The deck is a staple of American life. It’s the designated place for grilling, drinking, and socializing. We have a deck, not a big one, but it has served its purpose. Having a deck is my right as an American, so would someone please explain this to the carpenter bees.
Everyone has a sure sign that for them heralds the return of spring, be it daffodils, crocuses, birds building nests, or slightly warmer weather. For me, it’s the carpenter bees and wasps taking over the deck.
The first time I noticed my deck had become a hangout for insects with attitudes was five years ago. My brother and I were repainting the deck, which supposedly had a stain that would last years (it was less than three). We managed to clean and sand most of the deck with no problems, but when the painting began, wasps would appear instantly as if Scotty were beaming them in. After being chased into the house and yard multiple times, we bought a few cans of Raid wasp spray and went hunting.
We found eight or so nests, all hidden inside the deck’s wooden railing, entirely out of sight. The only way to find the nests was to get down on your hands and knees, then turn your head to the side, lower your upper body and look up. As you can imagine, this is not the ideal position to discover wasps that prefer not to be found. Somehow we managed to get them all without being stung. Now, I check the railings every year, just to be sure. Unfortunately, that approach hasn’t been fool-proof. Last year, my wife was stung twice while grilling dinner. This time the wasps had put a nest under a small side-table kept on the deck for parking drinks. Lesson learned.
While wasps are sneaky, carpenter bees get all up in your face. I know it’s officially spring when I step on to my deck only to be met by a carpenter bee 24 inches away, looking me dead in the face, as if to ask, “May I help you?” I’ve tried chasing them away because, unlike wasps, they are more sass than sting. They go away for a few minutes but come right back.
Last year, while sitting on the deck and planning something–I can’t remember what–a carpenter bee basically told me to get out of his seat. I was minding my own business when this bee came up to my right side and hovered annoyingly about 18 inches from my ear. At first, I did what most people do when bees come that close–I got up and ran to the other side of the deck. The bee stayed for few more minutes then flew off. Foolishly thinking the bee was just out wandering about, I went back and sat down. Within five minutes, the bee was back, same place.
I got up a second time. But, this time, I got the spray. Feeling superior, I stood by the door, waiting for bee sass. I didn’t have to wait long. Soon the bee was back and in my face. Sprrrrrrttt! A long jet of insecticide shot across the deck—the bee made its best toreador move and gracefully slide to the side, but not backward. He was still staring. I tried this about five more times, and each time the bee moved, just before being hit. I even tried positioning myself in a way that requires the least motion before I could fire so that I wouldn’t telegraph my shot. Still missed—that bee had nerves of steel. Much respect…
After about six spurts, the bee was unfazed, and I had sprayed so much that smell was getting to me. I went back into the house, comforting myself that I had warned the bee population enough for that day.
So far, this spring, I’ve dealt with the carpenter bees by announcing myself and then walking onto the deck to water my woodland phlox plants. They move aside grudgingly, and I try not to stay out too long—boundaries and all. I know they are drilling holes for nests, but they at least respect me enough not to do so in places I could easily spot. Again, boundaries and all.
Lucky for the carpenter bees, I know they don’t sting, so I suppose I can live with this truce. After mating season, the carpenter bees leave the deck and go to the front yard and hang out in the salvia. That will be the end of all that float-like-a-butterfly-move like a carpenter be sass I get on the deck. (Or maybe, the wasps show up and chase them away—I have no idea.)
The wasps better look out, though. I’m not to be outdone. You see, courtesy of the pandemic, I have goggles, n95 masks, gloves, and a can of Raid for my left hand, and can of Raid for my right (the deck needs to be repainted anyway). If the wasps are looking for trouble, they will find it—I’m strapped.
The time is coming when I am going to insist on having full and unconditional use of my deck. If I get sassed, it’s going to get smelly.