Saturday, 26 July 2008

Busy Bumblebees At Barleycorn

Everyone knows that bees and bumblebees are important for the environment, for without them, there would be no flowers, trees, shrubs, fruits and vegetables. Experts say that bumblebees are under threat because all the places they like to live are being destroyed, not to mention the frequent use of pesticides which does an inordinate amount of harm too. Meadows and fields of clover are much scarcer in today's countryside due to intensive farming methods.
We all know that wildflowers and crops depend on the endearing, humble bumblebees , so it is up to farmers and conservationists, and we keen gardeners to do what we can to help their plight, for, surely, we are all the stewards of the earth.
Unlike the honey bee - a distant cousin of the bumblebee - the humble bumble is gentle and slow, trundling around the garden collecting nectar and pollen. The streamlined honey bee, on the otherhand, dashes about all over the place.
The bumblebee is large and round and furry compared to the smaller honey bee. The male, or drone bee is the smallest, the female slightly larger and the Queen bee the largest of all.
Bumblebees are much more docile and less aggressive then honey bees so, if we want to have our flowers, fruit and vegetables pollinated, giving us excellent blossoms, we can afford to encourage a nest or two in our gardens without fear of them swarming.
There are over two hundred different types of bumblebee which live in a variety of sites such as amongst leaf litter, in an old mouse hole, under large stones or under the wooden floors of a shed. The nest is about half the size of a small grapefruit and will normally contain about six eggs.
Made of wax produced from special wax-glands on their body, the nest is a comb with a few brood-cells and is often protected inside animal fur or moss or grass. If you happen to find one when turning over the soil, just replace it and the bees will repair any damage.
The smaller bumblebees we see in our gardens all summer long are the female workers, who take over the duties of collecting the food to rear the young grubs as well as building and maintaining the nests, while the Queen devotes herself solely to laying new eggs.

The drones, which are the males, do no work in the colony, and spend their time mating with other queens from other colonies, after which they die. Once they are fertilised the queens leave the nest and begin their winter hibernation.Unlike young wasps, which are fed on caterpillars and insects , the young bumblebee grubs are fed on nectar and pollen. In the photograph below you can see bulging pollen sacs on the bumblebee's hind legs.
All the fairly large bumblebees we see in our gardens in early spring, foraging on the early crocus, anemone blanda and other spring bulbs, are the young nesting queens which have overwintered and are looking to build new nests. Nature provides their first meal from the succulent dandelion heads, which we should leave till the seed forms, thus helping the queens to survive after their long winter hibernation, and they, in turn, will repay our kindness by pollinating everything in our garden.
The Queen spins a bright yellow cocoon of silk around her first batch of pupated eggs, which emerge a few days later as adult worker bees. Unlike their cousins, the honey bees, the young queens will continue to live in the nest all summer and autumn.
Creating a nectar border in our gardens, or setting aside a little area for a wildflower meadow, or leaving clover on our lawns will encourage bumblebees to come to our garden and help their survival.
The kind of plants we choose to grow is also important. Pussy willow, winter-flowering heather, a continuation of summer-flowering annuals and perennials and honeysuckle are a few plants which will attract and supply nectar and pollen to hungry bees. All the plants in the photographs in this post are examples of species which are attractive to them.
Although bumblebees do not produce enough honey for commercial use - only a few grams at a time to feed their young - they repay us by pollinating our flowers, fruits and vegetables.
The chaenomeles japonica, or quince, which provides the opportunity to make a succulent jelly from its enormous fruits, is just one example of the benefits from the pollination of bumblebees in our gardens.
Ever since childhood, nothing pleases me more than to have the familiar hum of droning bumblebees for company on warm summer days when I am in the garden. No matter how early I rise they are always up and about, and even on cool autumn evenings, they are still hard at work.
Bumblebees are definitely one of Nature's most harmless and industrious workers, and as such, I have always felt an affinity with them for they are often my sole companions when I am in the garden before the world at large has woken up.
Whenever the wasps are around I keep alert and try not to disturb them as they can be unpredictable, whereas bumblebees rarely attack humans as they go about their business. Once they realise you do not have pollen, they fly off to the nearest flower.

Oh, what a wonderful thing to be,
A healthy grown up busy busy bee;
Whiling away all the passing hours
Pinching all the pollen from the cauliflowers.
I'd like to be a busy little bee,
Being as busy as a bee can be.
Flying around the garden brightest ever seen,
Taking back the honey to the dear old queen.
Where the bee sucks, there suck I,
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry,
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily, shall I live now,
Under the blossom under the bough.

The Bee Dance
Why hello, Mr Bee,
Can you please show me your dance?
Why hello, Mr Bee
I believe this is my chance
Why hello, Mr Bee,
Won't you please dance now with me?
Why hello, Mr Bee
How I'd like to be a bee.
We would dance through the flowers,
We would dance through the trees,
We would dance over hayfields,
We would be the bees-knees.
We would dance round the gardens,
We would dance through the trees,
We would dance over cowslips,
We would be the bees-knees.

