Wasps for Christmas

I keep finding wasps in the woodpile, asleep. Every time I’m reminded of the winter I drove to work listening to Radio 3, when their carol competition featured music to The Bee Carol by Carol Ann Duffy (the link goes to the version I remember best, which wasn’t the actual winner).

by Carol Ann Duffy

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice –
a silver frieze –
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive –
trembling stars cloistered above –
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

In early December this little beauty lay amongst the stacked logs, curled up against the cold and dark.

a wasp curled up on a wooden log

wasp, wood, winter

What dreams of summer occupy its tiny mind? Does she dream of nectar from the apple blossom, or sweetness from their fruit?

Will she survive the winter at all?

With that in mind, I gently tapped the log against its fellows, and let the sleeping wasp fall further down between the stacks.

If I don’t check for bees or wasps, they come into the house in the log basket and the warmth wakes them up. Sleepily, they buzz for a while amongst the kindling, then erupt from the log basket and zoom about the room in a daze, seeking light and warmth. You can see their bodies heaving with rapid breaths. Panic – or starvation?

After a while exhaustion sets in and they can be captured with ease, a plastic tub to take them outside onto an ivy-covered wall if it’s sunny, or back to the log store in the dark and cold. Sometimes I’ll tuck them in with a sliver of apple, in case they have the strength to have a nibble and recover some energy before they go back into hibernation.

Am I daft, caring for wasps?

When spring comes again, it isn’t my place to pollinate the flowers that bring me cherries for the birds. I’ve disrupted a bee, or a wasp, when it thought it was in a safe place, and I’m not going to eat it myself. Caretaking the landscape of the garden means more than digging and sowing.

As the poem has it:

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

You can see, in the photo, the fuzzy hairs on top of the wasp’s body. But no wings.

Och, I guess that means some of them are doomed.

[Update: There are wings! Folded neatly underneath the legs and abdomen, safe until Spring. Huzzah! Vive les wasps!]

I’d have to be slightly potty to start beekeeping on top of all my other hobbies and interests. Indeed, keeping domesticated bees may not be the best thing most of us can do for our gardens.

As well as wasps, this garden also has a variety of wild bees. The house is surrounded by gardens all thick with trees and ivy, Victorian red-brick terraces with lots of places for mason bees, ivy bees, ground-dwelling bees, wasps, hoverflies, ladybirds, and beetles. With all that insect activity going on, wild bees don’t need the added competition of honeybees.

A couple of years ago I made a bee hotel like the ones recommended by Jurgen Schwandt (website in German) and David Werner (also in German), who has a multitude of bee hotels on his tiny urban balcony. It was ignored until last summer, when I noticed some distinctive nibbling around the edges of the leaves of a potted nectarine. Leaf-cutter bees!

We also need to remember that the British (and yes, European) insect biome(?) is very different from the rest of the world, something to bear in mind when reading information online.

Other bee-related links I found when composing this post:

Jasna Guy

Margaret Cooter

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Adventures in Bee-land – eloquent essays on beekeeping in Cornwall, with lots of photos of bees both wild and kept and flowers (i.e. bee food).

ilustration of bumblebees on flower outlines

Humble-bee by magnoliacollection on Spoonflower – pattern from a vintage illustration of “The Common Humblebee.”

Published in: on December 27, 2020 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. […] a long way off, but the bright days of sunshine will come again. The wasps in my woodpile will let me know […]

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