Stirring Up A Hornet's Nest


September 29, 1990|By Rob Kasper

Rather than rush headlong into a household project, I like to put it "under study."

That is what I have done with the "bee wall." This is a brick wall, four flights up, that bees have invaded. Actually I think the invaders are hornets -- yellow jackets -- not honeybees. I am working on making a positive identification. They don't take kindly to folks who come calling.

I discovered them on a golden weekend afternoon when, as is the custom of homeowners, I was conducting my annual state-of-the-roof inspection. I got there by climbing a fire escape that hangs on the back of our house. There I was, about 40 feet up, basking in the aroma of roofing tar, when suddenly I had visitors. Little yellow visitors. They buzzed around me and generally behaved in a way that did not make me feel welcome.

I wasn't going to be intimidated. This was, after all, my house, my roof, my fire escape. I stood my ground, for about two minutes. Then I scurried down the fire escape. This was, after all, my body, and hornet stings hurt.

During my two minutes of valor I was able to determine that the hornets were crawling into a wall, in the space between the bricks where old mortar had fallen out. I was also able to surmise that, happily, the wall did not belong to me. It was the wall of a neighboring condominium. However the wall adjoined my house and was a few feet from my kids' bedroom window. And judging by my two-minute encounter with them, these hornets did not appear to be the kind of critters that respected property lines.

Back on ground level, I recalled reading in a bee book that at nightfall these guys go back to the hive. There after a hard day of prowling around soda cans and terrorizing home owners, they relax.

So when the sun went down, I grabbed one of my neighbors, Brooks Bosley, hauled out my newly fixed flashlight and together we climbed up the fire escape for a little nighttime reconnaissance.

I got news for the bee-book authors. Hornets may not go out a night, and the majority of them may be back in their hive stretched out on their bee-size Barcaloungers. But they have doormen. Big angry types, who guard the door to the hive and don't take kindly to having lights flashed in their eyes.

Again I was not about to be intimated. But again I did not want to get stung. So I stood my ground, this time for about four minutes before hurrying down the fire escape.

Together my neighbor and I worked out a bold hornet-hole assault plan. First my neighbor would call a meeting. Secondly, I would call somebody who knew something about bees. The meeting was to tell other people in the condo about their new residents. The phones calls I made, to a guy at a garden store and to a bee expert, helped me shape the plan of attack.

The bee expert, Edgar Mumford of Anne Arundel County, told me bluntly that if the critters weren't honeybees, they weren't worth saving. Mumford knows bees; for most of his 92 years, he kept honeybee hives. When I described the bright yellow markings of the varmints who had moved into the wall, Mumford said they were hornets, which don't make honey. And he said the best time to attack them is night, when they are all in the hive.

The guy at the garden store also suggested I strike under the cloak of darkness. Together the garden store guy and I ruled out an aerosol attack. Hitting the hornet hole with aerosol spray would mean I would have to clamber around a slanted roof in the dark, about 40 feet above the ground. In this maneuver, the odds would favor the hornets.

So instead I drew up Project Garden Hose, a six-part operation. First, I get a hose sprayer, sold at garden stores, and fill it with insecticide. Secondly, I screw the sprayer onto the hose. Third, I snake the sprayer and hose up the fire escape. Fourth, aiming the sprayer at the wall, I tie the sprayer down to the fire escape. Fifth, I retreat to ground level and turn on the water. Sixth, from a safe distance of 40 feet I observe the sprayer attacking the wall, and the hornets attacking the sprayer.

If Project Garden Hose doesn't work, I have a backup plan for destruction of the hornets.

It is called waiting for winter.

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