Pine Needles and Paper Wasps

Pine needles and paper wasps were not in the weekend plans.

We were just sitting down to dinner when one of our regular Little Free Library patrons knocked on the door. She’d mentioned once before that she thought she saw yellow jackets, a more aggressive type of wasp, on the top of our Little Free Library (LFL).

I inspected the library and the surrounding areas at the time and didn’t see any activity. Perhaps they were just passing through.

Little Free Library San Jose

Little Free Library, 2018

She spotted them again this weekend, hence the knock on the door. About a dozen wasps decided to hunker down on the roof of the LFL.

paper wasp cluster

Paper wasp cluster on roof of LFL

We had an unusually windy day, but the sun was warm. They gathered in a cluster, barely moving, perhaps enjoying the sun.  One or two flew out of the birdhouse portion of the library, but I had no way of seeing inside.

Our LFL is a work of art by artist Donna Pierre. I was reluctant to dismantle the birdhouse which is artfully attached to the larger library. That said, dozens of neighbors visit the library daily. I didn’t want anyone getting stung, least of all a small child.

After a brief debate on our plan of attack (ours, not the wasps) we trudged out to the garage in search of the auguring tool. Mike usually welcomes the chance to use his power tools, but it was the end of a busy weekend, after a week-long business trip to Mexico.

I said I would do it.

Mike shouted encouragement and Chris took pictures (because I’m a blogger after all) while I donned a heavy leather jacket and gloves, drill at the ready. I wore my son’s mosquito hood from his back-packing days in case they all flew out at once.  I drilled a large round hole in the back of the birdhouse, hoping they would fly out and be on their way. Once they exited, we could put a small screen over the front, return the removed piece from the back, and then call it a day.

As the augured piece fell into the birdhouse, imagine my surprise when a stream of ants came racing out of the birdhouse and down the back of the library. It was so unexpected.

ants

Ants swarm out of the back of the LFL

Mike produced a flashlight so we could look up into the birdhouse through the larger hole. There it was: a nest filled with grey, honeycomb-like cells, with a few ants dotting the nest. That birdhouse had to go, at least for now.

Paper wasp nest inside birdhouse of LFL

Mike pried a few supports loose and we gingerly inched what is now a nesting box, out of it’s home.

The gathered cluster of wasps sat undisturbed on the roof as I carried the nest to the back garden and hung it high in a tree.

So how do pine needles factor in the title? After all that activity I was a bundle of energy and nerves. As I mentioned, the winds were fierce, knocking pine needles from our roof and the neighbor’s tree. I raked and swept and gathered them into a pile, occasionally checking on the relocated nest. Eventually the adrenaline wore off and we called it a day.

I would like to say, “Problem solved” but the wasps are back. They’re sitting in the same spot on the library roof, even though the nest is no longer there. I’m relieved to know via my search that our wasps are the docile kind, but when I look out the window and see people flailing their arms, it’s a worry.

After researching here: The difference between a yellow jacket wasp and a paper wasp

I decided to post a couple of signs saying:

Our flying visitors are European Paper Wasps (non-aggressive) vs Yellow Jacket wasps (which are aggressive).  We relocated their nest, but a few of the adults are still hanging around.

These wasps are beneficial for the garden, which is probably why they are here.

If you’re concerned, please visit another Little Free Library in the neighborhood until they move along.

Thank you!  Alys, Little Free Library Steward

Yellow Jacket vs Paper Wasp

What, then, is the difference between a yellow jacket and a paper wasp?

When it comes to appearance, both look similar. Both are black with yellow bands. A paper wasp, however, has a longer body than a yellow jacket, which has a shorter and fatter body. If you look closely, a paper wasp also has an orange-tipped antennae while a yellow jacket does not.

A yellow jacket is more aggressive and can sting repeatedly, while a paper wasp only attacks when threatened. Both feed on garden insects, but a yellow jacket scavenges for food and even feeds on food found in the trash or on picnic tables. A paper wasp, on the other hand, feeds on pollen and nectar as well.

Moreover, a yellow jacket builds its covered nest underground or in hollows, while a paper wasp build its coverless nests in a tree, eaves or spouts.

Source: DifferenceGuru

The research I did for this post also solved a mystery. I’ve mentioned wasps in the past, and noted that they never bother me. They make paper nests in the eaves, come and go without a fuss, and of course they do wonders for the garden. Yellow jackets and paper wasps look nearly identical unless you view them up close.

