Gardening Columnist Maggie L. Moor-Orth gives tips on how to keep your firewood pest-free so pesky insects don't get in the front door.

November is here and we all have to face the facts that colder temperatures are demanding that we turn on our home heating systems or light our woodstoves and/or fireplaces. At our house, we have had our cut firewood stacked by the hedgerow since spring. Who knows what will crawl out of it when it is warmed by indoor temperatures!

If you also bring in wood to burn in your fireplace or woodstove, you may have noticed a few insects emerging from the wood. They are living in wood or just under the bark where they are over-wintering. As the split wood becomes room temperature, insects are fooled into thinking it is spring. These nuisance insects include wasp carpenter ants, wood roaches, earwigs, powderpost, long-horned and bark beetles. The occasional wasp that is found creeping from or near the stacked wood can be easily killed using a fly swatter or an indoor flying insect spray.

Carpenter ants are predominately black colored and vary in size (from ¼ inch to ¾ inch); they have a very narrow waist. They tunnel into diseased moist wood — for example, an old stump, fence post or large pieces of wood (like stacked firewood) — in order to increase their nest size. They are nocturnal creatures, and if seen during the day, they are searching for food or water.

Powderpost, long-horned and bark beetles are usually wood boring while in the larval stage. They live in fresh cut logs or living trees they do not infest dead trees or dry wood. Adults usually enter through the bark crevices, a wound or scar on the tree. You may notice sawdust accumulated around the holes or found on the ground just below small holes in the wood.  Powderpost beetles feed only on dead wood. They are brought into the home on infested wood. Adult female beetles lay their eggs in unfinished wood. The hatched larvae or grub tunnel through the wood.

Long-horned beetle larvae are whitish and legless, and can be seen crawling around on stacked firewood. The adults are bullet shaped with long antennae. Adult bark beetles, tunnel directly through the bark to the cell tissue leaving a very characteristic gallery or tunnel. The beetle larvae hatch and feed away from the galleries. Favorite living environments for wood roaches are compost, old plant debris, and piles of wood. They are scavengers and eat decaying plant and animal matter. 

Wood roaches are brown colored and only reproduce outdoors. Earwigs are reddish brown colored and a half to one inch long. They have pincher-like forceps (called cerci) at their posterior end. The adults have wings, but do not fly. They, too, are harmless and cannot reproduce indoors. They prefer high moisture conditions and feed on living and dead insects, mosses, lichens and algae found on wood. To manage these pests in the firewood, keep in mind the following practices:

n The sooner the firewood is split, the quicker it dries.

n Cut living trees in autumn or early spring when insects are in the over wintering or inactive stage.

n If possible, keep wood off the ground and covered (without covering, it is likely to become infested).  Dry wood is less attractive to pests of firewood.

n Unseasoned wood should not be stored in basements or garages.

n Never spray firewood with an insecticide that is going to be burned during the current season with an insecticide.

There is nothing warmer and more relaxing than a wood fire in your woodstove or fireplace on a cold winter day or night. Do not let a few nuisance insects keep you from enjoying this comfort.

Small Farms Tip:

On Dec. 12 and 13, the Small Farms Program at Delaware State University will be hosting a Profiting From a Few Acres Conference at the Dover Sheraton. Whether you have 1 acre or 1,000 acres this may be a conference for you. There will be sessions on Alternative Uses for Ag Buildings, Opportunities with Dairy Goats, Profiting through Game Birds, Agriculture as a Source of Entertainment, New Beginning Farm Purchase Program, Organic & No-Chemical Weed Control, Building Your Own Web Site, Season Extension and Marketing Alternatives for Animal Fibers, just to name a few. The cost for this two-day conference is $25 and includes lunch on both days. Scholarships are available to waive or reduce the registration fee. For more information or to register call 302-857-6462.