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05 Dec 2021

'Issues with wasps in Tipp occur near bottle banks,' they come out after drinking beer

Column in this week's Nationalist and Star

Wasp PIXABAY

File photo

The long potato ridges had been filled with redshank and this made harvesting the spuds very difficult.

While most wildflowers brush away from you the redshank is tough and resists by getting caught in my booths.

Like all of nature’s plants, redshank can be very beneficial.

This colourful flower according to the local beekeeper is excellent for bees. It has a long flowering season and plenty of pollen and nectar for a hungry colony.

Traditionally it was a very good medicinal herb and there are black marks on its leaves. These were supposedly the thumb prints left by Our Lady as a mark of appreciation around the health benefits of the redshank.

Along the borders of the field wild flowers had been sown in anticipation during the spring. These had attracted a multitude of bees throughout the year and had helped with the pollination of the crops. There were also lots of hoverflies and ladybirds and these were the perfect fix for any greenfly.

While there is a bit more weeding involved the benefits for wildlife are visible with every footstep.

Flocks of chaffinches and linnets have now moved in and every time I walk between the rows of vegetables, birds fly up. They are the next stage in the natural life of the field. They hoover up the seeds and seeds help maintain a healthy environment.

I have also heard the charming calls of goldfinches and they bring a sound to the land and this lack of nature’s music can sadly be missing from more intensively managed land.

Insect species are also benefiting from all the food plants. Lesser broad bordered yellow wing moths are very common. They fly up from between the cabbages and the bats are also having a field day with them.

Each morning on the newly planted trays in the potting shed I found lots of wings from this species, showing the nightly carnage that takes place while we sleep soundly.

I have also found their caterpillars curled up under a leaf of a cabbage as I strip them for sale. I don’t think they eat them but rather it was a good place for a long winter's sleep till harvest time came along.

Ladybirds and their larvae were common especially when there was a small infection of greenfly. The adults were also busy and the greenflies were consumed in a few short weeks.

The rest of the day was spent cutting the foliage of the potatoes. The hot and humid weather that makes your head feel fuzzy also brings the risk of blight.

Old farmers used to reminisce that they didn't need a blight warning to know when to spray, but listened to their muggy heads.

This was sometimes a little unpredictable especially after a lively Sunday night or a wedding or a christening.

The potatoes will be safe in the ground for a few months and can be harvested as needed. Apart from blight, the biggest pest are the rooks.

They will dig out any potatoes near the surface of the ridge and peck out the energy rich centre. At least with the foliage gone they have no place to hide while carrying out their raiding.

They also disturb the ridge and expose more potatoes to sunlight. This causes the potatoes to turn green and these are not saleable or edible.

The green is an indication that the levels of the poison solanine may have reached harmful levels and that it is not safe to eat.

On the way home with the rain falling heavily on the countryside I passed a woman and her kids in their small garden. They were all stooped over wet forks and digging up the potatoes as they tried to save the crop.

This is a scene that would not have been out of place a generation ago in most parts of Ireland.

Later on during a gap in the rain I headed out to walk around the orchard. The apples are having a good summer and all the bee activity has produced a bumper crop.

As I pushed aside a few leaves to examine one of the fruits I got a real surprise.

Inside a partly eaten apple were several wasps. At this time of the year, a wasp’s work and life is nearly completed. All of the workers and old queens will die as the food runs out and the temperature starts to drop.

Also the social networks that are part of a wasp colony and sustain them throughout the summer have broken down and after the last two years I think that this is something we can all relate to.

“What use are wasps” is a common phrase I hear at this time of the year. Wasps quietly go about their business from spring to summer of gathering and eating garden pests. This is a very important ecological role and on a par with the work of pollinating bees.

I have found that a lot of issues with wasps occur near bottle banks.

The wasps could be in for a quick drink of beer or wine and come out intoxicated and that is when the trouble starts when they encounter humans.

Comments/Questions to albert.nolan@rocketmail.com or 089 4230502.

Albert Nolan is also available to give walks/talks to schools, tidy towns, youth and community groups.

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