Friday, August 31, 2012

Bzzzzzzzzy Summer

It's  hard to believe August is just about over, isn't it?  We've had a long, hot, bizarre summer to be sure, but I'll miss it.  I don't know what Chinese Year this is, but around here, it was the Summer of the Yellow Jackets.  We've been overrun with the black and yellow-striped menaces in record numbers.  There are several hives under the eaves of all the buildings and three ground nests near Carl's shed.

On Monday night, Carl thought he could discourage the ground nesters with cold water from the garden hose flooding their hive.  Apparently they don't take kindly to such treatment and as a result, Carl sustained two stings to his right arm.  His hand and forearm swelled to amazing proportions over the course of a few days, but he's ok.  The water treatment didn't bother them much; the pests are still there, carrying on with business as usual.  (I would have taken a picture of the offenders, but I'm sure you all know what they look like.  And I don't like getting stung.)   

As long as the hives or nests or whatever you call them are outdoors, we usually avoid the areas if we can and let nature take its course.  We know  wasps are good at keeping other bugs under control, and are beneficial, but they can also be dangerous.

Earlier this month, my mother, the Elusive Lucille, called me with alarming news.

"I think I have a problem," she said.  "There are hornets in my kitchen and I've been killing them left and right with a fly swatter.  Just this morning I swatted thirty-three of 'em.  They're nasty and their stings really hurt."

Stings? Oh, dear.  That's not good.

"How many times were you stung?  And are they attacking you?"  I asked.

"Twice, so far, and I got stung when I went to pick up their dead bodies to put in my jar."

(No, she's not a hoarder of dead varmint carcasses, she just wanted to have proof of her prowess at Wasp Hunting.)

"Mom, don't touch them with your bare hands!"  I hollered into the phone. "I'll be right there."

"What's the difference if I squish them by hand? I want to make sure they're dead, darn it.  They make me so mad!" Mom said.

 Don't mess with my mother, she may be 92 and tiny, but she wields a mean fly swatter.  And a .22 rifle, too, but not in the house.   Bullets are hard on plaster. 

The doggies and I dashed up to Mom's and, armed with a spare swatter, I helped her do battle with another twenty or so which were buzzing all over her kitchen and living room.  By the time we were done she had a pint jar full of squished carcasses.   Mom's house is almost 100 years old, so there are many nooks and crannies the Winged Nuisances can get into.  I went outside and saw three different areas of her house with wasps flying in and out of the soffits up near the roof-line on the second story and a corner of the vinyl siding. 

The River Bed early this morning from the Throne Room.  (The bathroom!)
Time to call in a professional.  Carl didn't even balk at my suggesting such a thing, either, which is amazing since he's usually a DIY kinda guy.  But if we can't clear out a mere ground nest, how do you get them out of a house?

 When Joel heard about the dilemma he stopped in and saw a bee emerge from behind the trim of the door to Mom's front porch. We placed a big piece of packing tape over the hole on the inside of the living room which greatly slowed down the traffic inside the house, thank goodness.  The outside of her house and interior walls were still buzzing, though.

We had to wait a few days for the exterminator to show up because he was so busy.   He apologized for the wait and said he'd never had a year like this one for yellow jacket infestations.   He also told me to make sure Mom wore her shoes in the house at all times and to look carefully before sitting down, because the hornets dehydrate very quickly once they are inside and fall to the floor and/or furniture.  And as Mom found out the hard way, they can sting very effectively even when they're mortally wounded.

When he arrived two days later, he hooked up hoses to an air compressor in the back of his pickup and, armed with long extension pipes and a flexible fitting on the end, he was able to stand back a good 20' and blow garden dust into the entrances of the nests.  The man had nerves of steel, he wasn't wearing any special protective clothing and was very, very calm.  I, on the other hand, was standing far, Far away from the action.  The whole operation took him under 20 minutes and though there was still a steady stream of buzzing wasps returning to the nest, he said in a few hours, they'd be dead.  He was right.  That was the end of them.  

In retrospect, is the dust safe for humans?  Probably not, but when hornets are getting into your house, I don't know what else we could have done.  Mom was a whole lot happier.  And safer.  There was no visible garden dust inside the house.

When I gave her the all-clear, she came out with her pint jar of victims to show the exterminator.  He was impressed and said he was glad she didn't get hurt any worse.  While he was packing up his equipment he told me a chilling story. 

Back in July, an elderly man had hired a landscaper to cut some trees down on a wooded area of his property.  The landscaper cleared some brush and cut a few trees down and then the owner decided to wait and see if he wanted any more removed after he did some mowing.  The landscaper agreed to check back in a few days.

Since  some of the brush was cleared, the next day the elderly landowner managed to get on his riding lawnmower using his walker for support.  He was busily mowing the new area when the lawnmower's deck got caught on a small stump and stalled the machine. 

This would have been bad news all by itself, because the poor man had no way to get back to his walker and was trapped on his lawnmower.  But the additional horror was this:

His lawnmower was stuck directly on top of a ground-nest of Yellow Jackets. 

The poor man was swarmed by the wasps and they stung him over 150 times on his head and face alone.   He was unable to get off the lawn mower and get away and would have faced certain death.   (Gives me the chills just thinking of it.) 

Luckily, the landscaper was on his way home from work and decided to check back a little earlier than they had originally agreed to.  When he went to the door, he heard screams and yelling in the back yard and found the poor guy being attacked.  Somehow he managed to drag him to safety and the victim was taken to the hospital where he stayed for over two weeks recovering. 

The exterminator said he was called in to deal with the huge nest and talked to the gentleman.  He said it was over three weeks since the attack and the poor man still couldn't wear his false teeth because his facial swelling hadn't subsided completely yet.  I cannot imagine being stung so many times, can you?

