Country Diary: Beekeepers take advantage of lush moorland

Beehives have been positioned on the moors as the moorland heather comes into full bloom.
Beehives have been positioned on the moors as the moorland heather comes into full bloom.

We’re rapidly approaching autumn! From West Heslerton, the lane, gently rising towards West Lutton, was devoid of flowering plants. All were seeding apart from the bluish-lilac heads of Field Scabious. What a show it made along the dry, grassy chalk bank!

Many swifts have already departed for South Africa. Although born here, they only spend a third of their life in Britain. On leaving the nest for the first and only time, a young swift instinctively heads south immediately, without its parents to guide the way. It’s amazing to feed, bathe and even sleep on the wing!

Beekeepers are leaving their hives on the moors in order to obtain heather honey. Some transported their apiaries between May and August for the early-blooming bell heather. Now the ling, or true heather is in full bloom until September, enabling the honey bees to produce locally popular heather honey.

Tigga and I are both in the greenhouse – waiting! He hopes to grab a home-grown tomato ripe enough to eat. Having rejected three green ones, he appreciates he’ll have to wait. Michael has now erected a plastic wire screen around the plants to deter his antics.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting and watching a corner of the greenhouse for a visitor. Several days ago, Michael observed an unusual wasp working between the adjacent metal framework. The wasp has constructed a cylindrical-shaped nest 4cm in length and about 11.5cm above the paved floor.

Recording its movements, we discovered that it visited the nest quite frequently, spending only a few seconds either inside the upper entrance, or working on the rim. More recently it has concentrated on the lower end of the nest.

We’ve often seen wasps rasping wood from outdoor tables and benches to mix with saliva for multi-celled ‘paper’ nests, but this was a solitary wasp. It’s one of several very similar species known as mason wasps. They use sand and mud often moistened with saliva for the strong construction.

I’m afraid I felt guilty of an act of vandalism last week. While removing a dense tussock of grass that had invaded a patch of miniature London Pride, I disturbed a colony of ants. Using a spade, I sliced away the upper surface of soil and vegetation, revealing not only ants, but millions of their white eggs. An army of irate ants erupted, dashing hither and thither to protect their site and eggs.

Carefully replacing soil, I imagined the frenzied attack would last about half an hour. Actually it took one and a half hours before they calmed down, and four hours until only 10 ants remained. Peace reigns once more!

Only the sharp-eyed will have spotted the microscopic red spider mites present on walls during those hot summer days. They leave bronze-coloured patches on leaves, so watch bean and tomato plants!