Gary's taking a break and will return on June 28. While he's gone, we'll print some of his columns from the past. Today's is from Aug. 2, 1995.
Dear Gary: In response to your recent request to readers for suggestions for how to handle "pests" such as wasps, I am enclosing a photocopy of a brief article from Organic Gardening magazine.
The conclusion drawn by the writer is that wasps are beneficial.
My position is that these creatures sting when threatened, so don't threaten them. I find them beautiful and interesting, and I move slowly and deliberately when they are in the yard, which is usually, so as not to alarm them. I have never been stung.
If people make the effort, living with nature needn't be traumatic.
Dear Shelly: I've always been a firm believer in living with nature. The more critters I find buzzing around my yard, slithering through the pumpkins and squash, or hopping about in my staghorn ferns, the happier I am.
Lizards are more nimble at plucking bugs off my plants than my clumsy fingers, and gopher and garter snakes will see to it that my corn and beans and peppers don't fall prey to hungry gophers and mice.
And at night, when snails and slugs come out to play in our garden, the Pacific tree frogs and Western toads will be there to kiss them on their little cheeks (whichever end suits their fancy) and turn them all into tiny fairy princesses.
Speaking of the graceful wasps, there are a lot of them around. Paper wasps, spider hawks and yellow jackets, just to name a few.
Spider hawks are slender black wasps that come in all sizes from tiny, to the giant 3-inch long tarantula hawk, with its glistening black abdomen and ominous-looking orange wings.
You'll often see these black wasps scurrying restlessly over the ground and in and out of every little hole they can find searching for the spiders they prey upon.
Once a spider is found, it is stung with just the right amount of venom to paralyze it without killing it, and it is dragged back to the wasp's hole, where it is tucked carefully inside. The wasp then lays a single egg on the spider, where it will eventually hatch and the larvae will find itself sitting on enough fresh spider to provide the food it needs to develop into an adult wasp.
The paper wasps and yellow jackets are all members of the vespid family and hunt caterpillars to feed their larvae. The yellow jackets build their nests in hollow trees, or in holes in the ground, while the paper wasps construct their huge paper nests in thick shrubbery or up under the eaves in your house.
I am particularly fond of the paper wasps (Polistes species) and especially the beautiful, basketball-size nests they build every spring and summer with a kind of papier-mache made by the female wasps as they chew on bits of wood until it gets soft and pulpy. The larvae are raised in the warm confines of the nest.
Your Organic Gardening article has some interesting information on the use of paper wasps to control caterpillars in Chinese gardens. A study mentioned in the article claims the wasps reduced imported cabbage worms by up to 60 percent.
The article also suggests you can attract paper wasps to your garden by building small (6-inch square) bottomless plywood nesting boxes for them.
Fasten the boxes to stakes in sunny locations around your garden. That definitely beats using evil-smelling sprays, irritating powders and other nasty poisons.
Those things just clutter up the freshness and beauty of a natural garden.
Contact Gary Bogue at firstname.lastname@example.org; or write Gary, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.