So that leads me back to the next bzzzzzzzzzzy problem here.  Carl and I are now ready to go back to work on mortaring Aaargh but guess what?  We have two nests of Yellow Jackets who have taken up residence under some of the rocks to be mortared in.  Carl didn't think it was a big deal; he simply knocked the nest off the rocks and vacated the area until the swarm left.  But they didn't leave.  I walked past Aaargh this morning while watering flower pots and could hear the buzzing from a good 20' away.  
October 2011

Maybe Castle Aaargh will end up being a ruin after all?

It's going to the bees.



Sue said...

Your mom sounds like just the neatest lady. And a daredevil. You better keep an eye on her!-LOL!

It's been a terrible year for the ground hornets--I have yet another huge nest right dead center of my raspberry patch. We've dug them out before--after it freezes in November and the clever buggers are never right below where you see them go in---it curves off to the side. The nest we dug up was over 1 foot across. I haven't been stung this year, but last year was bad.
I read that in DRY years they thrive. And this year was just that.Be very careful out there. And tell Carl to put away the hose!

Gatsbys Gardens said...

We have had problems this year also. I was stung on my ring finger, took my ring off right away, luckily because my hand got as big as a baseball mit.

My daughter disturbed a nest while gardening and got stung ten times. We have been using the hornet and wasp spray, goes about twenty feet, and does a great job getting rid of them. You spray at dusk. It is difficult to garden when they have all of their little hiding places like the bird houses!


FlowerLady said...

Your Mom is such a wonderful character. She inspires me to keep on keeping on. I'm glad she didn't get stung any more than she did and Carl either for that matter.

Your blooms are oh so lovely. I need more color, have way too much green.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

FlowerLady Lorraine

Nadezda said...

Karen, your mother is a brave old lady!
she was not afraid to deal with wasps.
Everything you told is terrible and probably because of this summer, it was very hot in your country.

Junebug said...

Go Grannie Go! I can only hope I'm that spunky in my nineties! I don't want to get stung so I don't think I would be that brave. I'd be running for the hills!

Good Luck with the Castle. Hopefully the weather cools a little and you can have some nice evenings to work.

Take care and have a great Labor Day weekend!

Karen said...

Sue, I was afraid the nest would curve off to one side; they are very clever buggers, aren't they? I'm not sure what our next step will be, but I know we'll step carefully, lol. Have a great weekend!

Eileen, we'll give the spray a try, I hope it works. The problem is, as Sue said, they go down and over quite a bit. The exterminator guy used Carbaryl. I guess that's the next thing on our to-do list. I'm glad you weren't stung any more. It is so painful.

Lorraine, yes, Mom is truly exceptional for her age. She's so spunky. We're going to have to evict the Aaargh dwellers, this means war! ;-)

Hi Nadezda! Yes, you're right, the exterminator guy said because of our hot and exceptionally dry spring and summer the wasps are thriving in record numbers. I'm hoping for a very cold and snowy winter to slow all the insects down a bit. And my mother is a very feisty 92 year old, I wish I could keep up with her.

Junebug, I know, I told her she should come to stay with us until we had the varmints out of the house, but nothing doing. She was staying put and vowed to fight til the end, lol.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Alison said...

Oh man what a summer you've had! We don't have a lot of stinging bugs here, but we did have a wasp's nest on our shed recently which got taken off with a power-washer. They came right back and started to rebuild! So I gave them a big blast at dusk with some of that stuff that sprays from over 20 feet away. I've only ever been stung by a poor little honeybee, never a wasp or hornet. I hate those things, they scare the pants off me.

Your mom is such a character! I would have run screaming down to your house, not stood there killing them with a flyswatter.

Crap! I sure hope Castle Aaargh isn't permanently infested.

I was so pleased to see your visit to my blog! Thanks for posting a comment. You are missed.

My Garden Diaries said...

Holy Cow! Your mom sounds amazing! Thanks for the mid day chuckle! I can just picture her going after them! The story about the elderly man is horrific! What a blessing that the landscaper popped in. Your garden looks beautiful!

Jennifer said...

I love your description of your Mum and her fly swatting skills, Karen! I have a dread fear of wasps having been stung many times over the years. Each time my reaction gets worse. I end up with a big rash, swelling and of course pain. It horrifies me to think of a house filled with them. Your Mum is so plucky and brave. I am glad that you were able to get rid of them out of her house. I hope they vacate Castle Aaargh soon!

Indie said...

Wow, your mother is one tough lady! I hope you can get rid of some of those wasps so they don't interfere with your gardening and work on the castle. I would be terrified of something going wrong in the yard and being swarmed, especially after hearing a story like that one about the elderly gentleman! I can't even imagine.

Zoey said...

I am amazed at how many of those hornets our mom killed! So glad to hear she is now safe and sound.

I will now be on the look out for them.

I hope the Aaargh dwellers vacate soon.

Beth said...

The river bed is gorgeous, Karen. So glad your mother is okay. Have a great wknd!

HolleyGarden said...

What a scary story about the gentleman that got stung so many times! So glad your mother is fine, and that you got her problem taken care of. I hate yellowjackets because they seem to sting without provocation, unlike most other things. I had some ground bees of some kind that were near the house. I ended up putting clumping cat litter down the hole (and then running water on top), and that stopped them. It was amazing how much litter I had to use, though! I hope Carl's stings as well as your mother's get better soon. The pictures of your garden are beautiful.

kate maryon said...

I can not imagine the pain of being stung that many times and not being able to get away! I never even thought about them when I was cleaning out that spot in my garden. Thanks for the heads up!
Your mom sounds truely amazing.

kate maryon said...

I love how your "river" turned out this year.