Strimming A Wasp Nest …

… is foolhardy and best avoided.  (I could end this post now, I suppose … but let’s press on for now).

Over the summer, I’ve been fascinated by wasp nests in the grounds of The Priory.

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One is visible enough to avoid treading on by mistake.  The nest, like most in the garden, is in an old vole hole and sits on a dry bank under a large oak tree.

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Voles don’t make holes to a wasp’s  satisfaction and it is the excavations to enlarge the underground space that make the nest so obvious.  Standing quietly, with workers zipping past my ears, I’ve watched wasps carry out pebbles and lumps of clay bigger than themselves.

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They take these lumps several inches from the entrance and dump them on the spoil heap.  I’m intrigued at how large this underground nest is and, in a couple of months when it’s deserted, I might have to dig it up.

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There is a second nest about twenty feet away on a stretch of lawn behind the greenhouses.  This one is easily visible too and I’m careful to skirt around it with the mower.  (Having mowed a wasp nest before, I’ve learnt not to do so again).

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But I discovered a third nest only when I strimmed over it and remained blissfully unaware until I felt a sharp pain on my knee and glancing back saw a squadron of angry Vespula vulgaris spiralling out of their hole.  I legged it and escaped with only the one sting.

strimming

Strimmed edges of the west pond

But wasps or no, I must press on with the strimming.  Autumn is the time for cutting back pond edges, ditches, the outer fence line and areas of long grass I’ve allowed to grow for the benefit of wild-flowers.  I’ve strimmed these areas for years and – up until the Knee Sting Incident – had never disturbed a wasp nest.  I put my wasp attack experience down to bad luck (but not so bad as my friend Nick.  He gets stung many times each year: most recently when he sawed through an otherwise invisible nest with a hedge-cutter.  He suffered twelve stings to the head and neck).

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I could wait for frost to kill the wasps but by then the cold and autumn rain will have flattened the grass (which makes the job far more difficult).  I strimmed the west pond without incident and moved on to the east pond.  I’d completed about fifteen feet when I suddenly felt a sting on my stomach and another on my back.  Panicking, I looked down at a wasp on my shirt and then glimpsed a menacing cloud of yellow warriors erupt from the base of an old alder stump.  I was too busy running to see much more after that.

wasp-attack

Casting aside the strimmer, my helmet and lastly my gloves as I sprinted across the lawn, my yelps brought Jim running from the far side of the garden.  We hid in an outbuilding, closed the door and brushed off three more wasps from my clothing.  I’d been stung four times and if the initial pain was bad enough, a week of soreness and itchiness was worse.  Possibly.

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My enthusiasm for strimming evaporated (from an admittedly shallow pool) and I didn’t pick up the strimmer for 10 days.  And when finally I did?  I hit another wasp nest within a couple of minutes.  Thankfully, this time I saw them emerging before they stung me and once again I disappeared in a cloud of Anglo-Saxon invective, leaving a trail of gear in my wake.  I’m not having much luck with strimming this year but I shall have to try again.  I’ve already hit three more nests this year than in the previous seven years combined.

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Surely I won’t disturb another one, will I?   (I did actually.  I tried strimming twice more after publishing this post and both times struck another nest.  No stings from one, but one on my leg from the other.  Exasperated, I stopped completely until after several severe frosts).

oooOOOooo

Despite my current red alert level of wasp-fear, I have no intention of poisoning any of The Priory’s nests.  Wasps are important pollinators and prey on a range of pest insects.  Generally – apart from 2016 – I don’t find them a problem and I’m happy for us to co-exist.  So long as they are.

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63 thoughts on “Strimming A Wasp Nest …

  1. Pingback: The Top 50 Gardening Blogs of 2016 - Lawnstarter

  2. Oh, you poor man. I always know when I see the first wasps that most of my pest problems are over for the year, so I hear you about not wanting to kill them. But ouch. I wonder if there’s a way to set up a decoy (not Nick!)—a nice picnic lunch or something laid out nearby at least to alert you to the nests ahead of time. Fortunately “my” wasps seem to prefer nesting in the neighbors’ gardens. (And more power to them, I say.)

