Friday, 10 August 2012

Plum Wars

Plummy heaven
Ah August, month of delicious home grown plums.Unfortunately month of rabid angry wasps too. And in some twisted rule of nature the two go together, like nettles and dock leaves.

It all starts off innocently enough, the plums begin to ripen nicely on the trees, turning from pale gold to luminous purple in the first weeks of August.( see photo for this lovely stage) So far so good, as you stand back and admire them, with not a wasp to be seen for miles around.

But then overnight everything changes. For some unknown reason the plums are complete tramps, they start to split and ooze thick sweet sap out. It's the fruit equivalent of batting your eyelids at a sex starved stranger in a dodgy bar. Wasps suddenly appear from all sides, descend upon the tree and will not leave until every gorgeous fruit has been reduced to an empty paper lantern.Bastards.

Woe betide you if you attempt to pick fruit while the wasps are there. Last year it got so bad that I had to go out at night when all the wasps had gone to bed in order to pick them! And although I bought wasp traps I hadn't the heart to use them.Think about it, I would be pointlessly killing wasps to eat a few plums, it just didn't make sense. So in the end I picked what I wanted late at night and left enough to keep the wasps going during the daytime.

Have you ever seen a wasp chewing bark? pretty cool

What do I do to stop wasps getting out of hand on the plum trees?
I pick the fruit much more often (not waiting for the whole tree to ripen at the same time). I am in the habit now of picking off ripe fruit especially if it starts to crack and ooze every few days.

Why leave the wasps alone?
 Wasps are very helpful to the gardener despite their bad reputation, so please don't murder them for the sake of  fruit. I was reading this great article made up of peoples responses to "do wasps serve a purpose?" on the Guardian website, and I am reproducing bits of it here in case you need convincing If you get a chance read the whole thing here at do wasps have a purpose?

Two slightly different opinions;

  • WASPS are predators of flies and caterpillars. One wasp may make several predatory expeditions an hour. One nest could contain a couple of thousand adult hunters. That's a lot fewer caterpillars and flies in a garden, even after one day. Wasps can convert your garden fence into a three-dimensional paper architecture that can support at least 10 times its own weight. That seems to me worth a round of applause. One wasp can provoke limb-flailing frenzy in a creature 100,000 times its own size, a defensive, yes defensive, advantage that should impress any military strategist. Wasp grubs are the favoured diet of that strange bird of prey, the honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus) - long may it survive. Even if you are decidedly against wasps, at least learn to respect the enemy. There are possibly a thousand species of social wasps worldwide. Their colonies range in size from two adults to about one million (yes, a million wasps estimated in one nest of a South American species). In Britain we have seven species of wasps: the hornet, Vespa crabro (only in southern England and becoming rarer), two species of Dolichovespula (square-faced, rather ignorant-looking, making nests with narrow horizontal bands) and four species of Vespula with prettier, heart-shaped faces and nests that are a mosaic of shell-like patterns. So, next time you get stung cry 'Hallelujah, the world would be a duller place without wasps!'
    (Dr) M. H. Hansell, Dept of Zoology, University of Glasgow.
  • WASPS are agents from outer space appointed to keep an eye on the progress of human beings. They soon discovered that human beings didn't serve any useful purpose on the planet so they turned their attention to rotting plums and open-air cream teas and have been having a whale of a time ever since.
    M. R. Meek, Norwich, Norfolk.

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