July 16, 2017

Burn Before Weeding

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It all began with an email from Tim, my gardening friend. He’d been here working in the garden and then suddenly he wasn’t. Then I got an email with the subject heading “READ BEFORE WEEDING.” He related that he’d uncovered a hornet’s nest and had been stung numerous times so had gone home to treat the stings.

The nest was in a corner of the garden that had been neglected. The whole area was a matted mess. Ground cover had risen up and waved around in the air obscuring the entrance to the underground cave where the hornets paid homage to their queen. Tim tried to drown them before he ceded the field.

We didn’t want to spray with anything toxic because the neglected patch was close to the vegetable gardens. I recalled a Native American man who once came from the Millionaires’ Club to help me with some difficult work and had discovered a hornet’s nest in the ground. He told me that when he was growing up they always built a fire and smoked out the hornets.

We did the deed last Friday. I was excited all day, imagining the scene and thinking about what I would wear. What does one wear to a hornet burning? It was a warm day and I would need to be covered but I didn’t want to be hot. I decided on long pants and a windbreaker. Definitely shoes with socks, not sandals. And a big-brimmed hat.

Tim arrived in shorts, sandals and a T-shirt. And he was the one who had been stung!

“Aren’t you worried about them getting you again?”


He raked out the area and irritated the hornets. It looked like hundreds of them swarming around, mad as humans. That’s a little hornet humor from the Hornet’s Toastmaster Joke Book. We had newspapers, kindling, dried sage and smudge sticks. That was Tim’s idea. I think my mentioning the Native American suggested it.

“Shall I get crystals, too?”

We set the fire. I have to admit I was the cautious one. I was afraid to get too close because the buzz sounded so mean. But we lit the newspaper and I backed up and let Tim toss it on them. We piled on the sage and kindling. Then we stood and watched. I wished we had waited til dark, invited Bill and Gwen, my neighbors, and had marshmallows. In retrospect that sounds a little Madame DeFarge-y.

Fire in neglected area

The fire burned itself out. Tim shoveled a hole. We watched the hornets crawling around in a daze (or so I claimed) and tried to determine if they were all heading to a particular opening. There certainly seemed to be a lot of them.

We lit another fire. Part of the reason I was excited about doing this was that I thought it was illegal in the city but that we were going to do it anyway.

“It’s not illegal.”

“It’s not?” I was disappointed to hear this.

“No. People can have fire pits.”

“Is that what this is?”

“Well, look at it. It’s a hole. There’s a fire in it. I do hope we don’t burn down the whole garden, though.”


Tim and I hung around and watched it. We pulled weeds and ground cover out of the neglected area, down on our knees amid the all the smoke. People walked by; there are a lot of dog walkers in my neighborhood.

“We look like a couple of dotty elderly people setting fire to their yard,” Tim said. “Somebody’s going to call the police!”

“Or Adult Protective Services.”

We got the giggles.

After several hours we decided we’d had enough and we’d see where we were in the morning. So that was Friday evening.

Today is Sunday. Depending on the time of day, there is either no activity or dozens of hornets being quite industrious. And there is another hornet’s nest in another (neglected) part of the yard. This time they got me. I was working my way around a circle of stones that delineate a patch where grow a bay tree and a Japanese snowbell when I backed into them. I heard the buzz, then I felt a bite on my upper arm. I moved out of the way and heard a buzz near my ear. I swiped at it. I heard it again. Next thing I was doing one of those St Vitus dances across my yard. The little bastard actually followed me into the sun room where I got it on the floor and stepped on it.

Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything said she sprayed a solution of peppermint oil on an underground hornet’s nest and hasn’t had a problem since. I sprayed the new nest with water but my heart wasn’t in it. I’ll get the peppermint oil. Maybe we’ll set another fire. Maybe I’ll call the Tilth hotline and get some actual expert advice.

Maybe I’ll leave them a couple of Andes mints. That seems a little Madame Defarge-y, too, but now they’ve gone after me, I don’t care.

Area of garden that hasn’t been neglected







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