August 16, 2019

How to kill bees with soapy water

With all of the news about colony collapse and bees dying off or disappearing, you're probably wondering why I'd post how to kill bees. I'm not. Instead of calling this post "How to kill insects that you don't want around you with soapy water" writing "bees" was easier (and ranks higher with Google).

When I became allergic to bee, wasp and hornet stings (all with a single sting), I began to keep a spray bottle filled with soap water handy to the patio. European paper wasps kept building nests under the deck, and one summer a colony of ground nesting wasps established themselves under the stone path leading from deck to patio. They didn't mind us stepping over them and never showed any aggressive behavior, but I couldn't risk one accidentally flying up my pant leg and getting upset there. Instead of spraying insecticides, we opted for soap water, which is a very effective control that doesn't have deleterious environmental effects. A solution of soapy water breaks down barriers and gets water into the offending insect. It drowns them from the inside out.

Even now that I'm no longer allergic, I keep the bottle handy and shoot to kill. I'm not talking about wholesale killing like The Terminator systematically killing every Sarah Conner, or advocating indiscriminate killing of anything with an exoskeleton. I'm talking about control. Bees and wasps are mostly beneficial, providing pollination and pest control services. Yellowjackets, though? Maybe I am guilty of stereotyping, maybe it's their loud buzzing and aggressive flying pattern. I hate those things as much as I hate the grasshoppers that shred my garden worse than hail every summer.

The "spray" setting works well if you're controlling flea beetles, which are small and numerous. But be careful with the "spray" setting. It isn't targeted, especially on a breezy day, and we don't want the soap water getting on insects willy nilly. Soap water will kill a beneficial insect as quick as it'll kill a Japanese beetle. I'm sorry to report that it's not a quick death for grasshoppers, even if you soak them with the bottle set on "stream." Also, be aware that like Neem oil, a soapy solution will change the look of glaucus leaves, e.g., nasturtium and rosemary so instead of a spray bottle, you can drop offenders into a container of soapy water. I don't happen to like that method because it means first handpicking, followed by discarding a lot of solution or straining out the bodies.

According the thedenverchannel, Japanese Beetles started showing up in Colorado in 2006. Last year, we spotted the beetles in the backyard for the first time. We can't just cross our fingers that it was an isolated incident because Japanese Beetles are invasive, and they decimate gardens very quickly. If your garden is the target of a horde of Japanese Beetles and you try the soap water solution, let me know if it worked for you.
A favorite plant, Japanese beetles love to eat the wide, smooth leaves and petals of cannas.
Surround Yourself with Positivity
The impetus for this post was a question about Japanese Beetles raised in the Rocky Mountain Native Bees Facebook Group. With no natural predator here to control them, someone mentioned soapy water and made a guess on how it works. Back in 2012, Rusty Burlew over at Honey Bee Suite explained it in a post, also titled How to kill bees with soapy water. Of course I shared a link to the post, unfortunately slightly out of context, and a high blood pressure discourse ensued. In the end, I wrote a mea culpa and deleted the whole thread that a couple members found so offensive.

One suggested that I, as a person experienced with allergy to bee stings, take the opportunity in this world full of negativity and shoot-to-kill attitude to educate people on why we shouldn't be stereotyping insects and killing "willy nilly." Basically, she wanted me to speak to racial profiling in bee lingo. Write about tolerance via a post about intolerance. Lofty goal for another time, perhaps.

Another, so upset that I would post in a group dedicated to bees (which she stated are endangered while emphasizing that the original post was about a non-native insect*), remained unwilling to read and is the reason why I removed myself from the group. I choose to surround myself with open-minded, not quick to judge, doesn't-fall-for-the-hype of "bees dying off," did-their-homework kind of people. If you're a friend there, all I can say is, we'll always have Insta.

*At risk of sounding pedantic, I need to point out that honey bees are neither endangered nor native to the US. Here's a good article that all who spout the #savethebees rhetoric should read.


Don said...

Positivity and gratitude are where it's at! Your Instagram posts brighten my days!

So far we've been spared the Japanese beetle onslaught, but I'll try the soapy water if we do. My cat takes care of the grasshoppers for me and brings me their bits and pieces as presents. ;-) I caught a lot of yellowjacket queens in the spring and that seems to help keep the population down. But I do see the little buggers out and about around my hives this time of year. At least they clean up in front of the hives. I try to encourage people to use water to knock down paper wasp nests instead of poison. A good shot with the hose seems to do the trick - once the nest is gone they go on their way.

HB said...

I admit that I have to work on the gratitude part, @Don. Heck even the positivity part takes work. I'm not 100% successful on that front but I'm happy to hear my Instagram posts are bright spots.

My cat doesn't go outside but even if she did, at 20, she's just not interested in hunting anything anymore. It's me against them. I hear you on catching the queens in the Spring. I smush them when I find them, still sluggish from the cold.

Very glad you can use water but my paper wasps are insistent. When I can get to the nest, I have to remove every iota or they start building off it. They especially like the bench that is integrated into our deck. I've even gone so far as to rub the area with citronella and cedarwood essential oils, and using smoke to discourage rebuilding, all the while my trusty spray bottle by my side.

Fingers crossed that the Japanese Beetles don't arrive in your garden. I received some seeds for Four O'Clocks, which I read are attractive but toxic to them. I couldn't get the seeds to germinate, though.

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