Bumblebees are the gardeners’ best friends. In early spring, on warm sunny days and sometimes in the winter, you may see large bumblebees flying in your garden. These are the queen bees.
Most species of queen bumblebees spend the winter hibernating.
- When they emerge they have two things to do.
- Find food (which you can help with by planting more winter flowering shrubs)
- Find somewhere safe to build a nest.
- Having spent the winter hibernating they need to find food fast. Bumblebee food comes from flowers; Nectar for fast energy and protein rich pollen to feed their babies.
- Early flowering trees, shrubs and flowers are a magnet for these foragers. They flit from plant to plant, collecting food.
- There are 24 species in the UK, but only eight of these are common.
- Bumblebees are precious. They are rarely aggressive unless under threat. Keep your distance, especially from nests.
- A bumblebee nest is a blessing. It will be gone by late summer, so if there’s one on your plot then enjoy it while it’s there.
- Queen bumblebees search for suitable nest sites by flying in a zig zag pattern, close to the ground. The movement of their wings often uncovers old mouse holes, the perfect place for a bumblebee nest.
- Inside the queen bee will lay a few eggs and raise the first batch of worker bees. While they are developing she has to maintain the nest and collect food for them, so a steady source of nectar and pollen is essential.
- Keep your sprays away and learn to live in harmony with these vital creatures.
- Plant more winter and early spring flowers such as Mahonia, winter honeysuckle, hellebores and Viburnum bodnatense ‘Dawn’.
Bumblebee rescue remedy
If you find a bumblebee on the ground looking forlorn, it may just have run out of energy. Don’t be too hasty as they do like to sunbathe, but if she looks poorly or has been there for more than forty minutes or so then it’s time to administer some bee aid. Don’t worry it’s easy. Simply mix up a tiny amount of sugar with warm water in equal amounts and place one or two drops on a leaf as close to the mouth of the bee. If it is alive it will quickly soak up the sugar solution and fly away. You can offer a drop or two more until it recovers. Don’t feed honey as it may spread bee diseases. It’s handy to keep a little pot of sugar syrup ready in case of bee emergencies.
Read about bumblebees
For more information about bumblebees visit the website of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.