Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. July 20, 2018

The Summer of Yellow Jackets and Hornets

When I started writing this blog, I promised myself that I would not paint an “everything is rosy all the time” picture. I want to show real life.


Remember my beautiful waterfall that I was so excited about? Seemingly overnight this slimy, stringy algae showed up; it is just gross.  I need to clean it out and install a UV filter, but a large swarm of yellow jackets has set up housekeeping in the crevises of the waterfall, so imagine trying to pull out buckets of water or use the shop vac to remove debris?  Not happening.

And I can’t run the waterfall, which would help flush out the yellow jackets, because strings of algae would get sucked into the pump.

After a couple of days of pondering and googling, I decided to shock it with Clorox.  Not environmentally friendly, I know, but every other solution involved draining the pond, and that is not safe, either.  I let it sit for 24 hours, and it worked!  I was able to begin running the pump again.  Would you believe that the yellow jackets are still there?!  I can’t install the UV filter, but if I run the waterfall for several hours a day, it may keep the water oxygenated enough to prevent another algae bloom.

There are yellow jackets EVERYWHERE.  Around the five acre area of our property that is developed, John has set out eleven yellow jacket traps, and they are filling fast.

This week, while he was putting out some new traps, he read the fine print on the edge of the trap, which states that every half inch of space fills with three hundred yellow jackets.  There are eight half inch marks on the side.  Some of our traps fill in a few days.  Y’all, that is 2400 yellow jackets PER TRAP!

Monday night about 8:30, John tried to mow the range with our lawn tractor (fancy term for riding mower).  He said that there were so many yellow jackets following after him looking for insects that he had to stop.

We tried again an evening or two later.  There seemed to be less activity, so John ran the string trimmer and I rode the lawn tractor, and we managed to mow and trim the range and the north pasture.

Our pasture is still surprisingly green for late July. We seeded it with a drought tolerant pasture mix that goes dormant in heat.

I have begun cleaning out the chicken tractor that we use to enclose the boy ducks at night.  The easiest way to do it is to remove the top layer of dry muck from one half, exposing a wet layer.  They can still sleep on the dry side.  Then the next day that side is dry and I can remove a layer off the other side, and I work back and forth till it is all cleaned out.

So, Wednesday I removed a very thick layer from the back side, underneath the red upper “living quarters.” When we have a chicken that we allow to go broody, we use the chicken tractor for the nursery.  (Obviously, this was “pre ducks.”) The hen sits on her nest upstairs and keeps her baby chicks there until they can venture down the ramp. The ducks won’t climb the ramp; they do all their livin’ in the lower portion that we call “the porch.”   The hinged door at the rear of the coop, under the living quarters, swings up, and a chain and caribiner hold it in place so I can clean.

Friday I was outside working, had not gotten to the coop yet, when John called out to me, “Eleanor, come look at this!” There was a steady stream of yellow jackets flying in and out of the living quarters of the coop! There’s a nest in there, and I’d practically had my face right up next to it the day before!  I’d say my guardian angels are working overtime!

This is the chicken tractor where the boy duck sleep at night. The yellow jackets have moved in upstairs.

And now there are hornets, too.  Ugh.  They scare me worse than the yellow jackets. When we walk outside, we literally hear buzzing everywhere. It’s like the air and the trees are vibrating with the droning.

We have already found one hornet nest next to our driveway, well away from the house. I think there is a second one near the back porch, because the past two mornings when I tried to sit outside, hornets kept buzzing around me.  After I killed two with our zapper in less than five minutes, I decided to move indoors. They are also driving the hummingbirds away from the feeder.

We have never seen this many yellow jackets or hornets before, and we have never seen this much activity so early.  Usually they aren’t this active until September or October.

John says he thinks this early activity is a sign of a very cold, very snowy winter.  I did a quick Google search, and according to this article, he may be right!

Which brings up an interesting topic: all the natural signs Montanans look at while forecasting the winter weather that looms ahead.

Predicting the upcoming winter weather is practically a sport in Montana.  Everyone has an opinion, and the speculation starts about now.  One sure bet, it is going to be cold and snowy.  Montana holds the records for the coldest temperatures in the lower 48.  Just how cold and snowy is up for debate.

Everyone seems to have their favorite way of predicting winter weather. One friend measures by the amount of pine cones in the tops of fir trees; Zenna looks at berries on mountain ash trees.  More pine cones, more berries mean more snow.

Karla says for sure that if it snows before her mid-October birthday, it will be an extra snowy winter.

I googled a few phrases to see what I could come up with, and here’s a new one: the higher up bees, hornets, and yellow jackets build their nests, the snowier the winter will be.

Well, count me in the “extra snowy” camp, then.  We have not encountered any yellow jacket nests in the ground, which is where we usually find them.  Even last fall, which ushered in a winter with record snowfalls, we only found yellow jackets in the ground. This year, hordes are swarming to our traps, which hang 5-6 feet off the ground.  We know there is a nest in the duck coop, and the hornet nest is about seven feet off the ground.

Since we are outdoors every day for hours, weather is a daily factor that guides us in planning our activities. So, I think I will begin sharing our forecast with you here each week. Don’t hate me for these temperatures.


Of note: the 50% chance of rain on Thursday.  This is highly unusual. Typically July and August are sixty-one days of relentless sunshine with nary a drop of rain.  I suspect that somebody out there has a theory about winter weather that correlates with rain in July and August in Montana. If you know it, please share it!

Evenings are bliss in July. The air is cool and the wildlife are out for a stroll.

Also, while Jaren was here this week, he helped John move our window air conditioning unit to the house.  Currently, it sits on a small table in the entryway.  Because I just looove having utility items on display in my home, this is perfect insurance that we won’t need to install it.  Likely, it will sit quietly on that table, gracing us with its presence until September when the danger of a heat wave has passed, at which time we will haul it back to the shop.

Finally, a quick garden update.

The broccoli is bolting before producing any food. Clearly, I grossly missed the window for planting broccoli.  Next year I will start it inside. I will also absolutely, positively use a soil thermometer.

Broccoli might go down as my epic garden fail of 2018.

The lettuce is bolting, too, but I expect that.  This variety of lettuce is excellent about self sowing for next year.

Bolting lettuce is beautiful in it’s own right.

The corn and tomatoes are thrilled with this hot weather!  Loads of blooms on the tomato plants.

Loads of tomato blossoms!

My beloved turnips, which have grown so well, struggled this week, exhibiting limp leaves.  I have been watering every other day, but am going to water them daily to see if that helps.  Doing so will keep the soil plenty moist, and may even help cool it.

These plants are like Goldilocks: the soil in the beds was too cold, now the soil in the beds is too hot, and they want it just right!

Bless the sweet peas.  They seem to be happy with any bed conditions Mother Nature and I give to them.

Maybe I will become a professional grower of sweet peas.

Gotta love the sweet peas!

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