Sunday, July 29, 2012

Visitors of the Stinging Kind

Have you ever had visitors you're not sure you welcome and yet you're undecided about whether you should drive them away?

Yesterday, I discovered a buzzing hive of activity on a low-hanging branch of my viburnum shrub.

Yes, they are hornets, aka paper wasps.

Their nest is a smooth gray orb about the size of a small cantaloupe. It hangs just three feet high on the large shrub that's smack dab next to the driveway (right side).

As recently as Friday, I mowed the front lawn and came within a few feet of that nest. Nothing happened. I could have easily jostled the lower branches. But all was well.

Yesterday, I had a young couple arrive at the house to purchase a teak cabinet I was selling on Craig's List. I suggested they transport it down my front lawn to their truck in the driveway rather than try negotiating my stairs. As they got near the truck, she brushed up against the shrub, and was quickly stung 2 or 3 times on her arm.

I have to say I was horrified. I routinely get stung once a year, usually yellow jackets nesting in the ground, when I run the lawnmower over them. In fact, I just got stung a few weeks ago. While I'm not allergic, I do swell up like a red beet for as much as a week. It's a painful sting, and it's not fun. But I've never been stung 2 or 3 times at once and I was quite concerned about her reaction, although she said she wasn't allergic.

She was a trooper for sure. She said it was no big deal, turned down my offer of Benadryl and the pair drove off with the teak cabinet. I really hope she doesn't get a delayed reaction, later.

Now I'm left wondering what to do about that hive. If I could be assured that no one would be visiting me here at home for the next three months, I'd just as soon give the hive wide berth and let it be until a hard frost takes care of them. (I'd also like to get my hands on that hive to use as an indoor decoration. It is a rather amazing creation.) This is a feasiblie option since I live alone and I could just mow "around it."

However, I am more concerned for the safety of possible visitors. I don't have many, but who knows when a UPS or FedEx delivery truck might pull up and for whatever reason, choose to exit the vehicle from the right side, as they can do. Not that I have many deliveries. I could make a point to just not order anything online until the fall.

I could put some sort of obstacle in front of the shrub by the hive to prevent people from parking or walking there. Like a wood step ladder. I have been observing the hive from a distance of about 10 feet and it appears safe as long as you're not in wasps' flight path.

This option appeals to me also because I am quite leery of trying to kill the wasps myself, yet in my underemployed state, I don't want to spend money to hire a professional to do it. I've done a lot of reading on the subject and basically have the drill down. You cover every inch of your body so that no skin is exposed. That means, in my view, a winter coat, double pants, boots, gloves, goggles and a helmet. I would need to find/borrow some goggles somewhere. (I'm sure it would be worth a photo.) You wait until dark when all the wasps are snug in bed and then, from a safe distance of 10 or 15 feet, you obliterate them with a steady stream of toxic insecticide.

Not crazy about the use of poison and I'm wary of getting stung. I did read of one woman who said that spraying Murphy's soap worked for her as it coats their wings and they cannot fly, so you can then step on them when they fall to the ground.

Umm, but that would mean getting up close and very personal if you need to step on them. At least with the insecticide spray, you can spray the poison from a safer distance. Also, wouldn't the Murphy's soap tend to clog the sprayer?

On the other hand, I have heard that hornets tend to get more aggressive as the hive gets bigger, and the "territory" they defend in the immediate area of the hive becomes larger.

I have a nice, large vegetable garden that has been largely free of insect pests. Perhaps I have the wasps to thank for that. In recent weeks, I'd also had a horrible infestation of house flies inside my house. I don't know for sure how they were getting in, but I must admit to using used kitty litter to drop down an active woodchuck burrow close to the house. I have used that method in previous years, with success, and it sure beats other methods I've read about that hurt the woodchuck or contaminate your groundwater! But that no doubt attracted flies.

I do have the cats' litter boxes in the basement, and yes, I often am lazy and leave the garage door open overnight; there's enough space for flies to crawl under the basement door that leads into the garage.

My father suggested that all it would take is one fly to get in the house and then lay eggs to create a new generation of flies buzzing around the house. But I can't help but notice the flies are completely gone.

The jury is stil out. Feel free to weigh in!

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