Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Thursday, 21st June, 2007
IN THE GREENHOUSE, I lift up a ceramic container (an old bear-shaped cookie jar that lost its head years ago) that I keep blood, fish and bonemeal in, and discover this ants' nest. With the damp soil that we've had on the raised beds in here recently, as summer storms replenish the water table, this must have been a welcome dry area for them to bring the 'ant's eggs', the pupae of the youngsters, into. The container hadn't been sitting there for long, so they must have been working hard.
There are mini-plantations of palm tree-like seedlings, just an inch high, arranged around the ant colony. One of them (left) has grown enough for me to identify it as a species of spurge (sun spurge?). Ants enjoy the oil found in spurge seeds. They carry home the seeds, extract the oil, then dump the seeds near the nest, helping to spread the spurge.
I'm impressed how soon the workers organise themselves in groups to trundle away the ants' eggs. By the time I've run indoors for my camera they've cleared many of them away into the tunnels below.
I admire the industry of these ants but unfortunately I've got to relocate them as I'm planting out my tomatoes. I trowel the nest into a bucket and gently spread it on a nearby veg bed. Hopefully they'll manage to salvage something from the disaster I've inflicted on them.
A sparrow and later a blackbird pecks away amongst the debris.
As I continue to dig in the raised beds, I find that the colony extends a couple of feet to the left and up to a foot deep. I disturb winged ants; the queens and their consorts which will fly off one settled, still, summer's day (if we have one) to mate prior to the queens starting new colonies.
A few days after I took these photographs, following the heaviest June rains on record, the whole greenhouse was awash so this colony would soon have been forced to relocate or drown.
Those poor ants must feel like extras in a disaster movie as they had a foretaste of the flooding yesterday. I was about to start work in the greenhouse when I saw that the path was covered with several inches of water (left). This drained away during the day but more was to come, washing right over the raised beds and out through a gap in the far corner.
I've got a old header tank in the greenhouse which catches the water from the roof. Of course this overflowed and this added to groundwater and run-off finding its way in from the garden.
It seems appropriate that when we constructed the raised beds in the greenhouse last year I marked the date with a frog's face, inscribed in the concrete (this was a pun, as I'd placed an assortment of recycled bricks frog-up - a frog being the depression in the face of the brick - so that the maker's names, mainly local collieries, would be visible).