Sept. 2, 2021

Dealing With Neighbor's Yellowjacket Problems (037)

Beekeepers are very often asked to help friends or neighbors that have “bee” problems…. honey bees, carpenter bees, yellow jackets, hornets, bumblebees and the like. But most of us aren’t exterminators. We don’t have the tools, the...

Bald Faced Hornet NestBeekeepers are very often asked to help friends or neighbors that have “bee” problems…. honey bees, carpenter bees, yellow jackets, hornets, bumblebees and the like. But most of us aren’t exterminators. We don’t have the tools, the experience, or the time to help. But “can’t you just get rid of them for me?” lets you know they think you know how to do this… and are ‘glad to help.’

Sometimes they are your bees. A colony swarms and if you are lucky lands in a tree or bush and are easy to retrieve. Sometimes though, they head for that hole in the siding and take up residence in the wall of your neighbor’s house. What then?

What about liability? What happens if you do decide to help, climb a ladder and fall off. What then? Or you tell your neighbor what to do and they fall off the ladder?

YellojacketDo you lend them your gear? Suit, smoker, hive tool? If you do it, are you serving as an exterminator then? Practicing without a license?

But what about a dangerous situation, like a kid coming home from school and seeing for the first time that huge bald faced hornet nest? Shouldn’t you have been out there long before, just to help?

Listen today! You’ll find that it may not be as easy as just saying, “call an exterminator”.


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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

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Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 37 – Dealing With Neighbors' Yellowjacket Problems


Jim Tew: Kim, just as soon as we finish this discussion, I'm going to go over for the fourth time and see if I can do something about the yellowjackets that are in the wall of my neighbor's house. Do you ever get those requests for no other reason than you keep honeybees?

Kim Flottum: All the time. All the time. What are you going to do about it? Four times.

Jim: Well, it's because it's not working. It's so often the case, the nest is obviously not near the entrance. I thought I'd talk to you about it, get your take on this to see why I'm the guy who wears the white hat and shoot silver bullets all up and down the street here, being responsible for stinging insects. It's just my lot because I keep honeybees. I'll give it a shot. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: We're here at Honey Bee Obscura, where today we just want to review what it takes to help a neighbor when they have a stinging insect issue.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: It's like it comes with the territory, Kim. If new beekeepers are listening right now, if you've not had it happen, just hang on. It's going to come your way.

Kim: When you're the only person somebody knows who knows anything about bugs, insects, bees, stinging insects, it's too often you're the person they're going to go to for advice. They're probably going to say, "Well, can't you get rid of them for me?"

Jim: Yes.

Kim: The other problem you have, of course, is your bees swarm and they swarm and they go in your neighbor's house and then they are your bees. Well, they aren't your bees in any law, they are now their bees.

Jim: You just go straight for the throat on this discussion, don't you? That's miserable.

Kim: It is. The yellowjacket thing, though, is the one that's-- it's a lot different than having honeybees in your house for a lot of reasons. From my perspective, the first thing I think about is liability. If I go over and help that neighbor, and something happens to my neighbor when I'm doing this, my neighbor's house or me, where does the liability lie?

Jim: I'm unclear on that myself. I don't know if the laws vary from state to state or if you're a good Samaritan, I don't know, but I do want to tell you this real quickly. It was bald-faced hornets, and it was in the front yard of my neighbor's house, two houses down. They asked me to come deal with that hornet nest. So, at night I went down there and set up a 10-foot ladder and climbed 8 feet off the ground. With my wife holding a light from the ground and her main job was just to call 911-

Kim: [laughs].

Jim: -holding the light from the ground, and I put a plastic bag around that nest and clipped it and then went down the ladder. In the dark, I didn't really remember exactly how high I was, and thinking I was near the ground, I stepped off and I still had two more steps to go. Well, of course, I plopped to the ground with all my full weight upon me. Even as I smashed into the ground, my primary thought was, don't let go of that bag. It's full of angry hornets that you just rattled all over.

I fell off the ladder and I got up and I hobbled home with that bag. I don't know what to say or do other than to try to be helpful. But, you know, Kim, and I need to let you talk here about this some. There are no classes that I've ever been to at a bee meeting on bald-faced hornets and paper wasps and carpenter bees, and yet beekeepers are going to be asked about these things all the time.

