June 2011


To quote Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Let’s get this straight from the start.” Wasps* are bastards. Maybe some are more bastardish than others, but they are still bastards.

*By this I mean social wasps (ones with nests) rather than solitary wasps which are generally rather svelte, sporty and spiffy looking.

In the latest issue of The Garden, the RHS magazine, there is a piece by someone described as – “Stuart Logan, retired airline captain, is a Master of Horticulture”

I’ve never understood why people do that thing where they define themselves by a former occupation. Usually it’s military types and with them, although it’s a bit sad, I can kind of get why they might be reluctant to let go of a past where they either had the most exhilarating times (being in action and all) or were the subject of unquestioning respect (that bit is hugely sad tho), but an airline pilot? I’m sorry but as far as I’m concerned that’s just a glorified bus driver.

That aside, for an article entitled “Why Welcome Wasps?” it leaves that titular question mostly unanswered.

Indeed it doesn’t really say much at all. It opens with some adages that are claimed to be from “Pantheon of English similes” but I’ve personally never heard of a single one of them, perhaps because they appear to have been simply made up and intended to be amusing. If so they’re singularly not fit for purpose. But then I may be wrong and they may well be common currency where Master Horters gather together and exchange witticisms.

The column then goes on to state that common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) are beneficial to gardeners (though it does not at that point actually say why) and also omits to even mention that we have another social wasp in this country, the German, or European Wasp, (Vespula germanicus).

It then moves on to the premise that queen wasps are harmless curtain dwelling creatures (The queens are the ones to watch out for – have you never seen Aliens?) and then drifts into a light stroll through the common wasp lifecycle, including a really weak joke about bees and nectar points. Eventually it gets to something in support of the article’s banner and has one sentence in which it is stated that wasps “eat caterpillars and other garden pests” (doesn’t help us by saying which ones though) and personally here I’d rather have butterflies than wasps. I know that it isn’t as simple as that, but I have a real problem with the line that wasps are a largely a force for good.

I know that in the early part of the summer wasps eat loads of invertebrates, and this is the hook on which their benefit to the gardener is sold. I have some doubts over the depth of this benefit. If wasps (and here I mean social wasps) suddenly vanished it’s not, I feel, like the scenario we would face if the bees vanished i.e. we would be screwed. The reason for that being that the bug-eating void in the ecosystem might relatively quickly be filled by other bug-eating bugs, not to mention birds. Plus of course one must consider how much of the wasps’ diet is made up insects that a gardener might consider beneficial and might themselves have eaten pests.

The article ends with comment that when wasps nest break down they become pesky devourers of fruit and indicates this is as pestilential as they get. This, it says, is something that is easily rectified with a rolled up magazine. It suggests using The Garden, but I reckon on current showing that would be far too lightweight and flimsy.

My snarky comments aside the RHS piece is flawed in many ways but not least because it fails to mention the fact there are 2 types of social wasp in this country the common wasp and the European or German wasp.

I always thought that the latter made bigger nests and were much more aggressive, but have read information to the contrary on the ‘net and so wonder if I got my info from the Daily Mail – “Bloody German Wasps coming over here stinging everyone, and building their oversize German nests.”

Whichever the case it would be useful if the article gave a clue to this, but then it singularly fails to recognise the most important thing about wasps. They are bastards. Dangerous little bastards.

My OH reacts ridiculously badly to a single sting. Luckily Little Boots is like me and not allergic, but nevertheless they get zero tolerance around here.

I don’t kill things for no reason, but we have had them in the house staging home invasions before now. Prior to that we had a huge nest in the loft and they were literally crawling out of light sockets. The pest guy who came and despatched them told me that even if you aren’t allergic, multiple stings will land you in hospital and so the number of times he got stung was something he had to keep track of.

Two weeks ago I was in the garden when I got zapped on the ear. Of all the places over the years that I’ve been stung this was the most painful – there must be a lot of nerve endings in your ears. And it bled like mad.

Now I’m not stupid, I know that this time of year they usually only sting if you are near their nests, or annoying them in some way (unlike late summer when the nests break down and they seem to charge around like pissed-up ninjas stinging anything in their path), and so I reasoned there was a nest nearby.

After sorting out my ear I returned to the scene and noticed them flying in and out of Little Boots’ play house. LB hadn’t been in the building for a couple of weeks, or we might have noticed this sooner. Wasps can build their nests very quickly, and this one was the size of a melon already. The small wooden building had several dozen wasps milling around inside in addition to all those coming and going.

I could easily imagine LB coming crashing/charging into the house and worked out a small equation that went:

LB + Multiple Stings = Hospital

After that it was a no-brainer and I set off to get the necessary kit, before returning to the playhouse with caution and a lot of chemical nastiness.

I won‘t go into details or glorify the act, but I helped them all to their next state of being. Don’t get me wrong, I took no joy from this act, but the fact is wasps are bastards. Did I mention that?

The article did however serve one useful purpose – to remind me not to bother with my RHS membership renewal that is sitting atop a pile of paperwork. I get enough junk through my letterbox already without paying for anymore.

(Lance Corporal Boots holds some horticultural qualifications, and was in the cadets at school)

I was sitting yesterday not doing very much beyond feeling I should be doing something a bit more than sitting not doing very much, when my eyes settled on a crappy old tape measure I had been using to measure some pictures.

The shape reminded me of something.

What do you think?