The Wasp House

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.

And last week, while building the new dead hedge, I disturbed her nest.

And last week, while building the new dead hedge, I disturbed her nest.

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.”

And what you can see above is just the top of a papery, architectural marvel under the surface, apparently. Where the queen is, and where her larvae are, in thousands of tiny hexagonal compartments.Wasps

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, the wasp nest is deep in that grassy overgrowth at the side of me.

Before, the wasp’s nest is deep in that grassy overgrowth at the side of me.

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.DSC06878 DSC06879 DSC06881 DSC06882

The wasp house.

The wasp house.

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!

Safe at the far end of the new border and the new dead hedge, the wasps.

Safe at the far end of the new border and the new dead hedge, the 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.

6 thoughts on “The Wasp House

  1. Angharad Lois

    That’s a lovely post! I had a similar wasp-based epiphany the other weekend in Yorkshire – I was sitting outside on the picnic table, eating breakfast and watching a wasp chew off strips of wood to make into pulp for its nest. When it started showing too much of an interest in my cereal, my attitude changed completely – nasty, stinging insect with a taste for sugary human food – and I swatted it away, but was instantly shifted into a completely changed perspective, where I was the huge creature capable of killing, and the wasp was braving death or injury to find some food. Perspective is a funny thing.

  2. jbaird

    Now I am much more enlightened on the much-maligned wasp, thanks to your fascinating description, links, and photos. I appreciate your giving us a wasp-centric viewpoint. It’s certainly part of all our beeswax to know these facts. Bravo on behalf of wasps everywhere.

  3. cheethamlib

    Wasp’s nests are little miracles of engineering.Every year I have quite a lot situated in various places around the garden including a good ‘posie’ (short for position – a word from the other side of the world). Bravo for saving the one you accidentally disturbed !

  4. Stephen Roberts

    I had a similar experience at school last month: we have a big recycling bin just outside my classroom. I asked some students to put some paper into it and soon saw them shrieking with delighted fear as they tried to throw the paper through the slot from ten yards away. The reason was a gathering of defensive wasps on the lip of the bin. I looked more closely and saw their beautiful paper-coloured nest just inside the bin. Of course, because I was calm and friendly, I was not stung. Unfortunately most people don’t realise that wasps do not attack unless provoked. One such person is our site manager who poisoned the wasps due to them being “a health and safety risk”.


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