I see that the Allied Irish Bank and the Electricity Supply Board are catching up with New York, London and Tokyo in flaunting their “green” credentials and introducing rooftop beehive colonies to their office buildings.Well, they need to do all that they can. There are more important things than money and electricity to consider.
The wasps have turned up early this year. I’m not a big fan of these little striped hard-backed flying predators . These sky tigers. For one thing they are my honeybees’ natural enemy so there’ll be a Killing Floor at the bottom of the garden. I remember when I got my first nucleus of honeybees I tended to them like children. It was a new experience and I was pretty green myself. I don’t mean that in an environmental eco-warrior way, either. I was an enthusiast but I had lots to learn… .I taught myself everything about keeping honeybees from reading books and watching a few videos on You Tube, so I was always learning new things from the little creatures themselves ; their place in the scheme of things , their challenges for survival , their enemies and their chances of getting through the summer and then the bitter cold of winter. In many respects the deck is stacked against them
The wasps and bees are of course evolutionary cousins. The wasps, though , like the taste of a little flesh, whereas the bees are strictly vegetarian. The wasps are important too of course, They are the sharks of the garden , sweeping up the living and the dead. Killing garden pests as they go and keeping everything nice and tidy. Like your garbage collector when he’s not in bad form and is throwing rubbish about the streets. Important in his own way. There is a certain time in the summer , probably when most of the wasps have become adult, when they really need a sweet sugar boost and that’s the time that we all get very annoyed with them. If only they’d mind their own business and sip a bit of nectar like the wee bees or the butterflies…The wasps are here, only for the summer. The only wasp that over-winters is an old queen.
Unlike the bees , they’re gone by the end of the summer and they want to make the best of it.They just have to get all aggressive about it and want to share your beer or your glass of rioja, whether invited to the table or not.
I was studying them at the bottom of the garden yesterday.They were trying to gain entry into the beehives but the guards were having none of it.inside was the prospect of hanging racks and frames of sweet treats…cells bursting with oozing amber honey , fat sweet grubs being fed to bursting like sugared bon bons..and all that fresh ,chaste, young meat like sweetened caged veal untouched by sunlight . All that for the taking!.When the hives get strong they are usually fit for the continual assaults. Imagine castles being under siege from invading armies. If a hive is slow to develop, it can be overrun easily by the wasps . The wasps are armoured and hard compared to the bees’ fuzziness. They are able to sting continuously with venomous, rapier thrusts, whereas the bee has only one barbed stab before dying. The guards fly out from the doorway and sometimes, working in pairs, wrestle the invaders out of the sky onto the lawn, all the while tearing at the incomer’s wings…trying to sever its head at the neck with their sharp mandibles. Sometimes they win..a headless wingless wasp lies dead …sometimes only one bee survives …sometimes the wasp is strong enough to fly away and try again.It can be like Biggin Hill aerodrome at times . The skies are sometimes full of murder. Spitfires at twelve o’ clock! Bodies strewn across the lush green.
This summer we’ve had an early heatwave so the wasps are a little ahead of the game and have turned up early. It’s a curious thing that with eight hives currently running with approximately half a million honeybees at the bottom of my garden, they would never come near my house unless an odd one needed a drink from the tap outside.They’re all possibly miles away working hard, but the wasps, far less in number, always find their way into the kitchen, usually finishing their lives slaughtered against the window pane as my wife cries about the mess on the glass. It could all be so different!
So it’s time to bring out the bottle-traps.These are a simple upgrade on the old fruit jar. I make them from old plastic bottles or milk containers. A hole cut into the side and piece of plastic conduit piping fitted in makes a rainproof entrance which allows our wasps into the bottle for a sticky sugary liquid treat. Unfortunately there is not much chance of them getting back out before drowning on their last supper. Such is life and death . .
In the end it’s either the wasps or the bees and I’m on the honeybees’ side . Get more of them up on those office roofs, I say. Sure, they’ll scare the horses when they swarm, but what with the farmers and their monoculture and insecticides , the towns and cities are the only places they’ll be allowed to thrive in anyway, in this great new future.
Sometimes you just have to choose sides.