It’s summer, time to battle the bees … or wasps … or whatever

It’s finally summer, and recently I had the chance to brush up my skills in what has to be one of Maine’s most unappreciated semi-annual rituals.

A few buzzy critters crawl around on the nest. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

I got to wage war with a nest full of bees … or wasps … or hornets … or whatever.

All I knew for sure was, they were big and buzzy, and they wanted to sting me. And they had set up housekeeping just four feet from my front door, under my open porch roof.

So I got to work. Kind of.

First, however, I realized that I had to do some research. I talked to friends (hoping one of them would volunteer to rid my abode of stinging critters). I read the internet, and although I couldn’t really tell what kind of bee-wasp-hornet these were, I did learn that the buzzy-biters in question were clearly not honeybees, which was a good thing. Honeybees, I have learned, are essential to an ecosystem, and should always be spared.

Sound like I’ve been brainwashed by the beekeepers? You might be right. Either that, or I’m still recovering from the beating I took from a bunch of bat-lovers after a past column, and I’m trying to avoid any similar treatment.

You see, a year ago, when I followed the official advice of a state wildlife agency and had my sister kill a bat so that she could have it tested for rabies, I learned that some folks (all of whom apparently correspond via the bat signal or some such device) thought I was an uncaring, uncouth jerk, and made sure to let me know that fact.

Since then, I’ve learned my lesson. Many of our critters (even the ones we don’t particularly want living among us) are critical species, and should be protected. Therefore, let me say here: I did not want to kill these buzzing beasts. I am caring. I am couth. I am not a jerk.

But this time, they made me do it.

Did I mention that the bee-wasp-hornets were just four feet from my front door?

That just couldn’t be allowed.

And it wasn’t … eventually.

After my initial consultations with friends and the Google-bee-wasp-hornet-slaying app, I walked around the yard with my wife and was promptly dive-bombed by a bunch of pesky insects. And later, when we watched out of our windows, we saw insects that looked different from the bee-wasp-hornets at the nest. They were smaller. They were bee-like. They were in a different part of the porch, and there were hundreds of them.

What if those are honeybees, I thought. I can’t kill those … and what if they decide to sneak up behind me when I’m trying to hose down the bee-wasp-hornet nest with that can of Wasp-B-Gone? Hmm.

Luckily, I knew exactly who to ask for help. I sent an email to Peter Cowin, who writes our Bee Whisperer’s Diary column, and asked if that second group of insects might be honeybees … and if they were, whether he’d want to come round ‘em up.

Cowin told me that he often fields questions like this, and said he was quite sure the smaller, bee-like insects were a kind of beetle that were immersed in their mating rituals. In a few days, he said, they’d head elsewhere.

He was right. They did.

Which left me with just the bee-wasp-hornet nest, which I was still not overly eager to attack.

In a further attempt to delay the inevitable stinging, I talked to my colleague, Aislinn Sarnacki, who for some reason (don’t ask) owns a bee suit, just like the beekeepers wear.

She agreed to loan the suit to me, so that I could minimize the potential for large-scale stinging, and that sounded great to me.

Then, over a five-day span, she kept “forgetting” to bring the bee suit to work. (I suspect she actually planned to hide in my woods and film my nest attack for a comedic addition to her blog, but I have no evidence of that).

All I know is, eventually my wife asked when I was going to get rid of our bees, and I didn’t have any excuses that I hadn’t already used a half-dozen times.

So, under cover of darkness, sans bee suit, I crept up on the nest, took careful aim with my cut-rate wasp-and-hornet eliminator (two cans, five bucks, BARGAIN!), and let loose a mighty blast.

After the can was empty, I sprinted back into the house and celebrated both my bravery and my handiwork.

The next morning, while I was on the golf course with some buddies, my phone buzzed. I checked the text.

“Your bees are back,” came the message from my wife.

If you’re married, you recognize an important, subliminal message in that text: The bees (or wasps or hornets) were no longer ours. They were mine. And that’s an important distinction that means this: I am not amused. Stop messing around, and do something.

Later that day, after an enjoyable round of golf, I took my buddies onto the porch to look at the nest, and the straggling bee-wasp-hornets that were frantically trying to rebuild their home.

“Yellowjackets,” one said. “Nasty buggers.”

“Try again tonight,” the other pal said. “You said you bought two cans.”

Yes, I did. And late that night, I gave the nest another dousing of the bargain yellowjacket eliminator.

The next morning, after seeing no evidence of life, I went to the garage, grabbed a snow shovel, and confidently scraped that nest off the door frame.

A few yellowjackets — apparently super-strong and oblivious to my efforts — flew out and began dive-bombing my head. Somewhere during my chemical assault, they seemed to have lost sight of the fact that they were supposed to be stinging insects, and instead concentrated on trying to head-butt me to death.

But still, they were there.

And that wouldn’t do.

Finally, I broke down and headed back to my local purveyor of insect-eliminating chemicals and sprung for the big gun: Non-bargain-brand yellowjacket spray. One can for five bucks.

And finally, after hosing down the nest again, I was able to toss it in a garbage bag and dispose of it.

Celebration ensued. I did a touchdown dance. I had won.

Then one of my buddies came back over to the house … and pointed out two more nests-in-progress that might need some attention.

And a few days after that, I went out to camp, and found the mother of all yellowjacket nests (I can recognize them now, which I suppose is a good thing) well within reach of a tall dog or a small child, both of which could stop by at any moment.

So, I suppose, the battle isn’t over. Not yet.

But before I get started, I’ll have to stock up on a few cans of the good stuff.

And I might end up waiting to borrow Aislinn’s bee suit.

A guy can never be too careful, I figure.
John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.