(photo by Opo Terser)
There are a lot of products and businesses out there that deal with bees and wasps. Their methods for the most part involve death to the creatures that have moved into their spaces. But to note, humans are the ones who moved into their territory, not the other way around. So we try to just get along, if we can. For reference, we live in the Coast Range of western Oregon. You may deal with entirely different winged critters where you live.
Honey bees are the most docile pollinators, and sadly we almost never see these here anymore. Bumblebees nest in the ground and are also never aggressive; they just pollinate the flowers I plant and thankfully also pollinate the vegetable plants. We also have all kinds of solitary bees and wasps that build mud nests in whatever holes they find, and we've put out artificial housing to encourage them to live here. The more pollinators and insect pest eaters, the merrier!
Paper wasps, the ones that build the open-cell looking nests just about anywhere, i.e. the inside of a water bucket that was left unused for a couple of days, are also pretty docile. I welcome them in the greenhouse because I know they gobble up aphids, white flies, and other plant pests that get on my seedlings. They also pollinate flowers, not as successfully as honey bees and bumblebees, but they help. I knock down paper wasp nests that show up in inconvenient places, i.e. the inside of that water bucket, but otherwise we all get along just fine. I've only been stung by a paper wasp once in 40 years, and it was just me being in the way when two of them got into a scuffle and one fell into my shirt. I should mention that I have a horrifying reaction to stings, but have no worries when around the docile ones.
But yellowjackets, aka, "a** holes with wings," often build aerial nests either in shrubs, trees, or on a structure. While these creatures are also beneficial and yeah, they were here first, blah blah blah, I don't want them close by. I've experienced an A.H.W.W. just zoom up, stop, sting me, and fly away. I have witnesses. And when these girls have a nest, they get even grumpier.
I read about nest decoys to deter them. The theory is that yellowjackets are territorial within their species. Unlike paper wasps, who appear to be communal to some extent, yellowjackets apparently won't build a nest if another one is close by. So I saw decoy paper lanterns for sale on Amazon and also read about making them using a balloon and paper mache. I decided to just make my own. Here's what I did.
Step 1: Get Started
One reason I decided to make my own paper mache decoys was that I wanted them to be waterproof. The paper lanterns from Amazon were flimsy and fragile, and obviously wouldn't do well in the wind or rain. I found a paper mache tutorial on YouTube, I won't mention the name, and the artist used mortar that he said would make your creation waterproof. But he didn't tell us what kind, or the mix, other than it should be "watery." There were a few comments about this lack of information but he didn't answer. Oh well. I tried some mortar we had, and it was a serious fail on a balloon: it didn't stick.
The other option to make the decoy waterproof was to paint the paper mache when done, and figure it might not last through the winter if you don't take it down at the end of the A.H.W.W. season.
You will need:
Strips of brown packing paper (or newspaper) about 4-5 inches long x 1 inch or so wide - you can spend a lot of time tearing the edges if you want a work of art. Also you can use various colors of paper to get a real nest look!
1 part flour (I mixed a cup and needed a little more)
1 part water, with water close by to adjust as the paste thickens up.
Eye hook and S hook
Step 2: Channel Your Kindergartner!
Blow up the balloon and knot it. Make it whatever size you like! I made several sizes.
Mix the flour and water so it's a watery paste.
Dip a paper strip in the paste like batter on a fish stick, and place it on the balloon. You'll figure out how much paste you need to make it work, and how to layer. If not, ask your inner child. Be ready to get messy.
Keep layering, imagining how you will convince the A.H.W.W.s not to move into your rafters and that you can all live together in peaceful harmony.
When you get to the top of the balloon, paper mache the twistie or something else to serve as a hanger.
Let the decoy dry, however long that takes.The balloon will deflate and can be tucked inside. Or you can pop it and drag it out of your decoy if you're worried about that.
Sorry, there are no photos of my hands covered in flour and water paste as I made these decoys, but I did learn it was a two-day process because slimy paper bits will slide off at some point. I used flower pots for most of the work because they were easy to turn, then hung the decoys up by the balloon knots for the final bits. Finally, I added the twistie hangers.
Step 3: Paint Them
I used spray paint we had around and figured it should be A.H.W.W. nest color, but honestly I have no idea if that matters. Whatever you do for a covering, waterproofing is probably a good idea. Some folks like to paint an A.H.W.W. on the side, or a black "hole" on the bottom to look like a nest entry... but I didn't bother.
Update: We ran across the remains of a vacated nest in the woods so I used a water and elmers glue mixture to brush the beautiful paper on one of my decoys. I didn't have quite enough, so will be watching for another old nest as the AHWWs retire for the winter!
Step 4: Hang It!
I put the S hook on the decoy and an eye hook on the rafter, and then placed my first decoy next to where we had a large A.H.W.W. nest last year that we had to eradicate. A small nest had already shown up nearby before I planted the decoy. We knocked it down earlier.
A friend in CA put up a nest from the year before and has had no A.H.W.W. nest anywhere close to it. But Terry Prouty, a wasp enthusiast, pointed out that wasps often will build close to an old nest, and he sent me a video to prove it. It showed a bunch of old nests with one live nest right along with the old ones. It was a popular A.H.W.W. spot in an attic, and perhaps the queen was a close relative?
Above are two photos of my hanging decoys. The other photo is of Terry's amazing nest collection. You can see how the nests look somewhat like a paper mache covered balloon... Terry was very nice to allow me to share his photo with you and to remind us that all wasps are beneficial creatures. It's much better to try to deter them than to exterminate them. I agree! And I will let you know if this idea works.
October 19, 2017: There were no yellow jacket nests built on the three buildings where I hung decoys throughout the rest of the season. I'd say it's worth a try, and a fun project for the kids!