MOST bees and wasps are friends of the gardener. They should only be destroyed when they pose a threat," says Bob Stewart, extension agent with the Prince George's County extension service. "As a general rule of thumb, we lean toward coexistence with the wasp." Except, of course, when someone in your house is seriously allergic to stings.
"A hive hanging from a tree in the back of your yard, 10 feet in the air, will not hurt you, unless it is disturbed. A lot of times people don't notice the hive until the leaves fall in late fall. Then they want someone to get rid of it, immediately. By this time of year -- after the first killing frost -- the hive is inactive and can't harm them anyway. But its presence is enough to scare some homeowners."
Harold Leverman, owner of Free State Bee Service, says, "We have a cone of honey bees in our house. It just doesn't pay to destroy them. If we did, the honey left in the cone would attract moths or mice or honey bees from other neighborhoods. Or the following spring the old cone might attract another swarm.
"The cone is high up, so we rarely come into contact with them. Bees are not a health problem. And the beeswax and honey they make are valuable."
If you're convinced that destroying the bee hive or nest is necessary, be careful about the insecticides you use. One of the most effective is Sevin, says Stewart. Sevin is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in killing wasps and hornets, says EPA's Skip Price. Sevin, which contains carbaryl, is also toxic to bees, although killing bees is something to be avoided when possible. Sevin is available at most garden stores.It comes as a liquid, a wettable powder that mixes with water and as a dust spray.
Stewart warns that labels often only carry the chemical formulas for the insecticide and not their names, such as Sevin. To be sure of what you're buying, he suggests, copying down the active ingredients listed on the label and checking it with your local extension service.
Stewart suggests identifying the insect that you're trying to kill. Decide why you're having a problem -- are there flowering shrubs or holly in your yard? (The blossoms attract bees.) Is there garbage lying about? (Spilled soft drinks will attract sugar-hunting yellow jackets, especially during late summer.) Sanitation problems are easily solved, but you will have to decide if it's worth destroying your flowering shrubs to rid yourself of the bees.
If you must kill the stingers, here are some suggestions:
Ground nesting stinging insects (yellow jackets and cicada-killing wasps):
Harold Leverman suggests mixing up a gallon of an insecticide with a petroleum distillate (oil) base. Effective insecticides include carbaryl (Sevin), fenthion, propoxur (Baygon), lindane, malathion and methyoxychor, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's pamphlet "Controlling Wasps." "An oil base works better -- it's stronger -- than a water base insecticide," Leverman says. Watch during the day for the location of the next. At night, when the insects are inactive, put on a hat, goggles, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeve shirt. Carefully and quickly place a screen over the hole. Place bricks on top to block all edges. Pour the entire gallon over the screen. Do not just toss the gallon in the general direction of the hole and run away. You have to make sure the gallon gets into the hole.
Stewart recommends puring a mixture of Seven and water into the next. But, he warns, once you've flooded the area well, do not stand close by to watch. The bees will fly out and sting you. Watch from a safe distance. Two or three applications may be necessary. Eventually you will no longer see any activity. The next doesn't need to be dug out -- it will be abandoned in the fall.
Aerosol insecticides are ineffective for large nexts in the ground, Stewart says.
Aerial (hornets') nests:
Aerial nexts are usually large rounded football shapes -- home of the hornet. If the next is high up, leave it be. Hornets feed on other pests, says Stewart, and are not aggressive unless they're distrubed. The frost will kill the bees if they remain in the next past the summer.
To get rid of them, start with a can of hornet/wasp spray that contains a "quick knock-down" agent such as pyrethrin. Approach the nest at night, saturate the opening of the nest with the spray. Then the next day, if there's no activity, knock the nest down with a broom. Do NOT leave it up since other bees may be attracted to this next. Place the nest in two garbage bags -- one inside the other -- tying up the bag to protect the garbage man in case all the bees are not dead.
If the next is on the outside corner of your window, again use an aerosol insecticide, advises Stewart. At night, quickly spray it around the nest. It will knock out the wasps, immobilizing them. Don't spray during the day since you will miss the wasps who are out getting food. They will return to the nest in a day or so and maintain it, says Stewart. The morning after you've sprayed, throw away the nest.
Yellow jackets are one wasp you should get rid of -- particularly when they've nested inside your walls. Yellow jackets tend to eat away at fibers including the wood wall boards to make their nest. "Whatever you do," stresses Leverman, "Do not seal the outside entrance to their nest -- this is the best way for them to exit."
To destroy yellow jackets, Leverman suggests a dry dust spray like Sevin.
Listen to the wall to see where most of the activity is. Drill a hole into the wall where the noise is the loudest; the wall is often softer here. Cover the hole with steel wool. Spray the dry dust through the steel wool and into the hole with a dry dust insecticide applicator, making sure the dust gets into the hole. Try not to breathe the dry dust, it can give you a headache. Several daily applications will be necessary before the bees are dead or gone. Do not plug up the outside hole until a few weeks go by and you no longer hear any activity.
If honey bees are in the walls, leave them alone. And be careful, if you've sprayed anything in the vicinity of the honey bee, do not eat the honey. Whatever spray you use will poison the honey -- even if it doesn't kill the bee.
One way to avoid having wasps or bees nest inside your wall is to open up the wall and install insulation in the davity, suggests Leverman.
Fire departments have been known to come to the rescue of a homeowner who spots a swarm of bees on his property. However, according to one fire marshal, this is not a service performed on a regular basis. "We usually call the extension service and let them take care of it," says an Alexandria fire marshal. "When possible, I steer clear of bees, snakes and electricity." Know Your Stingers
As the USDA's pamphlet, "Controlling Wasps," points out, most of us confuse bees with wasps. They are related but are not the same. Bees feed pollen and nectar to their young; wasps feed insects to their young. Bees pollinate fruit trees and other plants. The most common bees are honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees.
Yellow jackets are the black and yellow striped wasps that generally live in the ground or in an old stump. They have a retractable stinger and can sting you many times. Yellow jackets kill house flies, blow flies and caterpillars.
Hornets also kill flies and caterpillars and will attack if you go near their football-shaped nests, which are usually above ground.
The cicada-killing wasp is a large wasp, usually two inches in diameter. It feeds on the flying insect called the "cicada" -- often mistaken for a locust. The cicada-killing wasp is not agressive -- they will only sting if you touch them or get them caught in your clothes. They live in the ground -- one wasp per nest, although you may find several nests clumped together. "The only reason to get rid of these wasps," says Stewart, "is if their nests are in an area that you have to walk by."
The honey bee has a brownish black bubble on one end. It makes honey and is helpful in pollination. It should not be killed if possible. Honey bees tend to swarm around flowering plants; they also like clover. A honey bee can only sting you once -- its stinger falls off after it has stung you. In the late spring, a honey bee colony splits in two, each with its own queen. One colony gets the hive, the other has to move. While searching for a new place to nest, the split-off colony often stops to rest along the way. "When homeowners see a swarm of them land in their yard they tend to panic," says Stewart. "This is not a panic situation. The bees are very docile at this point and will leave of their own accord. But if the homeowner is worried, we suggest calling their local extension service."
Carpenter bees are large metallic insects that bore into wood, especially proch and shed ceilings, railings, porch furniture as well as dead tree limbs. They rarely sting.
Bumble bees nest in and around buildings or near walks. They also like old mattresses, car cushions and mouse nests. Their colonies usually are made up of a few hundred bees.