Country diary: wasps gather to revel in fermenting apple rot

Country diary: wasps gather to revel in fermenting apple rot

Country diary: wasps gather to revel in fermenting apple rot

Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: These adult jaspers feed only on the sugars of nectar and fruit, so this windfall is ripe for them

Wasps on windfall.

Thu 23 Sep 2021 00.30 EDT

This is the tipping point, the meeting point, the turning point. There may be many or only one, but this one is inside an apple. At that moment when the fruit falls from the tree before the seeds are released; in that moment between ripeness and decay when the blackbirds break through the peel to excavate the flesh and it begins to turn brown; in that moment the wasps arrive.

The nests of Vespula vulgaris, common wasps that we call jaspers, may be 10,000-strong, but there seem to be fewer these years. The wasp larvae, packed with proteins from carrion, caterpillars and insects chopped up by sterile female workers who do not eat it themselves, have hatched into fertile females, the new queens, who leave with male drones for mating. As the weather gets colder, the old queen and all the workers die. Only the new queens hibernate. There is no going back from this. Wasp communities rise and fall in a year, and sow their seeds in future generations. This is also the point for us of engagement parties, wedding anniversaries, birthdays, leavings, arrivals – fruits from our own families and communities with destinies folded in their pips.

The turning from summer at the autumn equinox seems to have begun in the middle of August when there were early rumours of change in the trees. Suddenly, around the corner, there are yellow poplar leaves strewn across the path, the birches are colouring and trees begin to loosen from the stiff green. We gather the sights of harvest moons over stubble fields with morning mists, skeins of geese, blackberries, rowan, bryony.

Adult wasps feed only on sugars of nectar and fruit, and so the windfalls are just for them. Those feeding now have materialised from a humming shiver of air under the tree in a spotlight of a fallen apple. It is mostly hollowed out by birds like a moon crater bounded by red peel, and the wasps are rapid, jerky between intensely concentrated feeding, adzing around the rim of the crater. The jaspers are cidered up on fermenting apple rot, revelling in this moment of all our turnings.

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