Kim: The question is, what do you do? You can take a step back and you say, "I don't know anything about bald-faced hornets, and I don't want to get you in trouble and me in trouble. Call an exterminator." That's what they do for a living. You get the good ones, and they guarantee their work. If they're really good, they'll come back and finish it, if they don't do it the first time, which is why very often they don't deal with bees because they don't want to have to come back three times.

When I get that question, my first response is always, "Call an exterminator. They know what they're doing."

Jim: Now, you got me thinking about that. This is work. Right now, it's August where you and I are. It's late August. All these other insect populations are at full power, they are at peak population. Do exterminators want that work? Or, by beekeepers stepping up and being good Samaritans, are we taking work from the exterminator business? I don't know.

Kim: Well, I got to tell you, I called one today.

Jim: An exterminator?

Kim: An exterminator in my hometown here. I asked them that question. I said. "I got bees in the wall of my house, you guys do that?" He said, "What kind of bees?

Jim: Oh.

Kim: That ended that discussion. It ended for me because most people aren't going to know. They got bees in the wall of their house, and they're yellowjackets or honey bees or whatever, carpenter bees. That told me one thing, is that if you're an exterminator, you got to know what you're doing, but the people who you're going to go visit, of course, you can go out there and visit, take a look. There's a house call charge there because it's spending time on the road doing this. You're right in that there's no class. Beginning bee class, even an advanced beginning bee class does not teach you how to take a wall off a house and remove a honeybee nest with combs that are 12 feet long.

Jim: No, it does not. Now, if we're talking about removing honeybees, every one of those extractions are unique. You've got your tools. You got your bag of tricks that you use and ladders and scaffolds, but it's the same for yellowjackets and hornets. Every one of those removals are unique, too. I want to be a helpful neighbor, but I also don't really want to get involved in this. I'll always try the easy direction first, Kim. I'll say, "Can you hang on until October, November? First. second killing frost, they're going to be gone." "Well, would they come back next year, Jim?" "Probably not. Can't say that they won't for sure, but they probably won't come back the next year."

Kim, as I'm saying that, I realize, and I know that as the weather changes and it gets cooler outside and those insects pull back into the house farther, that is not uncommon. As you know, in October, all of a sudden, that a lower family room to be filled full of yellowjackets where they've come in around a light fixture or something.

Kim: Yes. The other part of that piece of advice is when you wait till October, November, there'll be gone. Then, you tell your neighbor, your 73-year-old neighbor to get up on the roof and fill in the entrance that they're getting in alongside the chimney there or on a window jamb. He may know somebody that can do that, but will they do it right? Will they do it correctly? You got a 73-year-old neighbor up on a roof, and that's a bad story waiting to happen.

Jim: You're kind of gloomy about this whole thing. It just keeps coming to an untoward end.


Kim: Yes.

Jim: But you are right. I'm telling you, beekeepers, if you're listening, this stuff comes to you. You don't go out and look for it, it comes to you.

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Jim: Kim, I had a guy ask me. He said, "I'll take care of it myself, but can I borrow some of your bee gear to protect myself while I do this?" He kept it from about August-- this was four years ago. He kept it from August until the first of December. Now, there's a twist. Okay, I don't have to do the work, but I must provide the protective gear. Well, did you call him up and say, "Can I get my bee suit back?”  Those things are kind of pricey." So, there's a twist that, "If you don't help, can I use your protective gear when I take this project on?"

Kim: I'd never thought of that. Somebody comes and asks me, I say, "There's my bee suit. I'll be over the day after tomorrow to pick it up." I'll go back again to the liability issue and the legal ramifications. Are you practicing extermination without a license when you do this? Are you taking business away from the exterminating companies in your town? If you get injured, the homeowner gets injured, you do damage to the house? Is his or her homeowner's insurance payer, does their insurance company sue you because you did it on their property? There's a whole bunch of legal things I don't have any answers for.

Jim: All of those things, every one of those things are spot on, but it's your neighbor. They're right next door and they didn't complain about me keeping honey bees and they're asking for help. Everything you said is in and on my mind when you say, "Well, let me see what I can do. Can't wait till October, can you, when they die on their own?”  Let's just move that table on your deck and see if you can still eat outside and not sit in the flight path. Don't even, Kim, get started on carpenter bees. They've already come and gone. It's like this 'Beekeepers Assistance Program' is at various seasons.

