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Lorraine's Garden, Issue #004 -- Tito's Winter Squash Stew, Advice on Yellow Jackets
November 09, 2013

November 2013 Issue 4

In this issue:
1) Tito's Awesome Winter Squash Stew
2) Yellow Jackets and Paper Wasps

Tito's Awesome Winter Squash Stew

I am so blessed to live with Tito, who is one of those chefs who cooks more by aroma than anything else. He never measures anything and yet creates the most delectable dishes based on whatever was just harvested (or freshly caught). Our "Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead" winter squashes weigh in at about 15-20 pounds, and he has been making this incredibly delicious stew out of them. I had to follow him around to write down the recipe. He puts “about yay much” oregano in his hand (which I then make him pour in a measuring spoon so I can tell you how much), etc.

Here’s the recipe:

½ lb grass-fed ground beef or bison
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 med onions, diced
3 huge cloves garlic, diced or minced

Saute on medium heat while adding the following one at a time and stirring around:

4-5 c sweet ripe winter squash
1 med-large red bell pepper
5-6 crimini mushrooms

Saute about another 1-2 minutes then add:

1 large can diced tomatoes (or an equal amount of peeled fresh toms)
beef broth or water to just cover the vegetables
2-3 bay leaves
3/4 Tbsp salt
½ Tbsp pepper
1 Tbsp oregano
½ tsp cumin ground
½ tsp whole cumin seeds
2-3 bay leaves

Reduce heat and simmer on low until veggies are tender and flavors are mingling, then add: 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen corn
2-3 big Swiss chard leaves from the garden, or 5-6 of the “regular” sized ones from the store, chopped

Simmer until all veggies are cooked.

Yellow Jackets and Paper Wasps

Yellow jackets and paper wasps are two different types of stinging insects, which when viewed through a different lens, are beneficial helpers in the garden. But yellow jackets and paper wasps have different personalities and habits, and I thought it might be useful to distinguish between them and give some suggestions on how to live peacefully with them rather than try to exterminate them.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jackets are predatory social wasps that have compact, vivid yellow and black bodies. They live mostly in animal burrows underground or in enclosed cavities such as in the walls of houses. There is one species of yellow jacket, though, that does make a gray paperlike “balloon” with a hole in the bottom, most often seen hanging from sheltering tree branches or under protected eaves. Inside either the burrow, the wall, or the “balloon”, the colony builds vertically-tiered layers of gray paper combs, where the eggs are laid and the larva develop into adults.

Yellow jackets are helpful in the vegetable garden because they prey on crop-damaging insects like cabbage loopers and other caterpillars. I once had an indoor ficus tree that was covered with the houseplant pest known as “scale”. I set it outside under a shade tree for the summer, and was fascinated to watch as the yellow jackets ate off every single scale bug, including the newly hatched ones, over the course of the summer. When I brought it back in it was completely cleaned of scale, which has never returned.

As a yellow jacket colony grows throughout the season, the population may outstrip its food supply and the hungry yellow jackets will begin to attend barbecues and outdoor events in search of a sweet or meaty food (which is where they get the nickname “meat bees”). Like many insects, they have compound eyes which makes them very attuned to motion. If you swat all around with your arms you are much more likely to be stung than if you just sit quietly or try to move slowly away.

Yellow jackets are most aggressive when their nest is threatened, and they can sting multiple times (unlike bees), with each sting attracting more yellow jackets because of the smell. Once you get stung, if you are anywhere near their nest, it is smart to get away as fast as you can because more will come after you.

If yellow jackets are just visiting your barbecue, they don’t really want to sting you, they just want to eat. If you stay calm and still, it is unlikely you will be stung.

I was once at a Buddhist retreat center in the mountains where there were a lot of yellow jackets. We out outside, and at mealtimes the nuns would put out a plate of cut fruit on a nearby railing so that the yellow jackets would eat there and leave us alone. They feasted by the hundreds on the fruti, and no one ever got stung because everyone moved slowly and calmly, just respecting them as fellow creatures.

But one thing to watch out for is that yellow jackets will often enter a soda pop can to get at the sugar, and when you go to take a swig … AAAGHH!!! This happens commonly. So if there are yellow jackets at your party, pour your Coke in a glass or cup to avoid nasty surprises.

Paper Wasps

Paper Wasps are also predatory social insects that are vivid yellow and black, but you can tell them from yellow jackets by their tiny "waist" and the way their long legs dangle when they fly. They do a sort of gentle dancing “hover” in flight, rather than the jerky, rapid back-and-forth of yellow jackets. They are altogether more peaceful than yellow jackets, and while they can sting, they rarely do. You pretty much have to step on or put your hand on one (or actually bother their nest) before they sting.

Paper wasps build open-bottomed, single-layer combed nests that hang by a single stalk underneath decks, eaves or other protected places. I’ve seen them build nests inside upside-down plant pots in the greenhouse, inside the rim of a trampoline, and even under the top of a “Topsy Turvy” upside-down tomato planter that was abandoned.

Their nests are much smaller than yellow jacket nests, and rarely get much bigger than a few inches across. Some people (like me) actually attract paper wasps to the garden intentionally to help keep caterpillars and other pest insects down. I put out an 18” plastic plant pot saucer filled with pebbles near the hose bib, and keep it full of water. The pebbles keep the wasps from drowning, and in mid-summer when it’s really hot, they really appreciate being able to get an easy drink. I also leave my extra, upside down, stored plant pots alone in the summer, so that the paper wasps can build nests there if they want.


Both yellow jackets and paper wasps raise fertile queens in the late summer and fall. The nests are abandoned in late fall, and while the males and unfertilized females die, the fertile queens overwinter in sheltered places, such as in dry, protected leaf litter, holes in walls, or in other crevices. They can freeze solid and come back to life when they thaw out (so can houseflies). The queens will start new colonies in the spring, usually in a different location than where they were born. A fertile queen can choose to lay either male or female eggs (like bees). Old nests do not get reused.
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