the scout leader and then all start stinging in unison. Even tough skinned old codgers like me have to stop, strip, and hose the buggers off. Their wounds can cause blood blisters that last for a week. They can leave a scar – a teeny tiny ant! It feels like a red hot burning rod is touching your skin. In my garden they like to hang out inside a head of lettuce or an ear of corn (that must be why I don’t have ear worms!) and any soil filled black plastic pot. Neighbors laugh at me for using a dolly to move a one gallon plant but I’ve learned the hard way not to hold anything up close to the body. If you don’t live in a fire ant zone then you will never understand. Thank god for Amdro!

  11. 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)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. I had an instructor that said everyone is organic until they see a roach in the baby’s crib. Then, it is whatever it takes.

    • 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!

  15. 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.

    Traps, old fashioned mouse traps or rat traps for the big ones. Bait with a smear of cheese or a pecan half. Traps are inexpensive and you can dispose of the mouse, trap and all.

  16. 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.

  17. I use iron based slug bait. There are too many invasive, alien slugs in our area not to (The European slugs eat the native slugs. One never sees them anywhere but deep woods these days). Otherwise, I don’t use anything ending in “cide.” That is because I’m lazy as much as anything. If I were less lazy, I might practise IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Instead, I just don’t grow anything needing that kind of assistance.

      • 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.

  18. 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.

  19. Wasps pretty much cross my line but in the New Mexico desert we suffer more from black widow spiders. Our crawl space is the perfect home for them and I dread any work down there. We had one handyman say he would not go in. Because we don’t use insecticides, we defend ourselves with a shoe or fly swatter when necessary. I only worry about them if I find them inside but they can be a problem when working outdoors without gloves.
    Gee I make it sound as though they swarm and attack. It is more the single silent strike that bothers.

  20. My line was crossed when I was sitting on my porch swing and happened to look down between the wooden slats and saw a wasp nest full of wasps under the seat, about a half-inch from my left thigh. I carefully — but quickly– got up and moved away. It took about a week to decide what to do. I considered the bag- and-remove method, but that seemed iffy. The nest was built in that seam where the slat is nailed to the frame, so it was hard to get to it without lying on the porch underneath it. In fact, you couldn’t even see the nest without lifting up the swing. I wanted my porch swing back! Finally, I decided that one quick spritz of wasp spray wouldn’t be too bad, so I did it. There. I’ve confessed.

  21. Amy,
    We have cats that keep our mice population down, otherwise I’d probably be setting mousetraps with some tempting cheese. As far as yellow jackets or wasps go, we hang the yellow hormone traps outside. They work quite well, particularly when they are located close to a hive. For ground nests we’ve discovered this technique: Wait until the little buggers are in the ground and it’s dark out. Cover your flashlight with some red cellophane (unless you want to announce you are coming to get them), bring a flare with you. At the nest, light the flare, stuff it into the ground hole and run like hell. Ours were all dead the next day. I received this advice from one of the Oregonian garden writers, Vern Nelson (except for the red cellophane). Good luck with the mice!

  22. One important note about mouse and rat traps that was giving to me by an exterminator. Don’t buy the ones with the metal latch. Get the ones with plastic latch and trip (best are the ones with a bait cup in the middle of the large plastic trip). Rats and mice can clean bait, especially cheese and peanut butter, off the metal trips (on the old-fashioned traps) because they can wiggle side-to-side without being set-off. I tested it with a butter knife after having a rat trapped cleaned off and it is true.

    Good – http://www.amazon.com/Kness-MFC-Made-Snap-Traps/dp/B0007QKECG/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1377873295&sr=8-9&keywords=rat+trap

    Bad – http://www.amazon.com/Victor-M201-Rat-Trap/dp/B00004RAMW/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1377873264&sr=8-6&keywords=rat+trap

  23. Yeah, I’m with you on ‘until’…. I found my first yellowjacket nest as a new gardener many years ago, right next to my compost pile, in the ground. Didn’t know about the bacon grease tip, but had a little woo woo conversation with the spirit of the garden and a few nights later a skunk destroyed the nest. I will remember the bacon grease next time. More recently we have had two big nests underneath decks, impossible to access without ripping off boards. Which we did, for the pest control guy. He promised the stuff wasn’t too evil, broke down in hours, and we felt guilty but ignored our principles. He told us that by fall, a yellowjacket nest can house 10,000 wasps! No wonder they are ubiquitous.

    If I had mice I would do anything to get rid of them. I read somewhere that they do not have sphincter muscles on their bladders (sorry this has a high ewwwwwww factor) so urine is constantly dribbling down their legs and onto your floor, counters, etc. It can be seen with a black light. Now that is unsanitary. Cats have always worked for us.

    I do take the step of warning such beasties ahead of time that I am going to spray or whatever, if they are not gone by —– then give them a date. I figure it’s on their heads if they don’t leave. Seems only fair to give them a sporting chance.

    • Totally agree with you about the woo-woo conversations and giving fair warning. I lived in an apartment where I saw a cockroach on the counter one night when I turned on the light. I gave warning:,”Don’t let me see you or your relatives, and you’re safe. But if I see you again, I’ll hunt you down.” Never saw another one until a week before I moved out.

      I’m still organic despite the hordes of harlequin bugs at one community garden (exacerbated by neglected plots).

  24. My line? I drove across it somewhere in rural Wisconsin one evening, racing to meet an ambulance at a pre-arranged gas station. My daughter was having an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. It wasn’t the worst possible, but it was severe enough to keep her in the ER for several hours and earn her an Epi-pen prescription.

    The nurse on duty that night had a particular interest in bees and wasps, and he told me that essentially everyone is allergic but they have a threshold of tolerance. One person’s threshold may be three stings, another person’s may be 300 stings. But you just don’t know.

    I will live with a lot of nuisance pests and weeds, and I try to be as organic as possible, but we spray any wasp nest as soon as we see it.

  25. In the Seattle area there’s a guy who will vacuum wasps from nests that have not been sprayed. He sells them to a pharmaceutical company that uses the venom to make medications for people allergic to stings. Perhaps someone’s offering this service in other parts of the country – your favorite search engine will tell you.

  26. […] Have I Become “Organic Until”???? | Garden Rant https://www.gardenrant.com/Wonderful people, and the last thing I want to do is introduce a wasp nest into their lives. … If there are paper wasp nests in the early summer, I just remove them with a grocery bag turned inside out on my hand then tie it up. ….. Deirdre in Seattle says: August 29, 2013 at 12:51 pm. I use iron based slug bait. There are too many invasive, alien slugs in our area not to (The European slugs eat the native slugs. One never sees them anywhere but deep woods these days). […]

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