The carpenter bee season is gone now, but I got the same calls about carpenter bees and what to do about those things. I tell people, not rudely, "It's easier to replace boards than it is to try to kill those things one by one by one.”  You know, Kim, if somebody calls us up and burns us about talking about killing, killing, killing? This is not me. I'm not promoting that. People are asking me to go kill all these insects. I don't feel good about climbing up a ladder and killing a really beautiful bald-faced hornets' nest for no other reason that the leaves are dropped and it's visible now and the neighbor is agitated. It's a dirty job. It's a dirty job.

Kim: The other side of that, of course, is that there is a real or perceived danger. A bald-faced hornet disturbed by a seven-year-old coming home from school one day, sees it now, can see it, like you said, because the leaves are down, chucks a rock and hits it.

Jim: Good point.

Kim: Suddenly, you got a--

Jim: I would do that. If I were a kid, I'd definitely throw a stone at it. That's why that thing's hanging there.

Kim: Exactly. You've got that issue, too. Can you leave it there? I'll go back to calling an exterminator. They're the people that are good at this. There are beekeepers that are good at this. When I was editor, we did a book by Cindy Bee on removing bees from houses. She was really good at it, but she was a trained professional. I'm not, your homeowner is not, and you've got a potentially life-threatening situation in your hands.

Jim: Like I said before, everything you say, I agree with. The thing where I think where we drift apart, is that you seem to be more severe, that you say, "Call an exterminator." I'd probably say, "I'll try one time and then you probably should call it an exterminator." Then, when you try one time, Kim, they'll call back and say, "Well, you knocked them down for a while, but now they're coming back." Then, you say, "Let me try one more time, and then you ought to call an exterminator." Then, you'd just get in deeper and deeper and deeper. Then, there's the, "Well, this stuff's really leaving a mess on the side of my house.”  “Is that going to wash off when the rain comes?"  I don't know, I don't know. Then, in the meantime, the yellowjackets are still flying, or the carpenter bees.

I had bumblebees, Kim. I had a neighbor call about bumblebees. I've had neighbors call about every common and stinging insect species there is. I went over to have a look - true story shortened. As I was standing there, ka-thump. I felt this thing about the size of a hummingbird land on the back of my arm and this nice, beautiful bumblebee land and crawl right down to my watch and then stung me. That was the last bumble bee sting that I've had in quite a while and it really, really hurt. Then, you've got to face the neighbor and you've got to be cool while you're in agony with this big stinger from this much bigger insect and you got to be cool, "Oh, that doesn't hurt at all! No, I'm fine."

Everything you were saying, I'm standing there and look at those bees and I'm stung while I was doing it. If I'd had a reaction, what a mess we would all have been in. If she had been stung, my neighbor, as I was standing there, would I have been responsible for--? I don't know.

Kim: I think we've got more questions than answers on this right now. There may be somebody out there listening that's got more answers than we have to this. So, if you've got some experience with this that's both legal and ethical and practical, let us know because we lost a lot of people hanging here. What do you do?

Jim: Kim's right. For all of you listening, Kim's right. This is a risky situation, but those of you listening, I'm not wrong either. It's the neighborly thing to do to try to help out another neighbor. People, where is the line? I don't know, it moves. Depending on the situation, it moves. So, I'm going to go over for the fourth time, and this time, I really do have to say, If I don't get them this time, I don't even want to kill them. They're going to die an awful death, but one more time and then my good neighbor policy is come to an end."

Kim: Yes, call the exterminator.

Jim: I want to talk again next Thursday on something not quite as bleak.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: I don't know what it'll be yet, but I'm sure we'll come up with something, something timely.

Kim: All right.

Jim: Everybody that listens in, I appreciate it. If you're so inclined, please consider subscribing, it makes our funding supporters feel better about what we're trying to do here. Thanks for listening. Kim, I'll see you next Thursday, if you're okay with all this.

Kim: I'm okay with all that. We'll see you then.

Jim: All right. Bye-bye.

[00:16:58] [END OF AUDIO]