My husband, Will, keeps our house locked up like Fort Knox! Even when I step out to get the mail, I am locked out and have to scream, “Open the darned door!” Although this inconvenience drives me absolutely bonkers, he is not without good reason. We have learned from experience that anything can happen, and it usually does.
It was during one of those hot dry summers a few years back, when we realized we had a real problem. We keep our firewood under our breezeway along with a tinder box, which is an old orange crate. That spot doubles as our picnic area, where we can sit and enjoy a breeze, safe from the elements. We started noticing yellow jackets buzzing all around our deck above, gnawing on the wood rails. One would attack us and sting for no reason. So we got a can of hornet and wasp spray and started to pick them off, one by one.
I noticed they were making holes in the ground, right in our stone, and I watched their comings and goings for a day or two, spraying the holes at night when it is cool and they are inactive. But their numbers were increasing; just when I thought I'd gotten them all, there were always reinforcements! Then I saw they were buzzing in and around the tinder box, so I sprayed that too. That really ticked them off and I left the rest to Will to take care of, since this was beyond my playing around with.
When he saw how many there were he knew he had to get that box out from under the breezeway. He took a long boat hook, snagged the edge, and started dragging it out, while running away from the house. This really set them off and they followed him and stung him repeatedly. This problem was bigger than we could handle and we called an exterminator.
A very nice fellow came to the house, donned his bee garb, and set out to see what was happening. First he sprayed the box, now sitting in the middle of the yard, and when it was safe he had us come and take a look. We were amazed to see a nest under the top layers of the twigs, about 2 feet long and almost a foot high. They had made what looked like a paper mache blob using ALL of the wood in the box! The exterminator said he should do an extended inspection and found three more nests. The pests had made a nest under the eaves, another one under the shingles just above the foundation, and a huge one behind the chimney. This was a grueling task even for him. When he finished I handed him a drink of water and we all stood out in the backyard huffing and puffing, after this unbelievable experience.
It was just then that we heard a woman screaming. We all looked at each other, confused. The screaming got louder and more frantic, and we realized there was somebody running through our house screaming: “HELP! HELP! HELP!” She had let herself in through our front door.
We came in through the kitchen to see this woman out of her mind, screaming and waving her arms. All she could say was “Help!” While Will was trying to catch her, I looked out the front door and there was a van with a man in it, parked across the driveway with the engine idling. Well, the first thought that came to mind was that she was trying to get away from him. What if he had a gun! Now I was terrorized!
She spoke no English and was pointing us toward the van, and screaming in what sounded like Russian. She tried pulling me with her toward the van, but I had my heels dug in. Then the man was screaming help and we realized that they were in trouble.
This was the biggest coincidence I have ever in my lifetime experienced. We went with her to the vehicle, and they were both crying and pointing to something in the back of the van. As he swung open the door, there lying on the floor was a dog in shock, apparently dying. Through sign language and limited English, they were able to tell us that the dog was attacked by a swarm of bees and that they were lost and could not find a veterinarian. We directed them with a drawn map to Gretna Road in Pleasant Valley.
Even as I recall this and retell it here in writing, I am still saying “WHEW!” We found out later that the dog survived. If that was our precious dog, we probably would have been just as frantic.
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There is a big difference between yellow jackets and bees. Yellow jackets are a part of the hornet family. They are ruthless, have a long memory, and will chase you farther than bees do. They prefer hot dry weather for chewing dried wood. I do have a fondness for honey bees. They are actually kind of cute. I am happy to have them buzzing about my flowers and I can get close, or just go about my business, without being stung. It takes a lot to rile a swarm of honey bees.
I am surprised to see so many in our area, since we have read they are on the decline and deserting their hives. This situation puts our entire food chain in serious jeopardy. Not only do bees pollinate fruit and vegetables, but also various grains or grasses needed to feed livestock. We are encouraged to grow more flowering plants and trees to help them thrive. I can go along with the cell phone theory that the frequencies are throwing them off. Well, we have terrible cell phone service here in the Hollow, so just maybe there is something to it. Without honey bees, there could be a total collapse of all human society through a global famine.
Just this Spring I spotted hive activity under the porch of our house and thought, “Uh oh!” Then I realized they were honey bees. I decided I'd watch them for a few days and then call Hummingbird Ranch up the street to come and get them. Hummingbird Ranch makes great local honey and they have signs about town, to call them to come and get honey bees from your yard. It is nice to know that they are nearby. But my bees were gone as mysteriously as they had appeared. I hope they found their way home.
Last year a teeny-tiny little bee that was red (and under a half inch long), landed on my finger while I was cutting flowers. I looked at it for a second, astounded. I had never seen a red bee before. Zap! It stung me and I swiped it off, cussing. Don't you know it hurt for months and months, and I have a scar on my finger that looks like a burn. I never found out what it was that stung me. And I have seen that insect only once again.
Last night on PBS they did a piece about bees. In an experiment a beekeeper tried to instigate a hive of honey bees to chase him. He banged against the building near their hole. It took a lot to incite them and when they finally gave chase, he measured how far he had to walk before they gave up. It was 100 feet. Then he did the same experiment on killer bees that are slowly but surely making their way north. This was in Arizona. It did not take much for these bees to chase him and he measured 1100 feet!
Bees actually do have a memory and some last longer than others. There are African bees that have a memory that lasts for about 8 hours!
It is always good to wear white when dealing with bees and hornets. Spray nests when it is nighttime. It has been suggested to put a trash bag near the hole you are spraying and let them swarm into that. But it may be better to leave the task up to a professional. I can't recall who the gentleman was that came to our house and he never sent us a bill.
I think he was too 'stunned'.
Pat Laine is an 8 year resident of Clinton. She owns and operates Little Creek Therapeutic Massage. She shares her home with her husband and their Maine Coon cat and collie dog. Whether walking in the woods, or from their vantage point overlooking Little Wappingers Creek and its environs, they observe the miracles of wildlife and plant life on a daily basis.