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  3. Many years ago, I disturbed some wasps in a compost heap in our garden and got stung for my efforts. My arm swelled up quite impressively. I was working in a teaching hospital at the time and went to see a consultant imunologist friend. I asked him if I needed to worry about my ballooned arm. He told me that as I was still alive the prognosis was good!

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    • If – or rather when – I have another multiple attack, Philip I shall talk to my GP about carrying an Epipen. I think my physical reaction to wasp stings is perfectly normal at the moment but it could get worse the more I have. A ballooned arm would certainly worry me. Dave

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  4. In the words of Albert Einstein -Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results!!! Still maybe you did learn as you moved quickly enough not to get stung the last time.
    Very enjoyable post – lets face it for some reason us humans always find other’s misfortunes to be funny!

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  5. Great photos Dave…glad to hear it wasn’t worse…Strange how some years there are so many more wasps. Last summer the willow outside dining room window was literally abuzz with either wasps or hornets, eating the leaves I imagine. Finally found the nest nearby…enormous basketball-sized waspy metropolis.. Hope you don’t find any more…Might be an idea to suit up before strimming.. pretend you’re a bee keeper…cuffs closed off, etc. Still makes a good tale….Once again you’ve created a buzz
    ; )

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    • Hi Jo, yes Amelia below has suggested a bee suit too but I think I’d get heat exhaustion (I overheat anyway in gloves, helmet and just a shirt with the harness over that I hook the strimmer to). Each time I hit a nest, I think well statistically I can’t hit another … right up until the moment when I do. It’s becoming a little trying. D

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      • Know what you mean…the remedy can be worse than the illness…I find raingear is similar unless it’s realllly wet + coldish…just overheat + get soaked from the inside out : / Ah the life of a working gardener…With all the tribulations it certainly has it’s rewards though…

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  6. A friend of mine cut through a nest when hedge cutting and received several stings for his trouble. You don’t expect to find one in a hedge. As an ex-beekeeper I always carry some antihistamine cream with me, it works very well on reducing the inflammation of most stings.

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    • Hi Brian, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might disturb a wasp nest in a hedge until it happened to my friend Nick a few weeks ago: didn’t half make me nervous when we tackled the beech hedging and then the mixed hedging. Nick’s also trodden on a nest when hedge-cutting. He’s my barometer for the what’s the worst that can happen with a wasp nest. D

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  7. Oddly enough, I’ve encountered three separate ground nests of wasps this year, where in several years I’ve found/stumbled upon none. On the other hand, I’ve seen fewer above-ground wasps’ nests this season. Managed to avoid getting stung though.

    Did get a bee sting when one of the blighters crawled into a glove I’d discarded – and then put on. Not as bad as wasp stings though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder whether a wet spring forced wasps to build on banks this year – like 4 of my 5 nests. Most years they seem happy to build on flat lawn but not this year. I haven’t been stung by a bee for years and I’m very happy about that. I’ll take your word for how they compare to wasp stings without need for my own comparison trial. D

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  8. And you still managed some fantastic photos which almost make the critters seem cute and cuddly. And I was only saying a couple of days ago that I’ve seen only a couple of wasps this year (despite lengthy wine testing sessions in the garden). My worst encounter with stingies was when I disturbed a bees nest whilst clearing a woodland path back in my 20s. I got stung 3 times then. Once on a finger. The other two stings taught me to always wear tight-fitting underwear and also avoid cargo shorts when clearing a woodland path. And you know that bee stingers need to be removed; in my case by a nurse. With a mixed-sex audience. And a lot of giggling!

