Sunday, January 31, 2010

Close encounters of the waspish kind


Putting off gardening jobs that need to be done usually delivers a sweaty comeuppance to the slacker responsible (me), especially on hot summer's days, when the lazy gardener finally gets around to doing them.

Here's a classic case of a job that should have been done a month ago. Relying on various limp excuses (pre-Christmas magazine deadlines, then holidays away, and hot & humid summer days ever since my return from holidays) I put off trimming this creeping fig (Ficus pumila) which I planted to cover the ugly, sloppy brickwork on my neighbour Michael's big garage. However, as Michael expressed some fears that the plant might actually entrap and devour his gorgeous grand-daughter Michaela if I left it untrimmed, I promised him that I'd cut it back this weekend.

As well as using hedge shears on the lower parts of the wall of green, I brought out my wonderful extendo pole-pruner, which keeps middle-aged male gardeners on the ground, where they belong. It seemed like a good idea, but it's slow going snipping off individual stems one by one, and with the weather warming up to around 28°C (82°F) plus humidity at typical muggy Sydney summer levels, I decided to get out the step ladder and wield the hedge shears to get the job done much faster.

Here's how things looked an hour later. Now, before you scream "you missed a bit" please proceed to the following photo.

Excuse my poor Photoshop skills, but check out the section inside the white circle. Can't quite make out what's there? Next photo please, Projectionist!

That's better. A wasp's nest. With lots of wasps. Cranky wasps. Surprised wasps. Disturbed wasps. Scared, threatened wasps. Me, I'm the disturbing (accidental) scarer of cranky wasps. It's great fun being up on a step ladder, sharp hedge shears in hand, cutting away merrily at a creeping fig, only to find a black and ginger humming crowd of wasps erupting from the greenery. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt might have the World Record of 9.6 seconds for the 100 metre dash, but I would like to claim 0.25 seconds as the new record for the six step ladder descent. But wait, there's more!

What did stupid do next? He climbed up on the shed roof, didn't he? Well, that's the only way to access the section of creeper-covered garage wall on the far left. And what did stupid uncover with his hedge shears? Yes – you're probably all ahead of me by now – yes, a second wasp nest, more populous, more scared/angry/disturbed etc than the first one. And what's the new world record time for the five steps back across the tin roof and six steps down the ladder, hotly pursued by wasps? Not sure, didn't bother to count, as by that stage I had developed a really timely case of asthma attack. Brilliant, just what I needed. I hate my weak lungs. Cowards, both of you.

Back down on the ground, I headed for the house and my puffer, then waited half an hour for everyone to calm down, especially me. And this is why I have deliberately 'missed a bit' on that wall. I'm not sure what to do, in fact. But here's what I'm thinking....
1. As there are two wasp nests up there, it's obviously a great spot for a nest. They'll keep on building them there even if I knock them down.
2. I have no right to knock the nests down. I've been sharing this backyard with the wasps for 19 years and I haven't been stung once. They're pretty good backyard citizens, if you leave them alone. And now I know where they live, I should be able to avoid them.
3. Wasps are a beneficial insect in the garden, keeping down the numbers of pest insects (which they put in their nests as food for the next generation of larvae).
4. However, trimming that rotten big wall of greenery is a job that needs constant attention, and now I have to decide whether to get rid of it or not. Still can't decide. And as for today I'm not going out there. I'll declare this Sunday a day of rest, give my lungs a chance to settle down, give the wasps a day of peace. They deserve it. They probably had a hell of a day yesterday, too.






12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Im usually very live and let live but when it comes to wasps, I say spray them with Baygon. I have been bitten by these wasps. Its incredibly painful. They are really aggressive and will actaully chase you!. I dont even know whether these are native. I found a nest on my verandah and got rid of it. The nest will only get bigger if you leave it!They're hideous!

Robyn said...

Im usually very live and let live but when it comes to wasps, I say spray them with Baygon. I have been bitten by these wasps. Its incredibly painful. They are really aggressive and will actaully chase you!. I dont even know whether these are native. I found a nest on my verandah and got rid of it. The nest will only get bigger if you leave it!They're hideous!

prue said...

Are they native wasps or imports? If the former then keep it, if the latter it's pest contorl time! Glad you didn't get stung and well done on a good day's work! I can't get into the garden until after tomorrow's thesis deadline, not that it is really a problem seeing as it is a super hot day outside! Hope you find a solution to the wasps.

Caitlyn Nicholas said...

LOL - thanks for the giggle. Am glad you didn't get stung and think you are very wise to be kind to your lungs today. I would as well. :)

Jamie said...

Prue, I'm not sure if it's a native species or not, but I am pretty sure they are paper wasps. The CSIRO fact sheet says there are native species of paper wasp, but also some introduced species, and I wouldn't have a chance of telling the difference. I do know someone at the Australian Museum who could identify them, so I'll bother him with a photo and email this week. Meanwhile, the CSIRO fact sheet.
http://www.csiro.au/resources/Common-Paper-Wasps.html

Chookie said...

I am another live-and-let-live person and wouldn't destroy the nest unless it posed a danger to passers-by. If you are lucky, a bee-eater may turn up to assist you. I spent a fascinating afternoon watching one at work on my Dad's neighbour's window. The bee-eater would fly up and peck the nest hanging near the top. As the wasps flew out he'd snap one up and retreat to the window sill below. When the wasps settled, he'd do it again -- over and over until there wasn't a single wasp left.

Shailaja said...

Native or alien, your wasps (we call them hornets here) do look treacherous! In case you are overcome by a false sense of bravado and decide to finish off the pruning job, here's a bit of advice. Carry some toothpaste with you; it is 'guaranteed' to provide instant relief when applied on the part affected by a hornet sting! But no guarantee against anaphylaxis, though.

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

Yikes, my heart was in my mouth as I read this, so glad that you didn't get stung.
I arrived here via a comment that you left on Patient Gardeners blog, which delighted me and have given you a little mention today on my blog here
http://www.artistsgarden.co.uk/2010/01/31/end-of-the-month-view-jan-2010/

Regards
Karen

nfmgirl said...

I've become much less tolerant of wasps since I was stung a few months ago. Up until then, I argued incessantly with my mother re: the value of wasps and their right to exist in my yard. Then a few decided to set up shop without my knowledge in a palm tree outside my porch. I went out to work around my porch door, suddenly heard buzzing in my ear and got three quick stings before I knew what happened! It was 10-12 weeks before the worst of the stings quit itching. So I am a bit less tolerant now. As long as they keep out of the way, we're all okay.

-- Heather, south Florida, USA

patientgardener said...

Don't know much about wasps but is there a time of year when they vacate the nest so you could prune the plant?

By the way loved your idea on my end of month post about the 4 tiles for my vantage points - made me laugh

Chandramouli S said...

As Prue suggested you'd want to keep them if they're native. Hope you're well now and are out gardening...

Lanie said...

I think I'm with you re: your reasoning with the wasps. It does help me to decide whether or not to plant that creeping fig on the back fence though. As lovely as the green cover is....all that pruning!