Taking the stingers out of your backyard
Wasps, hornets and bees a challenge for homeowners
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 06:00 am
Maureen Jackson didn’t have a problem with the nest of honeybees tucked under her garage eaves until they started to swarm.
Two summers ago she got a call from a neighbour warning her not to come home because the bees were swarming on her garage door.
“By the time I got home they covered the whole garage door. But I didn’t worry. I kept driving in and out anyway and eventually most of them left,” the Grandin resident said.
As far as she knows, no one was ever stung, but the bees remain to this day despite Jackson’s numerous attempts to get rid of them.
“Many of my neighbours were worried about them and so I phoned an exterminator. They asked me to describe them, which I did, but they said they would not kill them unless they were a danger because they were honeybees, and there is a shortage of honeybees,” Jackson said.
Last weekend St. Albert beekeeper Malcolm Connell finally got tough with the little critters.
Dressed in his beekeeping gear he climbed onto Jackson’s garage roof and ran a hose into the nest. Next he poured a vile-smelling substance called Bee Go into the hive.
“They don’t like it. It smells like skunk,” said Connell, adding, “They do the same thing you would do if I came into your bedroom and sprayed skunk. You’d evacuate.”
Sure enough the bees came out en masse.
“There’s probably about 10,000 of them. They are confused by the smell. That’s why they are not stinging,” said Connell.
His own nose hovered about 45 centimetres from the nest and he was coughing. The stink spread and drew Jackson’s neighbours, who came from across the street and even down the block to investigate.
Connell avoids using Bee Go for just that reason. The chemical is available at Bee Maid Co-op in Spruce Grove, to anyone wishing to rid themselves of bees, but he hates the smell.
“The smell stays on my hand and I don’t like using it. But the awkward placement of the nest, which was both inside and outside of the garage, meant it was the best option. Otherwise Maureen would have to take down the garage to get at them,” he said.
He believes the nest remained for two years because the queen never left.
“Last year we didn’t use a tube to get the Bee Go right in and the bees overwintered here,” he said.
Connell left the nest for several hours and then came back to vacuum the swarm which by then was several bees thick. Still, a week later some bees remain.
“Oh they’re still out there,” Jackson said. We co-exist. Although I know some people are scared stiff, they don’t bother me. If we didn’t get them all, Malcolm will just have to come back for them.”
Connell estimates he collected about 6,000 bees and he has already set them up in one of his hives. He hopes they will produce the honey that he will sell in farmers’ markets.
“I still don’t know if I got the queen or not until I check the hive. But the new hive will produce between 50 or 60 lbs. of honey by the end of the summer,” he said.
Honeybees are not a native Alberta species and Connell believes that most of the ones in Jackson’s garage are Italian bees.
“Most of the honeybees here are Italian Carniolan bees,” he said, adding that he collects swarms of bees when they are accessible because he wants the bees and their wild genes for his hives.
In recent years local beekeepers have had problems with drought, pesticides and also mites. But research being done by Alberta Agriculture to develop new beekeeping technologies is helping to hold the line against these problems, Connell said.
“There has been good research around the Lethbridge area and I think the honeybee health in Alberta has improved by 10 per cent over the past few years. I like to collect the wild bees because they are a source of genetic resistance. Obviously they are surviving the mites,” he said.
Connell and the bees seem to have a peaceful relationship with each other. Even after spraying Bee Go on their nests, the critters were crawling quietly on his arm.
Connell scarcely noticed.
They’re just a few hitchhikers,” he said as he gently removed the insects and let them go free.
Wasps and hornets
For 30 years Gladys Schultz has made her living by killing hornets and wasps, but she is philosophical about these insects and their place in the grander scheme of the urban yard.
“We kill everything except people,” the owner of Acme Pest Elimination said. “As for honeybees, I recommend people get a beekeeper because we need honeybees. We need wasps and hornets too. They all have a purpose and pollinate the fruit and the flowers, but you don’t need them in your yard.”
Of all the stingers, she calls wasps the most viscous because of their habit of attacking anyone who is barbecuing, drinking a pop or simply walking by their nest.
“They’ll come and attack you for no good reason. We get a lot of calls from people with wasps’ nests under their stairs. The postal carriers won’t deliver mail if there is a nest there, and I don’t blame them,” she said.
Wasps are attracted to food and some yellow jacket species are attracted to meat.
A City of Edmonton Pest Control website suggests people watch the flight patterns of the wasps to reveal the whereabouts of their nests. They usually nest in dry areas such as under steps so, if possible, early in the spring plug those areas with a piece of plastic or seal entrance cracks to your garage or attic.
Make sure garbage bins are properly closed and when cooking outside, try to keep foods covered.
It’s possible to eliminate a small nest by yourself if you can access it and squirt it with the nozzle of commercial poisons.
“Wait until dark,” Connell advised. “And act quickly. You have just seconds.”
Larger nests should be left to professional exterminators with professional equipment, especially beekeeping suits.
If nests are difficult to get at, such as in an attic, Schultz pumps a foot-tracking powdered poison as close as she can to the wasp nest.
“Then they track it into their nest and it eventually kills them,” she said.
Schultz said most people seldom bother her with concerns about bumblebees. Though they too can sting, they usually just bumble about their business and do not bother people, she said.
“There will only be 200 to 250 bumblebees in a hive. Unless there are small children, who might grab at them, usually they are not aggressive. They don’t make hives or honeycombs. They are too lazy,” she said.
Connell and Schultz had similar gut reactions to hornets.
“I hate them like hell. They are B-52 bombers, ” Connell said while Schultz labelled them as just plain mean.
“They are dive bombers. They go straight for your head,” she said.
While the City of Edmonton’s website says there are no true hornets in Edmonton, Schultz disagrees.
“They are still called a hornet in St. Albert. I don’t care what the Latin name for them is. I call them hornets and your neighbour calls them hornets. They are hornets and they are black and dangerous,” she said.
Fortunately hornets are less common in urban areas, Schultz said, but when she can, she gets rid of them in the same way as she exterminates wasps.
Schultz warned that all venomous stings can have a cumulative effect on people and everyone needs to be wary.
“Maybe you think you don’t have an allergy. But it seems the more times you are bitten the more allergic you are because the venom builds up more,” she said, adding that all stings to the neck should be attended to immediately.
“Whether you are allergic or not, if you are bitten in the neck, it will swell. Go to emergency because the swelling could block your windpipe,” she said.
Connell seems to have a special rapport with honeybees and is seldom stung. If he is, he simply removes the stinger and gets on with business. A little ice on the sting or some Calamine lotion takes care of the pain.
“But honeybees can only sting you once. Wasps and hornets can sting you repeatedly. They can be dangerous,” he said.
There’s one good bit of advice for anyone with a wasp’s nest: they won’t come back to the same nest.
“They never come back to the same nests. Sometimes we go up to an attic and see two old nests side by side. They don’t overwinter, so seal up the cracks at the end of the summer and they won’t come back,” Schultz said.