Friday, 1 August 2014

Close encounters on the wildside

Six-spotted Burnet
 Butterfly Conservation
I love the fact that my allotment is filled with wildlife, I love the encounter I have while I am working or relaxing on my allotment. I saw  a Six-spot Burnet moth on  trefoil flowers in my wild flower patch. The hot weather has brought many many different moths and butterflies onto my plot/ I take great delight in seeing the flutter in out of my plants.  I welcome the  hungry caterpillars as well, despite the holes that appear in some of my plants.

Recently I have been spending time taking part in the Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count*,  Which focuses my attention on the detail of each each individual butterfly or moth so I can record my sightings.

However I am still working on my beds and last week needed compost for the bed I want to grow  my leeks over winter.  I started to lift one of my compost bins only to be find, before I had moved it more than a few inches, I was surrounded by swarm of bumble bees.  I managed to drop  the bin back over the nest immediately and  I stepped back and stood still.  The worker flew around me and buzzed me some touching my face but did not sting me, when they were calmer I  moved away slowly  from that part of the plot. I hoped the queen would not decide to leave the nest but as the workers are still there I feel the disturbance disrupted them only briefly  Before my attempt to move the bin  I had not seen them coming or going, although I had seen numerous bumble bees on the comfrey which is growing along side that bin.  

A few days later I lifted another bin and there were no mice, rats, only centipedes  and millipedes I like to see these arthropods in my healthy compost, and I am a little in awe of  centipedes as I remember seeing them in  fossils, which my father told me where over 400 million years old.. In the bin there were  large slugs with orange undersides and red wriggler worms in abundance, I always wonder where they emerge from.  All these insects I transferred   into my large compost bin which I had already emptied. They will help to start the composting process once more,..  
As I began to fork gently  into the compost heap I discovered  slow worms.   I stopped loading my wheelbarrow and left half the compost.   Most of  the slow worms slid away under my water butt but I still left  it alone so as  not to create any more disturbance for them..

There was another bin of compost that was ready to put on a bed I was making for  florence fennel and for the globe artichokes plants  which were ready to go out.  This bin had a bottom opening, so I flipped  it  to warn any  creatures living there that they were going to be disturbed.  In seconds I found myself  petrified with fright as worker wasps streamed out of the bin and surrounded me. 

 Again I stepped backwards away from the bin and stayed still. Several wasps landed on my hands, several hovered inches away from my face buzzing very loudly.  At i first thought how malevolently they were looking at me but when I stopped the story I was creating from my mind's fear and just looked I saw wasps had amazingly, complex and beautiful eyes and wonderful markings on their bodies

My instinct was to run but I calmed my self with Reiki and stood still for what seemed an age until  gradually the wasps moved back into  the bin.  The ones on my hands flew away without stinging me,   Definitely it was time for a cup of tea  and a cuddle from Pops dog.

I had no intention of destroying the wasps, but was uneasy about having a nest on my plot.  When I thought about them I realized that I knew very little about their life cycle, except that they were predictors of aphids,caterpillars scavengers and also were excellent pollinators..  Most of what else I knew came from scary negative articles  and tall stories  about their aggression in late Summer and Autumn. There was also childhood memories of picnics in late summer with wasps wanting to eat and drink anything sweet and my mother putting a plate of food away from the table  to keep them away from us.

When I got home I decided to find out more about them.  The first sites I visited were all about destroying the nest there were shots of the amazing complex nests and other shots of the nest in segments showing the complex patterns inside the nest.  I could not believe that in a black compost bin such an awe inspiring nest could be in it.

Although I did not see any wasps entering the compost bin before I disturbed it I had seen small  hover-flies going in the bottom of the bin. I believe these could be Vocucella zoaria The hornet hover-fly which lays its eggs in a wasp or hornets nest .  The urban pollinators blog  suggest that the females may come and go in the wasp nest because the female gives off a calming  pheromone.  Normally any intruder would be attacked if it tried to enter the nest.

At that moment in time the hive was active and its function was to provide for the larva and the future of the female worker wasps, the workers forage insects which they chew up and fed to the larva along with nectar.  Then they drink the 'urine' from the larva to keep the nest clean.  The 'urine' is sweet and gives the wasps energy to go off foraging again and again. The workers also feed and protect the solitary Queen.   By July the Queen may have laid 2000 or more eggs. In late July and August the queen begins to lay male eggs and new queens' eggs. After this she leaves the nest and eventually dies in late autumn

The worker  continue feeding the male and queen larva until they too leave the nest. That is when the trouble starts, the worker bees have become addicted to the sugar. A fix that they got from the larva and search for new sources of sugar.  This is the time we usually encounter them.  I had no idea that I had a wasps nest on my plot until I disturbed them yet with the nest there may be 2000 or more wasps in it. 

Once the solitary queen leaves the nest and the last of the males and queens emerge and fly away the social structure of the nest breaks down.  Not only have the workers lost their role they are also addicted to sugar and carbohydrates.  So they go out looking for a sugar fix, they can become quite desperate and will fly around us as we eat outside looking not to attack us but for the sugar fix. Some of them will find it from fermenting fruit and then zig-zag drunkenly towards us.

My mother once she realized there were wasps around always place some sweet food, or a plate with a shallow solution of honey or jam  for the wasps away from were we were sitting having a picnic and this seemed to work. She also used tea-tree, lavender, or citronella candles or oils as a deterrent.  She had baking soda or aloe vera gel to hand in case of any of us should be stung.  I cannot remember any one in our families ever being stung by a wasps but lots of bee stings.  Once while I was a child a swarm of bees being moved by a bee-keeper escaped and landed on my face scary!..

 If we flap our arms and hands to shoo  away a wasp it may  feel threatened  and respond  by sending out a pheromone which lets other wasps from the nest know it is being attacked, Wasps are social animals and will respond to defend one of its group.  If we swat them and kill them the brain of the wasp will still  send out the same pheromone and more wasps will appear..  The Jam jar method of killing wasps will also attract more wasp in defense of the dying members of nest.

The female worker wasps are are only troublesome for a short while, because unlike honey bees, only the queens survive the winter all the workers and males die once the weather becomes colder. The queens will hibernate and in April will find a suitable place to build a new nest and begin the cycle all over again.  Having  wasps nest on my plot has benefited it.  The wasps have been helping to pollinate my flowers, herbs and crops, eating  predators and scavenging detritus.

My plot is a haven for wild life which are providing me with  healthy soil to grow our cut flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables.  This week I found a pair of  violet beetles living by day in the wood pile. I am not sure if it is these beetle are the ones  I have seen flying past as I enter my plot early in the morning or if it is another type of ground beetle. The Tansy flowers are now a haven for red cardinal beetles and ladybirds. 

 Oh and there is the handsome fox club that visits my plot and which I see when I arrive at the plot in the early morning and the grass hoppers and err yes frogs...  newts ...... all  tales for another day.

I am grateful to all the creatures that live on or near my plot that keep it healthy and productive

With gratitude for the wild life and bugs on my plot.

Reiki blessings to you 

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