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  9. What a story and such incredible photos.. They are beautiful.
    My son-in-law can feel your pain as he got stung and chased by bees while accidently disturbing a ground nest of wasps. He was helping me out in my yard and my son was standing on a ladder putting some nails in the greenhouse he had built for me. He jumped off the ladder when he saw him running and went after him with a towel thinking he could swat away the bees. The funny part of the story was that he still had the hammer in one hand while he was running after him with the towel. We asked him afterwards who he was going to clobber with the hammer, my son-in-law or the bees?
    Anyway, my son-in-law had multiple bee stings and my daughter was pulling out stingers for quite a while.

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    • A friend was telling me a similar story, Meta. She lived in Italy with her husband and they were renovating an old house. Her husband switched on a concrete mixer … without realising that it held a wasp nest. The next second he disappeared over the garden wall and ran twenty yards, with a wasp swarm about his head, and dived into a pond. Quick thinking! D

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  10. Oh, no. Hope you ok. My worse moment with wasps was when I was up a ladder emptying a giant summer hay rack to plant for autumn. There was a wasps nest in the bottom and I hadn’t noticed. They went down my t shirt so I ran round the garden and removed said t shirt- just as the owners (lord and lady….) arrived back home. I’m still red faced at the thought.

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  11. Funny! Not!! I pour boiling water on them, sorry wasps, because I rent the house and teach and once I had a group of kids get engulfed (run kids, run!) while my bichon Dandelion heroically just stood there and the wasps burrowed into his fur and couldn’t find their way out. Also the wasps compete with other nicer pollinators, so I knock them back. But the good news is, stings help your immune system! Assuming you live! It’s good for you! It helps prevent arthritis! Ice!

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  12. That is very bad luck. Strimming and hedge cutting are hazardous occupation with wasps and hornets around. At this season it is a good warning to be on the look out when cutting things back. How about borrowing a beekeeper’s suit to use while strimming? They would certainly give you time to back off if you accidentally hit a nest. Amelia

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    • It is bad luck isn’t it … and knocked my strimming confidence a bit. Strimming is surprisingly hot work and I can be drenched in sweat very quickly (there’s a pleasant thought) so I’m not sure I could wear a thick coat too. But if it happens again perhaps I’ll need to. Thanks Amelia. D

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  13. There are a lot of wasps this year and not so many honey bees. The most ingenious one I found was inside a beautiful willow sculpture called “murmurations” by @LauraEllenBacon at @Holbourne…just seen a ringed parakeet in Somerset – surely that’s not right!

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  14. In my life I’ve had 6 stings, the last was several years ago on the top of my head. Boy was that painful. About 20 years ago we had a nest in the roof /loft, the chap from the council came out to kill it ( not something I would do now ), he informed me when he arrived that if he was stung would I please give him this injection that he kept in the van as he was allergic to wasp stings…..I told him he needed a different job… Good luck with the strimming.

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    • Sounds like an Epipen, Sue. Some people are naturally allergic but my understanding is that the more wasp stings you gets the more likely you are to become allergic too. The Epipen gives a shot of adrenaline whilst waiting for an ambulance. Nick, mentioned above, has been told that he should carry one. I’ll talk to my doctor and ask whether I should carry one, I think. D

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    • That itchiness is terrible isn’t it? I’ve been stung before of course but I don’t remember the discomfort lasting for so long. I strim now because I’m lazy too – it’s much harder work strimming flattened long grass don’t you think? D

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  15. I’m impressed you managed to get close enough to take such amazing photos. I steer as clear as possible from wasps so I’d not noticed how furry they are. Hope your stings have calmed down.

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  16. Ouch, we have not come across any nests in the garden like this. But there are so many hornets surrounding our fig tree (which is the size of a small house) at the moment. Worst still, to get half of the figs we have to climb the ladder onto the garage roof, so there we are precariously perched up high, overlooking the village and aware that we are surrounded by hornets and we nowhere to run without falling and breaking our necks!

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    • I generally find that wasps aren’t as aggressive when feeding, i.e. I’ve mowed over fallen fruit and unseen wasps many times and not been stung; disturb their nests though and it’s a different matter. But I still don’t envy you up that ladder. D

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