Of Tomatoes and Bald Faced Hornets

Pattern on wooden fence made by bald faced hornets

On the latter creature in the title I didn’t intend to spend a lot of time, but I did. In my observations of hornets in general, baldfaced hornets are f**king big. They build “paper” nests, using pulp scrapings they take from wooden fences and decks. (See photo to the right). Several years ago I was tidying up a small orchard of quince we had planted and became aware of a very large blackish hornet flying a zig zag pattern about 12 inches from my face and I swear she was looking straight at me. At some point as I backed away, I saw a brown orb, the size of a basket ball, installed among the quince tree branches. It looked like it was made of paper mache, where the paper strips were fashioned from grocery sacks.

After I decided that the orchard was fine the way it was, I went inside and looked the beasts up. Yes. Hornets. Big and bad. I was lucky to escape unstung. Telling all my friends about it, one, a seasoned gardener, told me about a guy who will come out and vacuum the hornets up for use in antiserum. However he told me on the phone that there was no call for this now—labs were stocked up. Then he went on to flatter me by exclaiming about what fabulous gardeners we were to have a back yard where there is enough fodder for these guys to support a huge nest. They are beneficials, of course, and thus, praying that one of them wouldn’t sting my neighbor—the nest was pretty close to his fence—I let it go, avoiding that part of the orchard for the rest of the summer.

As the bug vaccumer comforted me, they were gone by winter. They, like yellow jackets, never nest in the same place twice. By spring, certain the queen had decamped for newer quarters, we nabbed the nest from the tree and kept it on our side deck alongside the squirrel nest I accidentally pulled from the holly tree when I was cutting it back—empty, fortunately.

Living in the rural Willamette Valley as we do, we have a number of neighbors who love to apply chemical solutions—mostly to weeds—but as they soberly spray toxic products around, they are jeopardizing the pollinators and beneficials who are eager to participate in the bounty of their yards. I have no doubt they entertain a low opinion of hornets. Our hornet neighbors generally set up their breeding shop in the city park behind us. It’s full of oaks, maples and Doug fir. They come into my garden to sample the odoriferous waste my dogs leave behind. Yellow jackets routinely visit us at dinner time. They have a particular taste for salmon and chicken. As I am very familiar with the yellow jacket habit of nesting in the ground, I am always on the lookout by mid summer for a possible nest. They are here but fortunately have not purchased property in our mail box or the engine of an idle car, as they did routinely in Seattle. The yellow jacket scouts who emerge in late spring have the idea that if they build it, she will come. So most times these attempted installations are abandoned because her majesty prefers to raise her family underground.

I tolerate the buzzers, because if you don’t bother them they won’t bother you.

Except the one who landed on my finger as I ate a tuna sandwich while at a rest stop in California, and who stung me when my neighboring finger touched it.

Now I’ve got photos of tomatoes to share.

Volunteer from worm compost (food waste)

Yellow Brandywine

Purple Bumble Bee (cherry)

Mortgage Lifter (yes, that is the name)

Aunt Ruby’s Green

Oh, and a Northern Leopard Frog has joined Mrs. Bullfrog in our pond. Mrs Bullfrog has taken the upper pool and Ms Leopard the lower. So far Mrs. B. has not eaten her neighbor.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Of Tomatoes and Bald Faced Hornets — 5 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your gardens with pollinators that people generally find kill-worthy. I look forward to the midday birdbath refilling under the blazing sun every summer day, because honey bees, native bees, and wasps circle close around me, waiting to line the rim of the dish and enjoy a cool drink. No Sandhill hornets participate in this shared refreshment, unless it has been over 100 degrees for consecutive days – then even they are tolerated by the other pollinators at the ‘water hole’.
    Beautiful tomato varieties you have! 🙂

  2. I had to eliminate a Baldy nest that had colonized right over my front door-a little too close for comfort. The second nest I spotted that year was in a low bush at the edge of my garden. I was able to keep my distance from that one. It got bigger and bigger and bowed its branch until it was quite close to the ground. One morning it was destroyed. I suspect a skunk had it for dinner.

  3. I get some wasps and hornets but mainly bees and butterflies

    The funny thing is that with butterfly weed blossoming right next to coneflowers, I get bumblebees all over the coneflowers, and honeybees all over the butterfly weed, at the same time.

  4. I’ve got a big gorgeous bald-faced hornet’s nest being built only a foot outside my window … it’s under an awning, and the window has been painted shut since we bought the house. We’ve been able to watch its progress from the day the queen first scouted the location to … layer 13, which is almost done right now. About a foot long.

    There are ways to get baldies to move out without a vacuum cleaner. I’ve been told if you fake up another hornet’s nest (some of those sleazy lightweight grocery bags shaped into a nest-ish shape) and hang it near the nest, the hornets say, “Shit, your majesty, there goes the neighborhood” and they abandon the nest. Hoping we don’t have to. These ladies have been pretty good neighbors so far. Would post a picture but can’t on this blog.

    Here’s one.