"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Birds and the Bees

Upon occasion I awake thinking that I will be accomplishing a certain task for the day but end up consumed with everything but the originally scheduled assignment, actually more often than not. A late afternoon set aside for thinning winter garden rows and freezing peppers became an effort to wrest raspberries from wasps and amaranth seed from a flock of voracious birds.

As the second and larger crop of raspberries and strawberries start to appear on our ever bearing plants we are once again involved in the daily harvest of berries. We had not been paying too much attention to the raspberries of late but were well aware the fruit was close to being ready. I happened to take notice of them yesterday afternoon and could see that enough were ripe to be worth the effort of picking. I was hoping to get away with waiting one more day to pick as we had other chores that needed tending, but unfortunately we were not the only ones to notice that the berries were ready. A closer inspection revealed that every wasp and bald-faced hornet in the vicinity were also well aware that my berries were starting to ripen.

I have a love/hate relationship with the various types of wasps that occupy our property. On one hand they do a great service in that they eat harmful flies, caterpillars, aphids, and other insects that can be destructive to the garden. On the other hand they have quite the sweet tooth, competing with the bees for nectar and us for our fruit towards the end of summer. Hungry wasps are more likely to be a nuisance in late summer as the colony has grown exponentially and is in a frenzy to collect food, often searching out ripe fruit and other sweet things like the family barbecue.

A Bald-faced hornet nest hanging in a cedar tree next to our raspberry patch.

Normally, I leave the nests undisturbed simply taking note of where they are located, be that underground, in the above trees, or the barn and greenhouse. The small nests in the greenhouse are a great teaching tool for my grandson to learn all about various wasps and bees. He is able to watch and learn up close. I have taught him how to carefully pet the back of a bumble bee in order to see the difference in the nature of the mostly docile bee compared to the much more aggressive wasp and hornet. Late last fall he got to pick apart dormant yellow jacket and mud-dauber wasp nests, and has sat with me quietly observing as bustling bald-faced hornets moved to and fro feeding the larvae in the above nest. He has a nice little bee book that teaches him all about the mysterious inner workings of the hive and is most fascinated by the insects.

Anyway, in order to reclaim my raspberries before the wasps devoured them all "I" had to get in the patch and pick amongst them, shaking the bushes as I went along in order to dislodge any wasps that had burrowed into the berries. More often then not my wife or I end up getting stung while picking this time of the year. For the most part the wasps are as interested in the fruit as I am and we all work together trying to see who can gather the most fruit, and as long as they don't get poked in the rear with my finger they simply move around us as we pick.

This valerian plant was host to a multitude of seed hungry birds.

That same afternoon I noticed a flock of small birds hanging around my seedy valerian, Belgium endive, and amaranth plants. It didn't take long for me to realize what they were up to. Luckily, I have already collected all the valerian seed I need but had yet to focus on the amaranth and endive. So between having to unexpectedly harvest berries and seeds my afternoon was spent. Tomorrow morning I will tackle the peppers and thin my winter rows...I hope.


Roasted Garlicious said...

a lot of my choi seeds and kale seeds got eaten by the birds, but i also know that in the spring will be a ton of wee volunteers! from their messy eating :D

Roasted Garlicious said...

ohh and nice wasp nest... i usually leave mine alone too, unless they are in a spot where it might get me into trouble!

randi said...

I suppose we could say that getting 'sidetracked' from our daily to-do lists is what keeps growing your own a fresh and ever changing lifestyle. I start off with a quick list in the morning and am grateful that at the end of the day I've managed to put a check mark after half of my hopefilled accomplishments. There is nothing routine with our routines. Looks to me you'll be well stocked up for the coming winter. Good job, Mike!

Mr. H. said...

Roasted Garlicious,

We have yellow jacket nests in our greenhouse and I swear that they get used to me being in there with them. I can work inches away from their little nests and although we keep an eye on each other I have never been bit by the ones in the greenhouse, not in all the years I have had it.

My favorite part about letting stuff go to seed is all the volunteers, isn't it great!

Mr. H. said...


I am forever sidtracked these days and also have to write a to-do list. I'm glad to hear that I am not the only one that has to put on paper what they hope to accomplish. It works! I check them off, like you said, one at a time and hope to get most of them done.

Yes, we are looking pretty good going into winter this year. To tell you the truth I am almost looking forward to it this year. A nice break from gardening and a clean slate for next years challanges. This year was a fluke, next year will not go as well. I have never had two good years in a row. But I'm ready! Have a great day Randi.

A Farmstead Pilgrimage... said...

Mr H, I'm glad to know, setting out to accomplish a list, and only finding yourself faced with having other tasks that need immediate attention is common among folks like us. [grin]

Great photo of that wasp and what a huge nest... Yikes! We have one not quite that large on our barn.

Thanks for sharing!

Have a wonderful day!

Ruralrose said...

i too write a list in a note book, after so many years i can almost turn to "that day" from another year and the list is the same, eventually it all gets done, thank goodness i have years left to witness - you could have the best year ever next year, cause that hasn't happened yet - happy talking with homesteaders - peace for all

inadvertent farmer said...

You are nicer than I am...I destroy the nest near the garden or the kids' play equipment. They can feel free to inhabit the woods but please stay there!

Your raspberry photo is just wonderful! Kim

Mr. H. said...


We have to duck under that nest everyday when taking a certain entrance to the garden...so far so good.

Mr. H. said...


I would love to have a great 2010 gardening year, believe me I am hoping for one. Thanks for the good karma.

Mr. H. said...


I had to destroy an underground nest last summer that was too close to where our grandson plays. I just filled it in with dirt after dark. I hated to do it but they were becoming aggressive and numerous.

Stefaneener said...

I'm okay with wasps in general but yellowjackets are just mean around here. I don't put up with nests but we're in the city, so it's a different set of circumstances. Those are lovely rasperries.

LynnS said...

Wow, what raspberries!! Have you ever made raspberry vinegar? Using it to cook with, then deglazing, makes a wonderful thickening sauce/glaze.

Pretty nice that your boy is so intrigued by bees and wasps, and especially in disecting the old nests.

You know, I can work or walk around bees and escape stings, but put wasps or hornets in the area and I am a magnet. A few years ago I stepped onto an underground nest while weeding - that was a 9-sting event. They came outta nowhere!

Another stupid-Lynn event was the year I decided to let the hornet's nest above the front porch grow so everyone could watch the progress. A lesson for the kids, right? End of season was approaching and everyone got a summer-finale when we were leaving to go somewhere. I was last-in-line. The hornets chose to swarm me. A few were under my hair and my shirt, so not only did the kids get to see their momma do the dance-of-a-lifetime on the porch, but she stripped off the top and got some nice red whelps. Interesting lessons, but not part of the lesson-plan!

Perhaps next year will be a first -- a two year in a row bounty for you!!

Mr. H. said...


Perhaps country wasps are just more docile. Sometimes I think the ones around here are half drunk off fermenting fruit.

Mr. H. said...


I believe that some people give off pheromones that attract or trigger wasps. I have often wondered if they don't have certain learned instincts that are passed down from generation to generation. For example, If you stepped on their nest last year and were perceived in some way as being harmful to them perhaps the next generation will also consider you a threat.

Some female wasps produce a pheromone in order to attract males. Perhaps your scent can also be distinguished by the them. Who knows.

We will have to look into making raspberry vinegar. Honestly I never thought about it before, but it sounds like a great way to use up some of our berries.

Every garden year is a good year, some are just a whole lot better than others.

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