What I thought was a “pass” from the yellow jackets for providing an appealing garden smorgasbord was mere smugness on my part. It turns out that our garden visitors are their more docile cousins. May it always be so.

My Garden at Dusk

garden at dusk as viewed from back door

View from my back door at dusk

Though our temperatures are unseasonably warm, the sun tells a different story.  The angle of the sun reminds me that it’s still winter. Dusk comes early in the garden.

It rained last night, a welcome bit of moisture in this otherwise dry month. It smells wonderful.

I’m spending half an hour a day in the garden, pulling tiny weeds and bits of leftover lawn. When we converted the lawn to native plants last fall, they offered to put a chemical in the soil to kill any remaining grass. I’m an organic gardener, so I declined. I’m only finding shoots of grass here and there so it’s been quite manageable. I sheet-mulched most of the back garden beforehand, eliminating most of the grass organically.

It feels great spending time in the garden. I’ve been sweeping up pine needles, dead-heading the Camellia and enjoying the clean air. I bring in half a dozen lemons each week for our morning lemon water, a wonderful new habit. The female Anna’s Hummingbirds are nesting nearby, which means long drinks at the feeder.  I love hearing them overhead as I work.

female anna's hummingbird at feeder

Female Anna’s Hummingbird at the Feeder

african iris

African Iris

fuschia plant

Loropetalum ‘Burgundy Fringe Flower’

new zealand flax with yellow flowers

These yellow flowers self-seeded under the New Zealand Flax.

plum blossums

Plum blossoms on the four-in-one fruit tree

pink William and Kate hyacinth

Pink Hyacinth ‘William and Kate’

Life is busy again now that I’m back to working with clients, so a lot of my garden time is catch as catch can. The time among the flowers and weeds feel like stolen moments but I don’t mind. Time in the garden is always a joy.

Two Flowers Standing

One by one, the sunflowers faded. There are now two flowers standing.

salvia and two sunflowers

Salvia flanked by two sunflowers

They look spent, but as long as the birds and squirrels keep coming, I don’t have the heart to pull them out. It’s been nice seeing the Salvia in all its glory after a summer spent in the sunflower’s shadow. The Salvia continues to bloom into late October. The bees and hummingbirds love the velvety purple flowers. Salvia thrives in dry conditions, making it the perfect drought tolerant plant.

salvia closeup

Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage)

I wasn’t sure if the tiny finches were still coming to eat sunflower leaves, but then I spotted one from the kitchen window.

finch eating leaf upside down

Goldfinch takes a bite

goldfinch eating sunflower leaf

I’ve got my eye on you

Squirrels are still climbing the trellis, looking for what remains of the seeds. They aren’t staying as long, so I’m guessing what’s left are empty seed shells. I’ll give it one more week.

squirrel stretching to reach sunflower

Checking out the seed supply

squirrel with aligned tail

I love his perfectly aligned tail

There is a lot to do this time of year, but it’s work I enjoy.

 

Our  Japanese Maple (Acer) is dropping a few leaves out back, but the Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is still green. When it does turn, its glorious and one of the reasons we planted it nearly twenty years ago.

Over the weekend I pulled out the last of the tomatoes. I left several tomatoes behind to go to seed in place. I hope to repeat my luck next year: an all-volunteer crop of delicious heirloom Roma tomatoes.

tomato plant collage

The last of the tomatoes for the season, emptied box with basil in the corner, the drooping plant as it ends the season, a wheelbarrow full of plants, some kind of infestation just started at the base of the tomato plants

The basil is hanging in there and still making into a few meals each week. It looks lonely in the otherwise bare planting bed.

basil plant

Basil hanging in there, all alone in the box

Meanwhile, on the other side of the vegetable garden, the ‘pumpkin plant that ate New York’ is taking over. The leaves are as long as my arm now, with several small fruits at the soil line. Though the leaves, stems and flowers all looked like pumpkins, the fruit is a dark green. I’ve never seen anything like it.

late season pumpkin plant growth

Late-season, over-the-top, self-supporting pumpkin plant

Japanese anemones (hupehensis var. japonica) dominate the rock wall and frankly, grow like weeds. I’ve tried to thin them but they come back stronger than ever. They’re a lovely sea of white flowers and the last to bloom before winter.

Last week I picked up some flowering bulbs, a little wiser than I was in previous years. I’ll share more about that later in the week.

I hope your week is going well.

Japanese anemones (hupehensis var. japonica)

Japanese anemones (hupehensis var. japonica)

Japanese anemones up close

Japanese anemones up close