My new love affair with wasps

I’ve been intrigued  lately to watch wasps busily investigating my kale.  I wonder, I thought, do they possibly eat caterpillars?  Surely that would be too good to be true.

However, a short trip to buglife later, and I was reassured that they do, indeed, prey on caterpillars.  They don’t eat them themselves, but the wiggly green darlings provide protein which adult wasps feed to their larvae.  Wasps also prey  on aphids for the same reason.

OK.  So I’m happy with wasps around my kale, and lots of them is fine.

Later, I was looking at my crab apple.  It kind of needs a haircut:

As I looked more closely, I observed ants running up and down the trunk.  I looked up to see where they were going, and realised that the ants are farming aphids on the tender new shoots at the top of the tree.  The ‘straggly hair’ is an aphid farm.  And busily hunting around this aphid farm are …

wasps and aphids on crab apple July 2018

… more wasps.  So the ants are farming food that benefits not just them, but also the local wasp population.  And wasps are good, because they look after my kale.

So I’m not going to prune my shaggy crab apple just yet.  She’s busy hosting a fascinating little ecosystem, and I can tidy her up later.

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The greenhouse arrives

The decision to build a greenhouse was not a straightforward one.  First, it involved completely destroying an area of the garden and all the habitat that it had offered:

Space cleared for greenhouse Feb 18

Second, it involved covering that area of garden in concrete.  Having ripped out the decking that used to be in that space, it seemed counter-intuitive to then cover perfectly good soil in concrete.  We had a thoughtful builder though, who noticed the good quality of the soil and bagged it up for us for future use.  Then he drowned the area in concrete:

greenhouse concrete mixer Feb 18

greenhouse base Feb 18

Once this had cured (no mean feat, given that it was laid just before we had our Siberian winter with temperatures of -5c), we were ready for the greenhouse.  The concrete is necessary to stablise the ground, and to provide a firm base upon which to fix the greenhouse so that it doesn’t blow over.  I didn’t want to grow crops in the ground.  My primary requirement is to grow plants from seed, so that I can avoid buying pesticide-laden plants from garden centres.  I want my plants to be safe for pollinators.

We obtained the greenhouse second-hand from our neighbour’s sister.  When we got it home, it looked like this:

greenhouse in bits Feb 18

We both had meccano sets when we were young, but this was a challenging prospect.  So we hired help:

greenhouse construction Feb 18

He arrived just as the Siberian snow was starting to fall, and heroically put the thing up anyway.  His fingers must have been frozen, despite several cups of tea.

By March, it looked like this:

greenhouse in place March 18

The shrubs in the border to the left were moved from the greenhouse area, and replace the boring hydrangeas.  Yesterday, our greenhouse looked like this:

greenhouse July 18

There are butterflies and bees, and the tomatoes are turning into tomatoes, so there is life going on in there.  The butterflies know exactly where to go, scarpering out through the windows when I go in.  I’ve found tiny caterpillars in there, which I threw out for the birds.  I let them be on my kale outside, but not in the greenhouse.  That is my ‘safe’ space for seedlings and salads.  In theory…