Nature’s balance

Not only was I stung (twice) by a bald-faced hornet (after I foolishly, if unwittingly, disturbed their nest several times), Koa and Oliver have been stung a couple of times by a second hive near the chicken coop.

We never considered killing the hornets, though. Cherisse looked them up, and they are known as a beneficial insect. They eat other bugs (like flies, which could explain the proximity to the coop), and they are pollinators. While they tend to be more aggressive than other hornets in defending their hives, our solution is simply to give them a wide berth.

An example of the importance of not messing with nature came from a story on NPR this week. A professor of microbiology at the University of Florence (Italy), made a discovery about the role of European hornets and paper wasps in winemaking. Some 15 years ago he observed hornets piercing the skin of grapes. More recently, when Professor Cavalieri and his colleagues used DNA sequencing to compare the yeast in the grapes and in wasps, they understood the role these insects play. In biting the grapes, they pass on a yeast contained in their gut which helps begin the fermentation process while the grapes are still on the vine. Yeast can be added later by winemakers, but early application of the insect’s yeast has a profound effect on the wine’s taste.

Growing fruit and vegetables without chemicals is extremely challenging even on our small scale; we have great admiration for the farmers trying to make a living in this way. It is worth it. Nature’s balance is an awe-inspiring thing. I suspect we have only an inkling of the consequences of spraying pesticides, whether on hornet’s nests, mosquitos in your backyard, or crop fields.

Bald-faced hornet nest
Bald-faced hornet nest


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