8.08.2011

Crutches, Compost and Yellow Jackets


Ants on a yellow jacket trap
“I’m on crutches,” Philip said. “While removing a colony from a roof in Petaluma, I took a fall. Would you mind helping me inspect my hives?”

Who wouldn't want to see what a real beekeeper’s hives look like? “Sure,” Charlie said.

Arriving at his house, the first thing he said was, “I have something to show you. I did a couple of yellow jacket rescues. They’re out on the compost pile.”

“You rescued yellow jackets? I would have sprayed them with Raid.”

“I don’t like releasing that kind of poison in the environment. I do it a little differently.”

“Why are you rescuing yellow jackets?”

“I get bee calls. I arrive and the bees turn out to be yellow jackets. I don’t want to say, ‘they’re yellow jackets, sorry,’ and walk away. Yellow jackets are dangerous.”

“How do you capture yellow jackets?”

“I spray them with this powder that stops them from flying. Next, I cover them with a cloth laundry-type bag, pull the drawstring and take them home, out to the compost pile. Grab the butane torch on the table and I’ll show you.”

“This ought to be good.”

On top of the compost heap is a paper nest the size of a watermelon.

“What I like to do is torch ‘em. You want to do it?”

“Of course.” Charlie, the undercover pyro, lit the torch.

“Start with the wasp nest. You’ll see the layers burn away. After that, you’ll see the comb.”

The yellow jacket nest walls are extremely thick. Even with a butane torch, it took a while to burn through. As it did, the layers of comb began to appear, like a cut-away view of a house. Everything in the yellow jacket nest is made out of paper, but a paper that’s impervious to weather. It looks like a rolled asphalt roof with one layer overlapping the next, using gravity to shed water.

The yellow jackets, of course, came flying out when their house began to burn. Charlie made sure to torch each one as they escaped, so they wouldn't survive to sting him.

Inside the comb were larvae and - thinking of how much yellow jackets were making his bees' life hard - Charlie became even more enthusiastic in the process of killing them.

Once the nest was toast, Charlie concentrated on the dirt nest also stored in the compost pile. He used the same vigor and excitement to spray each and every single one of those flying evil bee killers. They sting multiple times while bees only get one chance. It's not fair.

Soon the compost pile was scorched earth, but that didn't slow him down. Knowing yellow jackets, there could be more hiding somewhere. Charlie sprayed as if his life depended on it.

Philip, not as interested in the yellow jackets as Charlie, said,  "That's probably enough."