Sunday, September 14, 2008

Are we ready for winter yet?

This colony of bald-faced hornets managed to build its nest practically overnight ... about 150' from my front door. I'm glad that my daughter is back in school; happy that she is occupied with other activities most days until it's too dark to go outside for exploration. I've warned the lawn-mowing crew and tied bright yellow ribbons around the drip line of the tree. My garden guru and other advisors suggest that I trim the branch in the middle of the winter and burn the nest ... I probably will do that. Only because I don't want this colony to send its progeny to another tree closer to the house.

This is the east side of the nest ... sleeping late is not allowed when each member of the colony has to do its share for the benefit of the entire community.

I don't know if you've ever come across these hornets ... they build the most awesome structures, almost overnight. When we come home from an overnight trip, we will find new nests at our doorways, on the decks, on the wheelbarrow that we forgot to put away. I usually have my planet-friendly bug man treat the house and outbuildings each spring to minimize our exposure. This past year I skipped the bee treatment for a number of reasons, and this is my reward. After a lengthy telephone conversation with my bug man, I learned that the bald-faced hornets really like eating little spiders. A side effect of spraying for bees, wasps and hornets is that the spiders also bite the dust, so there is nothing around here for these hornets to eat. This year, however, the hornets have found happy hunting grounds, so they have settled in for the winter.

My bee man, my garden guru, lots of other advisors ... all tell me to stay away from the nest until deep into the winter freeze, then cut the branch with the nest and burn it. Common sense tells me that is the right thing to do, from a safety point of view. But there is a side of me that feels sad for the hornets ... the insects that are so busy finishing up this winter home have spent their entire lives to create a safe place, warm, filled with food, so the next generation can emerge next spring to find another place to do the same thing.

Observing this nest over the last week has made me think about all of the things I need to do to get my home ready for the winter. The garden needs attention before it sleeps; there are summer toys to put away; windows and screens to wash one last time before the weather turns bad; winter coats to match to hats and mittens and scarves; bird feeders to fill ... and even if I complete all of these tasks perfectly and on time, my home will still not be the model of beautiful engineering, energy efficiency, safety, warmth and good nutrition that these insects provide for their offspring. But the nest is the perfect example of what I aspire to achieve.