Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Tag: Revision coming

Things you didn’t know about wasps

I once wrote about small paper wasp hives at residences. Today’s post is because when August sets in, wasps can become rather bothersome. The reason wasps are so pesteriferous! lately is that they are male and it’s the end of the season. They’ve served their purpose of gathering food for the larvae, so they’re no longer getting nectar rewards. Starving, they are looking for anything sweet to eat.

That’s not the only way in which the female wasps cut off the males. They also “stuff” them into cells to starve them.  

My neighbour’s tree was dropping apples all over the ground, so that’s where the wasps were. They were very peaceful, and were probably drunk (like moose get, too).

In 2014, I had a bunch of hornets hanging around drinking sap from a wounded sumac tree. A nylon cord I’d used to keep the tree upright when it was flopping over had restricted its growth, and so it was cutting into the new bark. Of course, hornets are big, so I was worried about the potential for stings.  The sooner the wound would stop seeping, the sooner they would go away. So to hurry the process along, I hosed the tree down a few times a day, and cleaned the wound while the hornets were stunned.

Not all wasps are dangerous to people. They can be beneficial, too. 

Moral: If you are getting bothered by wasps this time of year, put out some sugar water or juice a little ways away from you’re sitting, and don’t panic.

It’s Pollinator Week! Let’s build a Mason bee house.

After a brief warm spell in May, we’ve had a rainy June so far. I prefer rain to heat at this time of year, but I’m watching my plants, wondering “why are only the perennials and weeds lush?” So many of my plants have sprouted and stopped. They’re waiting for something. I’d say it’s the sun. Still, with all the transplanting I’ve done, the rain and coolness have helped them take root, rather than die like they did last year.

Even if the blooms have been on time, with fewer flowers to choose from, pollinators haven’t been around all that much.

In the interest of serving bees (and having the bees serve us), I’m celebrating bees because June 17 – 23 [2013 AND 2019] is Pollinator Week! The Pollinator Partnership has tons of information about pollinators and what we can do to be as hospitable to them as possible.

It’s not just about bees: “Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.” Even rats have demonstrated a role in pollination.

Bees that pollinate are honeybees, bumble bees, and many solitary types such as Mason (or orchard) bees. Honeybees and bumble bees pollinate cultivated crops; native bees pollinate native plants. To learn more about bees, check out the videos on the Pollinator Partnership website, put together by Burt’s Bees, Wild for Bees, and Isabella Rosselini.

Even more fascinating is CBC Ideas radio/podcast “Dancing in the Dark.” If you want to learn a lot about bees’ variety, language, complexity and sheer sophistication in a short time, listen to this! 

Why should you care about bees?

Because despite their ubiquitous presence, honey bees are suffering from a disease called “Colony Collapse Disorder” and there is no human intervention or cure for it yet. I’m a biologist by training, and so the basic tool I know of to do something that might help is throw numbers at it – and help by buying honey from local beekeepers, and not at the grocery store. We need to drastically increase our beekeeping, even with expected losses, to increase the number of bees that have a natural resistance to the disease. Those that do, survive and go on to make queens and drones that help increase the surviving population.

I’m pleased to be attending an event on June 18th: “Nos abeilles sauvages en ville : une diversité insoupçonnée en lien avec l’aménagement urbain”“Our wild bees in the city: an unexpected diversity in relation to urban development.” That’s in a few days. Members of CRAPAUD will be in attendance at the wild bees discussion, and they have hives of their own at UQAM. (A Google translation of that link can be read here.)

Two years ago, an apiary installed some hives downtown. The Ville is not planning on regulating the practice, so count on seeing more of this, everywhere.


This past weekend, I created a Mason bee house. I first got the idea last year because of an interesting rant on the Montana Wildlife Gardener blog against honey bees (It’s interesting – here’s a link to all of Montana Gardener’s posts on the topic of bees.) I also received a comment spurring me to do it.

Here’s the process, in pictures:

log suitable for turning into a bee house
A good-sized triangular log of wood
Drill bits
Drill bits! Choose 1/4″ or 5/16″ and at least 3″ long, but don’t drill all the way through the wood.
hole drilled suitable for a Mason bee
I drilled rows that cross-hatch along the long sides of the triangle. This is the first hole.
hanging the bee house log
Hung with a cup hook and a chain, with a notch on the triangle, on the tall fencepost in my garden.

The Mason bee house isn’t finished yet, as it needs a “roof.” It also needs more holes (what can I say, except I drilled what I could in my drill battery’s short life). Only half as many holes are drilled on both sides as there will be when it’s done, but already I see activity around it. This is good!

UPDATE: the Mason bee house is occupied, and I’ve also seen it being used as a source of fibre for paper wasps, gathering material for their hive. They chew up the wood and build paper for nesting cells. They’re again succeeding in occupying the upper corner of my garage door. Wasps have a place in our ecosystem, too – so I’ll leave them alone.

Middle hole
paper wasp
and a fibre gatherer

New Year’s Resolutions and getting organized



Come New Year’s, I always ask people what their resolutions are. (It’s more than just being polite because I want to tell them one of mine.) Most people say “None, resolutions are only made to be broken,” but I disagree; that’s all-or-nothing thinking. But some people surprise me with something ambitious or unusual that they want to do. Last year, I did some resolutions and goal work with a friend, and she accomplished more than she thought she would. This graphic (left) was what she found very helpful, but I prefer the version above, if you have the explanation from 13 Rules for Realizing Your Creative Vision.

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Wasp hive observations

Yesterday I hosed down a wasp’s hive that they built in the corner of my garage door, with its attendant seven or eight nurse wasps. Last year, they’d built hives in the corners of the house windows. It wasn’t a problem, but people usually don’t let this happen. I started the hose slow, and after a few passes of knocking the nurse wasps off, I turned on the jet and knocked the hive down.

The “girls” spent the rest of the day recovering, rescuing the larvae they could – I could only presume they were pulling them out of the husk, with the intense, careful work they were doing – and then they installed a new hive in the same place, with fewer cells. They’re back to tending it and sealing the larvae in. I think the ants took care of the rest of the non-viable hive, plus at least one wasp that appeared she didn’t make the dowsing.

I felt bad about it afterward. They’ve been rather peaceful – no threatening buzzing around humans. With the reduced size of the brood, I’ll leave the new one alone. They put a lot of work into it.

eHow used to have a good article on how the wasps made their hives, and I used to link to it, but eHow has now been taken over by people who want to kill everything. I’m so tired of this mentality, but it’s about selling a product.

Everything has its place, and it’s up to you to tolerate the tolerable. Not all insects will sting you, and you don’t need to control all “risk.” 

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