Bees

buff-tail bumble bee

Here is a bee, the bumbling sort I might add.  We found her in the dining room this weekend.  I’m guessing she came in with a basket full of logs from the woodstore, where she was probably hibernating for the winter.  She was pretty dozy, I hope she wasn’t unwell, she posed quite passively on this coffee filter paper.  Bumble bees (as opposed to honey bees and wasps) are not generally given to stinging, you’d either have to sit on one or be an extremely annoying person to get stung by one.  We have returned her to the woodstore and hopefully she will be ready to start a new colony of buff-tail bumble bees shortly.  She and all the male bees will die next winter, only the remaining fertilised ’queen’ bees will hibernate ready to start new colonies the following year.  But before then they will all be very useful pollinating our gardens and crops.  Bumble bees don’t make honey in quantities that would be useful to us, for that we must look to their sleeker cousins the honey bees.

Bees are in a spot of bother at the moment.  Their numbers (both bumble and honey) are declining.  Nobody is entirely sure why, and of course, there may be more than one reason for their decline.  Among the reasons given are the varroa mite, this parasite has been particularly devastating in the US where bee populations are purposely moved around the states in order to pollinate sucessive crops.  This movement makes them more susceptible to attack.  Global warming, or at least unpredictable weather patterns are blamed also.  The use of pesticides and modern farming methods, including the introduction of GM crops have been cited in the decline of the bee.  Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) whereby hives are mysteriously abandoned is disturbing.  Parasites that would normally raid empty hives refuse to go near them.  It has been suggested, although not conclusively proved, that the use of mobile phones plays a part in this as it interferes with bee navigation systems.   Oh and Goldilocks tells me that even Dr Who is concerned about the disappearance of bees.  Alien tampering!!!!  The point is that more research and action is needed to help the bee.

Einstein once said that without the bee humankind would only have four years left to live.  DEFRA, on a slightly less alarming note seem a little more laid back about the fate of bees, the opinion seems to be that they are not the only pollinators, a real slap in the face for bio-diversity!   Nevertheless, it is estimated that bees are worth £200m to the British economy per annum and DEFRA is now planning to put some funds (rather meagre some would argue)  into research and strategies to help bees.

We can help bees also.  If you decide to keep honey bees make sure you join up with www.britishbee.org.uk , as with all animals commitment and responsibility is paramount.  You may have a more general interest in helping bees in which case you can sign up with www.saveourbees.org.uk , if you are involved with young children and education they’ll send you some nice resources.  All gardeners, whether urban or rural, can help to create a ‘corridor of flowers’ so that the bumble bee can migrate freely and mate more sucessfully, inbreeding is a problem for bee populations.  You need to create a succession of bee friendly plants throughout the seasons, here are some suggestions:

  • Spring – bluebells, daffodils, flowering currants, bugle,  forget-me-nots, pulmonaria, hellebores, hawthorn and pussy willow.
  • Early Summer – foxgloves, aquilegia, comfrey, fennel, geranium, pontentilla, snapdragon, thyme, verbascum , astilbe and campanula.
  • Late Summer - delphiniums, single-flowered dahlias, eryngium, fuchsias, buddleia, cornflower, penstemons, sedums, verbena bonariensis, lavender and heathers. 

You can make or buy bee hotels, to encourage the solitary bees such as mason bees, or you could buy a bee box (all available from Crocus) to encourage bees into your garden.   Natural Collection do a good range of bee and honey related beauty products and if  you just want to enjoy some honey, then Simply Fair are currently offering a 10% discount on their Equal Exchange fairtrade organic honeys.

I don’t need much encouragement to plant foxgloves, they are one of my all time favourites, the addition of bumble bees crawling in and out of the bells makes them that much more special.  I hope the queen we found this weekend will be sending out her offspring to do just that.    

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4 comments to Bees

  • Pulmonaria and Comfrey have made our garden bee-tastic this year; we have a small garden in a pollution choked bit of North London yet thanks to these plants you could hear the bees as soon as you opened the door this spring. It’s been lovely.

  • goo

    These days urban bees are faring much better than rural ones, it might be a bit smoggy in the smoke but far less pesticides are used in cities than in ‘arable deserts’. I’m so glad to hear your garden is a bee paradise and comfrey has so many uses.

  • can you include on the web site”how to build a bee box”.need specific data for size and depth of holes for particular species. thanks

  • goo

    What a good idea, I’ll look into it and see what I can come up with!

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