Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lights, camera, wasp action

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the cordyline beside the pond was dying. This was a bit worrying. Cordylines are as tough as old boots in London, and it had pulled through the winter all right. OK, it was in a really sunny spot, but they're amazingly drought-tolerant too. And it was planted in the ground, for heaven's sake. Hmmm.
Just before I went on holiday, I wandered over to look at the herb patch, which is in the same bit of the garden. I was trying to summon up the energy to pot up all the various bits and pieces I'd bought, ahem, some time ago and which were destined to transform the area into a thing of beauty. I noticed there were a lot of wasps around. Hmmm.
So many wasps, in fact, that one could hardly fail to draw the conclusion there was a nest somewhere. But where? I gazed around - nothing on the fence, nothing on the pond, nothing on the cordyline (which is the size of a small tree). Wait, there was a wasp crawling into a hole in the ground. But surely wasps don't nest in the ground? Hmmm. Or rather, buzzzz.
If there was a wasps' nest underneath the cordyline, that could explain why it wasn't very happy. I poked about with a garden cane and was rewarded by a Spitfire squadron of wasps zooming out of the hole.
Drat, drat and double drat, as Dick Dastardly used to say in the Wacky Races. I now had two problems: one, I had to get rid of the cordyline in time for the garden opening. Two, I had to get rid of the wasps for the same reason.
Normally, my approach to bugs is live and let live (and spray lots of Deet on myself), but I thought that if a visitor got stung, I would feel awful. (So would they, probably.) And I didn't fancy dealing with the cordyline until I'd dealt with the wasps.
I phoned a local pest control firm, and yesterday there was a knock at the door. "Hello," I said, "are you the wasp man?" "Er, no," he said, "I'm with a film crew. We're filming a documentary for the BBC about pest control and I wondered if you'd mind if we came in and filmed you having your wasps' nest dealt with."
Mind? I was thrilled. Forget Britain's Got Talent - Britain's Got Pests sounded fascinating.
First I had to shut the door again so I could be filmed opening the door to the wasp man, Ricky. I then had to explain to him where the wasps' nest was, and why I felt a bit guilty, for environmental reasons, about getting rid of them, but was also worried about health and safety. They loved that, so I had to be filmed saying it all over again.
Ricky explained that he wouldn't use pesticides or chemicals; he would just dig up the nest, and get rid of the queen. This would destroy the wasps' social structure and they wouldn't be able to function any more. Unlike bees, wasps won't follow the queen to another home.
Ricky then had to tell me this all over again, so that I could be filmed nodding in a semi-intelligent manner.
We went out into the garden so I could be filmed showing him the wasps' nest. Ricky had been a bit sceptical on the phone when I told him the nest was in the ground. I suspect he thought I didn't know the difference between a wasp and a bumblebee, which does nest in the ground. However, he agreed that this definitely was a wasps' nest, it was definitely in the ground and it was almost definitely the cause of my cordyline's demise.
Ricky and I then got into a long and fascinating conversation about how grass carp might solve my blanketweed problem, and the antics of the local foxes, so had to stop and film the wasp bit again.
I then lent Ricky my spade, went indoors, closed all the doors and windows and watched. Both Ricky and the cameraman were wearing protective suits, but I've never known a wasps' nest be eliminated without someone getting stung.
Sure enough, about five minutes later, Ricky was doing a kind of Michael Jackson routine across the garden. He was so tall, the suit didn't reach the end of his legs, and a wasp had crawled up his trouser leg and stung him.
Ricky and the cameraman came inside and he explained how he'd destroyed the nest. I asked him whether there was any chance the wasps would rebuild it (no) and how big it had been (medium size: ie about 50 wasps). We then filmed this conversation again, while I did my nodding bit.
We then discussed how the wasps had come to nest in the ground. Ricky told me that the nest was against the roots of the cordyline. The area there is very dry, and it was highly likely that in all my faffing around while creating the pond, and the herb pot area, that a small air pocket had formed which the wasps had decided would make the perfect home. (Naturally, we repeated the conversation for the benefit of the cameraman.)
Anyway, the series starts this Thursday, on BBC1 at 8.3opm. It's called The Rat Pack*, based on the fact that in London there are more rats than people, and it will star a Jack Russell called Charlie. Whether my section will ever make it on the screen in a subsequent episode is anyone's guess. But at least I've got rid of the wasps. And the cordyline.

*When I set the machine to record the series, I found it listed as Rat Catchers on BTVision. Ricky and his colleagues are at www.environpestcontrol.co.uk