“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” — Obi-Wan Beenobi
I was sitting out on our deck last Thursday night, enjoying an Irish whiskey and some music on the indoor/outdoor speakers we have on the deck (the replacement amp for the outdoor music system had arrived that day), and I got stung by a wasp. This wasp seemed to be attracted to the whiskey (must’ve been Irish) and attacked my sipping hand. He died.
A while later I got up and went over to the new amp to adjust the music volume and tone controls, and another wasp stung my hand close to the first sting. A music critic! He died too.
And while I was packing up my stuff to go inside and find something for dinner, a third wasp stung me on my wrist by my watch. I don’t know if he died in the effort but I suspect he at least had a significant headache from the blow he received.
Sunday morning I was back out on the deck with my coffee and my electronic Sunday paper, listening to a pleasant Baroque internet radio station we like for mornings on the deck with coffee, and as I sat there I noticed a steady stream of wasps heading to and from the big beige storage container on the deck where we keep “deck stuff” like chair cushions and citronella candles and the grille rotisserie motor, stuff like that. I knew immediately what had happened. For the past few years we’ve hung a faux wasps’ nest out on the deck to deter wasps and hornets, and it seemed to work, but it was hard for me to decide if something like that really works; was it the faux nest, or some other unidentified condition, that kept the wasps away? Now I think I might have my proof. For whatever reason we didn’t hang a faux nest out on the deck this year.
In preparation for a night assault on the wasp nest, I scoured the house and garage looking for an aerosol can of wasp and hornet killer. All I found was a single mostly-empty can out in the garage; who knows how old it was! Stupidly, I decided that it was good enough.
It had cooled off nicely Sunday night, a pleasant reprieve from the weeks of hot and humid weather that made sleeping without AC difficult. After midnight, I quietly stepped out on the deck and opened the top and two front doors of the storage container. With my “CSI” flashlight (a small but sturdy Mini Maglite we keep in the kitchen “junk” drawer) I carefully looked around inside the container, which was mostly filled with deck cushions; four thick chair cushions for the metal deck chairs, and one old thin chaise lounge cushion on the bottom, formerly used with a PVC chaise lounge that has long since been “retired.” I could see no wasps, so I gingerly pulled out the top cushion in the pile. I saw a few faint traces of wasp paper on the 2nd cushion, but no wasps. After gingerly pulling out the second chair cushion I could see more wasp paper but still no wasps, so I pulled out the third chair cushion. There was a lot more wasp paper on the top of the fourth cushion, along with a few dozen groggy wasps. I hit them with my wasp and hornet killer, but there was a lot less in the can than I thought, and it depleted in seconds.
Thinking I had found and destroyed the nest, I pulled the fourth chair cushion out. What I had destroyed was the annex; the overflow. What was under the fourth cushion was the main nest, and I had just ripped it in half by pulling out the cushion. It was a bigger-than-a-basketball-sized nest, built between the fourth chair cushion and the chaise lounge cushion, and it was filled with hundreds of awakening and angry wasps. I retreated inside the house, but not before I got stung a half-dozen times. A dozen or more wasps managed to sneak in the door with me, and I got 3-4 more stings as I counter-attacked and killed half of them by swatting them against my chest and arms. I turned on the ceiling light and the wasps were immediately attracted to that (I didn’t know wasps were related to moths!) so I left them to their assault on the glass globe while I threw in the towel and went to bed, figuratively licking my wounds.
Unbeknownst to me, Audrey had gotten up early Monday morning to get ready for work, found the wasps still attacking the kitchen light, and killed them. When I got up I went looking for them but couldn’t find them, so I was a bit worried that they had decided to begin another nest somewhere in the kitchen. I didn’t find out about her assault on them until that night.
I stopped at a local hardware store after work Monday and picked up a couple of cans of foaming wasp and hornet killer. The foam is supposedly better because it sticks to the buggers and bogs them down so they can’t fly away. It works!
After midnight (again!) Monday, I put on an old unlined poplin jacket with a hood, zipped it up tight and tightened the hood down around my eyes to minimize exposed skin for targeting, snuck out the cellar door and up the deck stairs, positioned myself at the top of the stairs OUTSIDE the gate, turned on my CSI flashlight, leaned over the railing and emptied a whole can into the storage bin, aiming at the nest (of course). Then I ran down the stairs and around the front of the house and escaped into the safety of the house interior through the front door.
This is what it looked like this morning. Tonight I’ll pull the last cushion out, with my 2nd can of foam at the ready just in case, and tomorrow I’ll dispose of the thin lounge cushion that took most of the damage. I’ll see if I can salvage the green chair cushions. Should be able to, they don’t look too bad, unless they chewed their way inside the cushions. We’ll see.
22 August Update
The mopping-up excursions have developed into small battles, but the war has been won. I needed to dispense another can of killing foam last night as the top of the nest which had been ripped off with the removal of the fourth cushion adhered to the cushion that was tossed on the deck, so I had to “suit up” again and hit both sides of the chair cushion to dispose of the colony remnants that stuck to the cushion. This morning I stopped at the hardware store on the way to work and picked up another four cans of foam, seeing as I used my second and last can last night. Tonight I’ll hurl the cushions off the deck and onto the lawn and try to remove the last cushion from the storage container – hopefully the nest doesn’t extend under the cushion and the wasps under there – if any – are dead.
23 August Update
The battle is won, the war is over. Last night I “suited up” one last time (just in case there were any wasps still alive, but I hadn’t seen any activity for over 24 hours), resprayed the affected chair cushions, resprayed and removed the last thin cushion from the storage container, and threw all the affected cushions over the edge of the deck down onto the lawn below. Then this morning I swept the hive honeycomb “pancakes” – with hundreds of dead wasps – off the deck onto the ground and rinsed down the deckboards that had gotten sprayed, then went down in the yard and hosed down all the affected cushions, getting rid of all the wasp paper remnants. The two unaffected chair cushions are in the garage waiting to be inspected sometime soon for any damage, and the three affected cushions are now sopping wet and are propped up in the yard to dry. I lowered the lid on the storage container but left the two front doors open to let the sunlight and fresh air in. I’ll hose out the inside of the container next week and it should be as good as new.
I declare victory, though I may be suffering from PWTSD (Post-Wasp Traumatic Stress Disorder). I find that I’m having imaginary and random wasp-like sensations on various parts of my body – I will get the sudden but false sensation that a non-trivial bug (bigger than a fly or a mosquito) has just landed on my arm, or my ear, or my ankle (under my pants and socks!). The urge to swat first and look later is almost irresistable.
28 August Update
The book is closed, the case is shut, the adventure is over. After spending the weekend at the Ballot Box (and working my butt off Saturday), I put the most-affected cushions (now dried-out from their soaking wash last Thursday morning) in the garage to be brushed and inspected at a later date, took a nozzle to the garden hose and washed out the container of the remnants of the nest and dead wasps, and enjoyed the deck once again. I set up the music system, grilled myself a couple of cheeseburgers for dinner, ate some home-grown tomatoes from the Maine potted garden, sipped some Jack Daniel’s on ice, and enjoyed the evening, with not a wasp in sight! We have had sunny and warm days for over a week now, with no rain, so the cushions dried out well, but rain was in the forecast for late night – early morning, so I wanted to take care of the final cleanup steps before that.