When my Sister told me that the bird boxes that have remained vacant for several years have new tenants, I was expecting to see Blue tits or a Robin making his dutiful visits to the nest box entrance. Instead, I witnessed a steady stream of bumblebees making a beeline for the vacant premises as they claimed a home of their own.
Queen Bee has chosen a ready-made nesting site, a disused bird box as a suitable location for her upcoming brood. Partial due to the plentiful supply of Lavender, Chives and Clematis flower the busy and hungry bees have at their disposal.
She is the only bee to survive through the Winter and as her food supplies are used up, she emerge’s from Winter dormancy to begin feeding on nectar and water from nearby flowers. Once she has replenished her supplies Queen Bee will begin the search to find a suitable site to build a nest and begin the life cycle of raising her brood.
Queen Bee creates a food store (Pollen pot) inside the nest so that she can feed while she lay’s and rear’s the first batch of female worker bees. This first brood is important as they tend to the nest and fetch pollen from nearby flowers so that the Queen no longer leaves the nest. Instead, the Queen will raise additional broods as the season develops and the size of the nest grows the Queen will lay grubs that once cocooned in a web quickly develop into adult bees some will be Male and others, female Queens. They both leave the nest and only the females return instead the male bees will feed on nearby pollen and nectar and breed with Queens as they emerge. Most male bees never mate but will compete for the attention of Queen Bee amongst other males.
Once mated Queen Bees will feed heavily on pollen and nectar to build up her reserves as it only the new Queen Bees that survives underground throughout the Winter months only to emerge to start the lifecycle all over again in the Spring.
Large-flowered Lavendula x intermedia cultivars attract Bumblebees attention whereas Honeybees prefer the blue flowered Borage, Hyssop and the delicate off white flowers of Marjoram. Interestingly all herbs make sure to plant up a Sunny area of your garden with these Bee attracting herbs.
Finding a Bumblebee nest in your own garden is a real treat and unfortunately quite rare. Leave the bees to go about their business of pollinating and collecting nectar as a food source from your garden fruit and flowers.
A Bumblebee nest and it’s occupants only lives for a few months, as Queen Bee leaves to hibernate in an underground nest the female worker bees and male drones will all die living the nest empty and Queen Bee, underground and dormant throughout the Winter.
Unlike the neat and organised honeybee nest, which has well packed hexagonal honeycomb cells for storing honey and raising offspring, the inside of the bumblebee nest is quite messy and disorganised.
It is not unusual to find a number of dead bees on the ground near the nest entrance. Worker bees will remove dead and dying bees in an attempt to keep the nest clean disease free. Dead Bumblebees are unable to sting although handling them is not advised, however Honeybee sting remains active and if hooked into your skin can remain active and sting! So be cautious and remove any dead bees from around a nest in a timely fashion. Do not disturb your new inhabitants and do not breathe on the nest as this will aggravate the bees and may encourage them to leave the nest.
Interested in learning more about choosing the right garden plants and flowers to encourage Bees in your garden? Then my latest article >> Bumble, Honey and Solitary Bees depend on you choosing the right flowers to plant, maybe of interest.