by Tamsin Harris
Everyone wants to “save the bees” but what about wasps? We can have all the wonderful pollinators working so hard to get to every blossom and start off the process of developing a crop of something delicious for us. But then come along the devouring caterpillars, aphids, blackflies and thrips munching their way through the young, sappy growth and blossoms. Do we want them to decimate what the amazing pollinators have achieved? Certainly not. Do we want to resort to pesticides to protect our young plants? Certainly not.
Wasps are the voracious predators that we need in the Spring and early Summer to protects our crops. The wasp larvae are carnivorous, they don’t need the pollen and nectar that honey bee larvae thrive on – fresh meat is what they need to develop into adult wasps. So wasps are the gardener’s friend in the early part of Summer.
The larvae exudates – poo out – a sweet, sugary liquid that the adult wasps clear up and consume – delicious! So how come they become such a pest around apiaries, picnics and barbeques later in the season? Well, the queen has come to the end of her laying season and there is no more sweet poo to be had so the adult wasps then go on the hunt for other sources of sweet, sugary food and we all know when this happens. Wasps are everywhere making a real nuisance of themselves. A hive full of sweet honey and bees becomes a fast food restaurant, a tantalizing treat for wasps.
Nucs and small colonies are particularly vulnerable, so beekeepers need to pre-empt the wasp onslaught and reduce entrances to the hives. Guard bees stand a fighting chance if the entrance is one or two bees width wide. Keeping colonies in good health and queen right, covering supers well during inspections and maintaining a clean apiary can all help against wasp attack but traps are essential.
You may wish to trap newly emerged, mated queens in the Spring in order that nests are not build in the vicinity of your apiary.
So what type of trap and what should you bait them with? A bait that replicates rotting fruit works well, both sweet and sour, a mixture of jam/brown sugar and red wine vinegar to half fill the trap. One thing to remember is to empty the traps every week or sooner if full. Flies are attracted to the drowned wasps and the traps then become clogged and ineffective – as well as smelling very rank.
A conveniently situated branch is an ideal location to hang the traps from, whether you choose glass jars with purpose made entrance tops or 1 litre plastic bottles with reusable trap tops. Personally, I prefer to keep the traps away from the hives, placing them around the perimeter of the apiary but everyone finds a way that suits their apiary layout. After all, not every apiary has a convenient branch!
Finally, I find that if I have a particularly bad wasp problem and can see my nucs being targeted, I move them to another apiary without such a problem. This allows them to build up enough to go through the winter well.