The Empty Super …
Diary of a Hopeful Hobbyist
by Eugene Makovec
Originally printed in the November 2006 Missouri
State Beekeepers Association Newsletter. www.mostatebeekeepers.org
A hard-earned hornet’s nest.
It was my first year keeping bees. I’d gotten a late start
(a threepound package in early June), managed to kill my queen
(another story entirely) and had little hope of getting any honey
for my efforts. Nevertheless, I was happy and proud to be a beekeeper.
I’d only been stung a couple of times, and was feeling cocky.
So when a lady named Teresa approached me about
getting rid of a hornet’s nest in her yard I quickly obliged.
I’d never met Teresa, but she cleaned offices for my father-in-law
and he’d told her I was a beekeeper. (Becoming a beekeeper
is like buying a pickup truck – soon everyone wants you
to help them move.) And besides, I’d always wanted one of
I made a quick visit to Teresa’s house
to check it out, and went to a bee club meeting the following
evening to ask for guidance. My primary concern was preservation
of the nest. I received two recommendations:
? Suit up well: Wear the full bee suit, plus
jeans and a long-sleeved shirt underneath. Hornets have industrial-strength
stingers, and they pack a wallop.
? As for removing the nest, it’s pretty
simple: Just go out at night, snip the branch on both sides, drop
the whole nest into a plastic bag and tie it tight. After a night
in the deep freeze, shake the dead critters out on the ground
and the nest is yours.
I went by Teresa’s house on a Sunday evening.
The nest was football- shaped but beach ball-sized. It hung in
a bush along the driveway, about five feet off the ground and
15 feet from the house. It was pretty dark in that part of the
yard, though there was a small light on the house by the side
I suited up as advised, grabbed my trash bag
and pruning shears and approached the target. I shined a flashlight
on the nest, and one of its denizens immediately crawled out to
investigate. Well, they’re not sleeping, I thought.
I hated to arouse them further, but I was going
to need light to see what I was doing. After a minute or two,
I was able to prop the flashlight in the grass in such a way that
it illuminated the nest. I picked up the shears and went to work.
My initial surveillance had not been thorough.
I soon found that there were about a dozen branches routed through
the nest. It took several minutes and quite a bit of jostling
to snip them all, and by that time I was pretty well surrounded
by curious hornets. I say curious because, amazingly enough, they
did not seem aggressive. Not that the sight and sound of them
wasn’t a little unnerving – I was used to the hum
of honeybees, but this tone was of a deeper, more ominous nature.
I finally extricated the huge nest from the bush
and, with some further effort, managed to stuff it, branch amputees
and all, into the trash bag and seal it. I turned to head for
the car and saw scores of disoriented hornets circling the light
on the house. I wondered if there were any left in the nest.
At home, I dropped the nest into my basement
chest freezer, and didn’t give it another thought until
about 2:00 a.m. Tuesday. I was working the night shift at the
time, and when I arrived home I pulled the bag out of the freezer
and hauled it outside. After shaking a few dozen frozen hornets
out onto the grass, I dropped my prize nest back into the bag,
set it just inside the front door, and went to bed.
At about 9:00 a.m., I awoke to a shriek from
my wife. Even in my groggy state, I immediately knew what it was
about. I also knew that it was not so much a cry for help as a
cry of – well, let’s just say I was the one who was
going to need help. My wife had not been thrilled about the whole
bee thing to begin with, and the idea that I would bring stinging
insects into the house (even if I had every reason to believe
they were dead) -- well, that was just unacceptable.
After a brief, futile attempt to explain myself,
I stalked and killed the revivified varmint, then hauled the nest
back outside. Upon opening the bag, I was greeted by two more
live hornets, who buzzed lazily away. I shook the nest for a few
seconds and out fell a handful of dead ones, on top of what looked
like the majority of those I’d shaken out the previous night.
I still wonder why some survived the zero-degree temps while the
As for the original job, Teresa called a couple
of days later to say that the hornets were busy building another
nest in a neighboring bush. I went back that night, this time
stopping off at the hardware store for some wasp spray. (The heck
with the nest — I was getting tired of this.)
The new nest was already about the size of a
football, but rounder. I didn’t mess around this time. No
need to suit up — I just soaked it down with wasp killer,
clipped the branches and stuffed it into a bag, this time for
Teresa was very appreciative. She gave me a whole
$5.00, which marked the beginning of a lucrative career in pest
removal. Minus the cost of the wasp spray, and not counting gas,
I cleared almost 75 cents. The trash bags I was able to reuse.
And as for my time — well, I’ve learned in the 10
years since that I’m much better off
not keeping track.