Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Head of Household.

Posted on | September 10, 2014 | 3 Comments

The yellow jackets have lost their minds.  With the insects and nectar that they usually feed upon beginning to dwindle, they are hungry and irritable.  In addition, their colonies have had the entire summer to expand into huge hives hidden underground or in leaf debris.  Although the worker bees may not realize only the inseminated queen will survive the winter, they sure act as if their days are numbered and they are going to take as many humans down with them that they can.

I hit the first nest with the lawnmower in the front yard.  Luckily, I was casually pushing the mower, ran over the nest, and kept going.  Clueless.  It was only when I finished that row of grass and turned to start the next row that I looked back and saw a huge swarm of yellow jackets, angrily buzzing in my wake.  Either I ran directly over the nest or close enough to it that I had triggered the attack.  But since I moved away slowly (mowing the lawn in full sun and high humidity is not a game of speed), the yellow jackets seemed confused about my role in the drama.  Swift movements attract yellow jackets exiting the nest in defense because even bees know that only guilty people run.  Being a slow-moving, nonchalant, blob about 20 feet away was less suspicious.  Which goes to show that ignorance is a defense on occasion.

The second nest was a bit more problematic.

I staggered out of bed after night shift to find Pretty and her friend rushing inside, slamming cabinet doors, and babbling excitedly.  I wasn’t going to ask what happened before I had a cup of tea, but they quickly told me that they had run into a bunch of yellow jackets and been stung multiple times.

“How many times?”  I asked.

“Oh, like 10, no 13, maybe more!”

Now I was awake.

“What?  Where?”  Then, “Oh, jeez, you’re not allergic to bee stings, right?”  I asked Pretty’s friend.

She assured me that she wasn’t and the girls went on to tell me that they had been up on the barn roof.  They started kicking off the piles of leaf debris from last fall.  Of course, they hit a yellow jacket nest and were swarmed by the bees.  Pretty managed to climb back down the ladder off the roof and fled into the woods.  Her friend just jumped off the roof and ran through the back yard.  Apparently they spent some time tearing off pieces of clothing and shaking out their hair to free trapped bees before stumbling into the house looking for anti-itch cream.  Sure enough, their hands and arms, legs and knees, necks and faces were covered with angry red blotches.

There was so much wrong with this news that it was staggering.  First of all, there’s no reason to climb onto the barn roof for fun.  To check and see if downed limbs tore a hole in the tin roof, of course.  To retrieve baseballs and frisbees, sure.  To knock down roosting guineas that get picked off each night by owls, fine.  To get the best close up pictures of the fall leaf color, yes.  But to play on the barn roof with a friend, while the adult in charge is sleeping, just to kick off leaves was alarming.  Pretty would later point out that she’s never been told not to play on the barn roof with a friend while the parent in charge is sleeping just to kick off leaves.  Ignorance was not a defense in that situation.

In any case, the girls were fine and that left me with the difficult job of explaining to the parent of Pretty’s friend why her child was returning home covered in yellow jacket stings.  I tried to role play the conversation in my head.  But it seemed more like those annoying eye exams at the optometrist’s office where you can’t really tell the difference between the clear choice and the blurry one.

Is this better?

“Well, I was home but I had no idea they were playing on the barn roof because I wasn’t supervising….”

Or worse?

“I didn’t know they were on the barn roof because I was sleeping.  In the middle of the day….”


“She doesn’t appear to be having any reaction but she did get stung, um,  maybe,…like  15 times”

Or worse?

“She got stung but she managed to get away by, um,  uh….jumping off the roof.”

Just like in the eye exam, it’s unclear which is option is best.  So I tried to feel out exactly how uncomfortable the conversation was going to be.

“Have you ever been stung a bunch of times before?”  I asked her.

“Oh, sure,”  she replied.  And went on to explain how they had a yellow jacket nest under their deck.  They were considering pouring gasoline on it and lighting it on fire, but were worried it was too close to the house for that.  Also she was pretty sure there was a remedy in her family for bee stings that involved putting a lit cigarette on the sting.

Thank God.  Country people.

Country people don’t get worked up over yellow jacket stings.  Even 15 of them.  And being country people ourselves, I’d heard that bit about the cigarettes.  Although I thought it was light a cigarette, put it out, then try to squeeze some of the tobacco juice out of the cigarette onto the sting.  Since we didn’t have any cigarettes, we settled on using Benadryl itch stopping cream instead.  Which seemed like the better choice, clear as day.

Once Pretty’s friend was safely home, that left The Other Half with an even more difficult job.  He was in charge of killing those yellow jackets.  Oh, it’s true the nest would have died back this winter.  But when I went out to the barn to milk the next morning, I got stung 3 times by yellow jackets that came through the hardware cloth section of the roof into the barn.  When I recovered and sneaked out 15 minutes later (because someone had to free Vanessa from the milk stand where I had abandoned her and there was no one else home to do it), I could see a part of the hive sitting on the hardware cloth, right next to the tin roof, while yellow jackets buzzed around angrily, repairing the damage. Either the girls had kicked part of the nest to a new location, closer to barn access and the milk stand, or the bees were so pissed that they were willing to attack us now just for entering their territory.  Either way, they had to go.

