Monday, July 29, 2013

Wasp Nest!

Wasp Nest!

I was walking past the bushes in front of our house when I noticed an insect flying into the bush on the end. What was it? A small, black insect with yellow stripes across its lower body. A wasp!

I started paying more attention to the bush. Other wasps flew inside. Some flew out. There was quite a lot of activity. When I looked closer I saw something gray inside. It was a huge nest!  I passed that bush every day; how could I have missed it?

We’ve had wasps starting to build nests before, usually in the corner by our garage where they were visible and easy to eliminate while still small. But this nest, hidden as it was, went undetected and housed lots of wasps.

The nest that wasps build is papery, made from fiber the insects collect; snippets from man-made paper products such as paper bags or cardboard boxes, scrapings from the bark of trees. The insect then chews the fiber and mixes it with saliva. This makes the fiber extremely soft and moist. After a period of chewing, the wasp adds the paste to the nest structure and spreads it out with its mandibles and legs. After it thoroughly dries; a type of tough, durable paper is formed. Voila! An incredible nest.

While I was obsessing over what to do about it, my husband went out and sprayed it. A few wasps flew in and out but the activity pretty much stopped. Two days later, when I looked into the bush, I saw that the nest had split apart and the wasps were gone. I can’t say that I was sorry to see the end of the nest and its inhabitants - I remember being stung by one of those little guys and it wasn’t fun. But every creature has its value and these seem to be good pest controllers. I was torn between fear of being stung by wasps and the nuisance of being bitten by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes won – and I have the welts to prove it.

A close look at a wasp and some info about its nest building:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tomatoes For All

Tomatoes For All

Hi Everyone. The summer became rather busy so I gave myself permission to take a blog break. I hope you are all well and keeping cool if you are in the heat zone. But I am back and looking things over in my backyard.

We planted a variety of tomatoes this year – cherry, beefsteak, and heirloom varieties. They are all growing nicely, thriving in the heat/rain cycles. Some of them have grown to an incredible size, which thrills me.

I was watching one as it got bigger and started turning a deep shade of red. It was ripening so sweetly. I could imagine how it would taste. The day I went out to pick it, though, I had a shock; a quarter of the tomato was eaten into. I could see the seeds. The juice dripped from the opening and I could smell the fresh tomato aroma. I mourned the loss of such a beauty.

There was another tomato on the vine that was just starting to ripen. I didn’t want the same thing to happen so I placed a cage around that section of the plant.  But when I went to check on it the next day, the cage was lifted out of its moorings and the tomato had been nibbled on.

Was it a wascally wabbit that was getting into the garden or a sneaky squirrel? I was talking to a man who had a vegetable garden and he said that groundhogs, in particular, loved tomatoes. I occasionally saw a groundhog around but not lately.

I needed a plan. While I love letting the tomatoes ripen on the vine, I decided to pick them when they were partially red, before the creatures got into them, and to let them ripen the rest of the way on my kitchen counter. So far that is working. We ate one of our tomatoes yesterday and it was absolutely delicious! I can’t blame the outside critters for digging in.

I know that everyone needs to eat and I don’t mind sharing but I would like some produce for myself, too. Next year I will plan differently, perhaps setting aside a small plot for the local scavengers; this year I will just enjoy what I can and at least take pleasure in knowing that my tomatoes are making a party for many mouths.

Here are some ways to discourage squirrels, and I imagine other critters, from chomping on your tomatoes. Some are practical, others tongue-in-cheek: