By Clay Riness —
For better or worse, most everyone will have an experience with hornets or wasps during their lifetime. The best of those experiences might be the discovery of a ground nest of gorgeous, golden digger wasps, a beneficial critter with little aggressive tendency. On the darker side of the list, you could just as easily have a run-in with bald-faced hornets and come away with something to remember them by; that’ll be the last time you get too close to a nest. Those little buggers will defend their home readily and let you know they mean business.
Related to the bald-faced hornet is the yellow jacket, another paper-nest-building wasp. Many an innocent lawn-mowing American has rolled over an underground nest of them and come away stung. (They’ll sometimes move into soil openings or a rodent burrow and build a nest.) As for me, I had a different experience with an above-ground colony of these mean-spirited, fun-killing little stinger-ready commies.
It is said that yellow jackets get more aggressive as the summer progresses, but they do not overwinter in our climate.
One humid August I discovered, quite by terrifying accident, that I had a huge nest under my deck, just 2 feet from and beneath my gas grill. In the days following the discovery, I pondered how in the world I would either remove them or learn to cohabitate with them until their departure in the fall. And every time I gently opened the door to the deck and set my feet upon it as ninja as I could, I felt violated … like I was being watched by a bunch of little bullies who could kill me dead at their slightest whim.
During my time spent attempting to solve the conundrum, I decided to call upon a neighbor and great friend of 30 years. I knew he would lend an ear and do just about anything to help. So, I dropped in to see him and have a conversation about the issue:
Clay: Hey, I have a little problem maybe you can help me with.
Rick: Sure. What’s up?
Clay: Well, the other day I walked out on my deck to empty the drain trap from my sink. Gave it a shake and it slipped out of my hands and fell into the herbs at the edge of the garden.
Clay: So I walk down the stairs and start digging through the green, and when I lift up my head I suddenly have about 20 yellow jackets all buzzing around my face.
Clay: Yeah! One’s trying to get me through the shirt and I give a whoop and bail into the house where I smash the little sucker before he can sting me. I go out the garage door entrance in a minute and look from a distance and there’s a huge paper hive, way bigger’n a football, under my deck about a foot in from the edge.
Clay: Yeah, so I spend the next three days on the internet researching these evil little (expletive) yellow jackets and I find out they are most aggressive this time of year and that they will move out when it gets cold. They don’t winter this far north, but the nest is like a foot from my Weber so I can’t even grill without paranoia.
Rick: No kidding!
Clay: We called an exterminator and he said, “a hundred and twenty-five bucks,” and I said, “bite me.” Nope, I ain’t paying that much for no exterminator.
Rick: (Starting to get the picture)
Clay: So then I found out that they are all in the hive at night and that’s the best time to go deal with ‘em. It’s best to do it when the temps are below 50 degrees, but that ain’t happenin’ yet.
Rick: Uh huh … (raises eyebrow) … and, uh, that’s where I come in, right?
Clay: Well, someone’s gotta hold the flashlight.
Rick: Ooookay … and …
Clay: So, I’ll hold the flashlight and …
Needless to say, I was forced to give the yellow jackets their space. They flew the coop shortly after the first frost, and I managed, believe it or not, to survive the experience without getting stung. My neighbor and I still remain great friends, in spite of his blatant cowardice.