Hornet Wars


We have been unable to use our basement door for the past week.

Ground hornets aren’t new to our world. We usually find them the hard way — we are mowing or walking; transplanting or gardening and suddenly, the sharp, electric sting (often more than one) gets our attention right smartly, and we drop whatever tool or equipment we’re using and simply run, slapping the parts of our bodies under attack. Sometimes it is our dogs that are unlucky, and we note the spot they’re running from, flapping their ears insanely, and rubbing their bodies on the ground in an apparently suicidal, fit-like frenzy. We see a cloud of insects madly circling above a spot on the ground, and stay away.

September is the worst time. Possibly, the hornet nest has grown enough by autumn to have an aggressive supply of defenders. It might also be that they realize the time for their activity is short, and they’re simply ramped up to gather/produce more and more food and housing materials for the nest before hibernation (or whatever scientists call the dormant period for hornets). At this time of year, the skunks are our friends, because they come in the night, dig up the ground hornet nests, and eat everything they can find.

So, when we returned from vacation, we were surprised (but luckily, not the hard way) by noting quite a lot of activity in an old, unused compost tumbler that has resided for years and years beside our basement door. The last time we tried to tumble a combination of leaves and grass and other kitchen waste — I guess it was a year ago when we realized that the metal of the rolling container was rusting through. We didn’t really want to replace the failing panel, so the compost we’d begun to make inside just sat there. It transitioned from “fast” compost to a more traditional process.

Sometime during this slow working process, the ground hornets decided that living above the ground would be a safe neighborhood to raise their kin. The “door” of the tumbler was loosely attached, and the bees entered and exited through the rust holes, which have been aimed at the sky since we’ve neglected the machine.

With the cooling night temps and the shortening days, they, predictably, have become more aggressive. If we used the basement door — which we do a lot for chores, bicycling, and falconry — we took our lives in our hands.

Thus the war begins. We are not a household that typically uses poisons in our environment. And, we would like to use the compost in the spring for growing our food. So wasp spray is not an option.

Jack’s night maneuvers began with — well, tumbling. The crank doesn’t move the tub very far, so he’d whip a few revolutions to the drum and run back inside. Watching from the safety of the basement door’s glass with the light on, he was “attacked” by the insects, which hit the window in a futile attempt to follow the light and punish the offender.

The rising sun’s warmth would ignite furious activity, but we could see that one tumbling didn’t finish them. Stubborn hornets. Two more night-crank actions dumped the nest on the ground below the tumbler.

At this point, they were really mad.

And the attacking army (us) had to develop a different strategy.

The following several nights had Jack boiling water right before taking the dogs out (the front door, rather than the usual path past the tumbler) to their nighttime pen. Once the dogs were safely contained, he’d take the boiling water and dump it on the nest, in pieces on the ground .

That got their attention, but continues to have little effect, except maybe to kill the one or two that hits the basement door window in a suicide mission.

By now, contrary to traditional opinion, we are hoping against hope that our ally, the neighborhood skunk, will waddle past (but the dogs are just around the corner), find a tasty treat, and have at the remainder of the enemy.

It would be nice to be able to use the basement door again.

Maybe we will try an appropriately-aimed, high pressure stream of water, directed from a long series of hoses attached to reach near enough, but still keep the gunner a good distance away. Without the assistance of light, of course. Hmm. We’ll have to think about that option.