I bought cans of wasp spray for The Other Half (because no one should have to fight yellow jackets without any assistance at all) and suggested he start by spraying the exposed nest from underneath the hardware cloth after dark.  It was risky because the bees were sure to come out once they were sprayed.  And the only exit involved getting through the milk gate and then the barn yard gate to safety.  Both of those gates were tricky to manage at a yellow-jacket-avoiding speed.  But it seemed obvious that managing gates was a lot less tricky than trying to get off the barn roof while being attacked.

The Other Half promptly formulated a plan to climb onto the roof, rake off the leaves to expose the nest in its entirety, and then spray it.


At no time would raking the nest have figured into my plans.

But the boys diligently helped The Other Half suit up for the task.  He put on several layers of clothing, tucked shirt sleeves into gloves and pant legs into socks and then into boots.  He had goggles, a ski mask, and a scarf.  And, of course, a rake and some wasp spray.

I found his bee suit a bit alarming.  Particularly where the boys had duct taped the ski mask to the goggles around his nose.

“Um, it’s 100 degrees outside.  And you’re wearing 3 layers of clothing.  You’re going to overheat.  Are you sure you can breathe OK through the duct tape?” I asked.

He said he was sure he’d be fine but if he passed out, I’d just have to come get him and drag him to safety.


I pondered this for a moment.

“How about I just throw you a rope instead?” I suggested.

“Yes!”  exclaimed Big. “Throw, don’t go!”

“Throw, don’t go” is slang around here for water rescue.  If a person is in trouble in the the water, rescuers should attempt to reach for him from a safe position with their hand or a piece of equipment, throw him a flotation device or item to pull himself to safety, or row in a boat to his location.  Never go into the water to assist the person or the rescuer risks drowning as well.

But here we refer to any emergency when we’d prefer to assist from a  safe distance as a “Throw, don’t go” situation.  Slide down a muddy creek bed while we’re on a hike and you’re likely to get the end of a belt thrust your way.  Get attacked by a rooster in the chicken pen and we’d be happy to throw some rocks at that sucker for you while you make an escape.  Stinky bucks trying to push out while you’re rolling hay into their barn?  Quick! Someone throw down a handful of grain into the pasture to distract them.  But rush into the danger zone to join the melee, um,….not so much.

I wasn’t sure “Throw, don’t go” was going to work in this scenario.  First of all, if The Other Half fainted from the heat, how was he going to grab the rope?  Also, was I going to use a rope to pull him off the roof onto the ground, a good 7 foot drop?  Finally, pulling a man covered in angry yellow jackets directly to my location seemed to violate all the rules of rescuer safety.

Spraying the nest from underneath was looking better and better.

But I shrugged.  We all agreed a rope would be our back up plan and he headed out to the barn.

The boys watched anxiously from inside the house as he ascended the ladder and began raking.

They moved around to the front door as The Other Half climbed off the roof and walked around the house, out of the backyard, and down the driveway, trying to stay calm and get far enough away that the bees would finally give up their pursuit of him.

That’s right.  Watch and learn, boys.  Being the head of household comes with the crew cab truck, as many deer stands as you can fit on the property, and the cool tax deductions.  But it also comes with yellow jacket duty.

For 2 days The Other Half suited up and went after those yellow jackets.  He cleared leaves off large sections of the roof, tossed off old branches, and sprayed the sections of nest that he found.  Then he would would stand in front of the window in his bee suit while the boys checked to make sure every yellow jacket was off him before he started peeling away the layers.

But every time he thought he had hit the last part of the nest, we’d see yellow jackets buzzing in and out of the roof, trying to repair another section.  Finally, we woke to a chilly damp morning.  The sun still wasn’t up when the boys got on the bus and I knew it was too cold for those yellow jackets to be moving around.  I rushed out to the barn in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops.  I sneaked into the barn past the milking stand, jumped up, flipped on the lights, and sprayed the exposed part of the nest with the entire can of spray.  From underneath.

Then I hauled through the gates and out of the barn yard, hoping that Samantha the skittish sheep would be running around, freaked out enough by my morning antics to draw any early rising yellow jackets to her.  None of the other critters even stirred.  They’ve seen crazy before and know it’s best to sit still, not draw attention to yourself, and wait for it be over.

And with that spraying, the last of the yellow jackets gave up.  The bees are gone.  It’s one thing to take on a bunch of girls that tramped all over your nest.  It’s another thing to engage in battle with The Other Half.  But to survive a sneak attack, under cover of darkness, from the milk maid?

Not a chance, people.  Not a chance.


3 Responses to “Head of Household.”

  1. Tanya Lam
    September 11th, 2014 @ 5:45 am

    The picture of him in the suit had me laughing so hard I cried…lol

  2. Jill
    September 11th, 2014 @ 9:23 am

    Goat to love the teamwork!

  3. Jodi Atar
    September 14th, 2014 @ 10:27 am

    I love your well placed “huh”. I am still roaring with laughter!

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