I’ve never really known what wasps are for. An irritating version of bees? Annoying buzzing things, with much danger of stinging you, but no honey?
This was stupid, limited, human-centric thinking, it turns out. Everything that lives is holy, as William Blake said, life balances life. A week ago I disturbed a wasp’s nest. And now Sarah and I know a lot more about them, and are caring, as carefully as we can for a whole house-full of them.
We now know wasps are in some danger. Like so many bees and other hymenoptera, there are less of them this year than there were last. It’s another facet of climate change. Spring 2012 was a suddenly warm late February and March as you might remember, tempting many queen wasps out of hibernation, only to be killed off by the bitter hail, rain and even snows of the altered April, May, June and even July that followed.
So, this year there are less of them and therefore all of the wasp queens we have are special. Especially the one breeding on Plot 44.
Her nest was peacefully there, under a lot of overgrowth, when I blundered in and exposed its delicacy to the harsh light of our unexpected heatwave.
The delicacy is a careful construction, Sarah tells me, of shed-wood and other bark, plus wasp-spit.
“You can hear them, while you’re sitting on the deck in springtime, gently scratching, gently nest-making.”
So when I disturbed their home last week my immediate reactions were about danger and moving it and all the defensive thoughts we so easily fall into when we encounter the wildness of a nest of things that might sting us. Fortunately I did nothing.
Because we quickly found that you can’t really move a nest. And though there are things we could do to persuade the wasps to leave it, to abandon it, why would we? Realising that the wasps are part of the balance of creatures on the allotment, including ourselves, we decided that we needed to do everything we could to make sure that their babies are born.
Then the hive will come to the natural end of its life in the autumn, when most of the wasps die off, and the queen finds somewhere to hibernate for the winter, before the whole cycle of building and births begins again next spring.
Before I’d exposed the top of the nest it had been well covered deep under some grassy overgrowth in a bit of the garden that hadn’t been touched for a couple of years. So it was protected and dry. But then it became open, and, finding that one of the ways to get rid of the wasps would be to gently flood the nest, we decided we’d best protect it from the rains that are expected later this week.
Unusually it hasn’t rained in Liverpool for several weeks now, but obviously it will. So Sarah’s made the wasps a protected little compound around the entrance to their nest.
First of all some temporary fencing so humans won’t accidentally walk on the nest. Then she put some bits of tile, brick and a broken pot around the nest entrance. Lots of the wasps came out to have a look at the new things. And when they were clearly used to them Sarah fashioned them into a little waterproof shelter, protecting the nest whilst at the same time leaving plenty of space for the wasps to come and go.
And from the gentle buzz of their comings and goings I’d say they’re fine.
There’s a little bit of our border we won’t be able to cultivate for the rest of this year, but that’s fine. Gardening’s a slow process and anyway, we’re busy growing wasps!
An informative article about wasps and how they build their nests is at this BBC site. Contains a couple of beautiful films of the inside of wasp’s nests.