Raspberries and strawberries are two fruits which I continue to grow at Barleycorn. With very little effort on my part, I am always amazed at the bountiful harvest each year. I know, of course, it is thanks to the pollination of the bees and bumblebees.
Bumblebees enhance the garden at Barleycorn and bring it to life, which is why I will always continue to be welcome these fascinating furry little beasties, for without them, there would be no garden at all.
There is a little video of bumblebees below. Turn up the sound for the best buzz!
Here are two sites with information on how to attract bumblebees into your garden.
List of plants
Persicaria Bistorta superba, Polygonum 'superbum', bistort
Pink Helianthemum, rock rose
Geranium Phaeum, cranesbill
Cirsium Rivulare Atropurpureum, thistle
Leucanthemum vulgare, ox eye daisies
Centaurea Montana, perennial cornflower
Papaver Orientalis, red Oriental poppy
Geranium Macrorrhizum Album, white geranium
Yellow Perennial Potentilla
Geranium Clarkeii, blue-veined white geranium
Alstromeria, Peruvian Lily (very invasive!)
Digitalis, common foxglove
Geranium Psilostemon
Allium Christophii
Geranium Magnificum
Chaenomeles Japonica
Lonicera Belgica, honeysuckle
Blue iris
Anthemis Daisies
Don't forget to watch the charming little video of bumblebees just below this post.


Cheryl said...

One of my favourite subjects, the blessed bumble....a lovely post with lots of info, and photographs to show the delights of this beauty. I love your little carder bee, so sweet....

Bumbles have done well here....I have stacks of logs around the garden for them to hibernate and nest in.....I leave wildflowers.....or weeds...they love lamium and it flowers early, so is a great help to the bumbles....

As my dear little grandson said to me....the world would be grey without bees Nanna....I leave you with that thought

I do hope that time is healing your heart after losing your beautiful friend.....

Jeanne said...

Beautiful and lovely is all that you share.
Love Jeanne

A wildlife gardener said...

* A warm welcome to our little corner of paradise, dear Cheryl :)

Your garden is a perfect sanctuary for the bees and bumblies and I love your many beautiful photographs of them too :)

Your grandson is so right. Life would have so little colour without the bees.

I have not been in the garden much lately other than to take photographs, Cheryl, as I have missed my shadow so much :)

* Thank you, dear Jeanne. The garden is a huge blessing :)

east-side-patch said...

I love this blog, just found it and went through a few of your movie snips - so cool. You have a very beautiful place. I will progress through it from the start. Great work, and I look forward to more. I have suscribed to your posts.

Sally said...

Beautiful as ever W.G.

A wildlife gardener said...

* Thank you for introducing yourself to my blog, East-Side-patch. you are most welcome :)

The little videos are only minutes long but they give a little flavour of the amazing local wildlife to be found within the ponds and the garden itself.

Thank you for your encouraging words. I look forward to visiting your blog in return :)

Lovely to have your company again, dear Sally. 30+ degrees here today which is about as hot as we get. Pull up a chair and come sit under the sunbrolly and have a glass of wine :)

Chandramouli S said...

Are the bees from your garden? :O The flowers look soooo pretty...

A wildlife gardener said...

* Lovely to make your acquaintance, Chandramouli S. Welcome to our little corner of paradise :)

Yes, the bumblebees are all resting on flowers in our garden..and because they were so intent on their business, I was able to zoom in and capture their furry little bodies, and one wiping pollen off his fur :)

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Of all the bees I love the bumblebee best. They are so adorable when they bumble around in their cute little black and yellow striped sweaters.
Bliss is a bee friendly garden and pesticide free.

Lovely post and very informative WG!

A wildlife gardener said...

* They are my favourites too, Yolanda. Their buzzing is gentle enough not to frighten a child and thei flight is slow enough to observe.

I know... your wonderful garden is a paradise for all the wildlife which visits...and I love reading about all your veggies. I must make a bigger effort to grow more then I do at the moment. As I've grown older it's mainly fruit I've concentrated on.

Libbys Blog said...

We have had alot of bees in our garden this year. Not sure why, but I have obviously done something right!!!
Your garden as always is a delight, Thank you for sharing it with us!

artistsgarden said...

What wonderful pictures - I adore bumble bees.
Thanks for dropping by my blog
An Artist's Garden

Green thumb said...

Thanks for the lovely post dear W.G, now I appreciate the presence of these beasties in my garden even more.
A garden bubbling with Bumblebees, well, that's what I am gonna try now. Do these lovely creatures have any special preferences in respect to pollination?
The Raspberries and The Strawberries look so healthy and delicious.

linda may said...

G'day, How have you been?
The bumble bees are lovely, and seem more gentle than the honey bees. I don't know if we have them here. Nice post Wildlife Gardener.

A wildlife gardener said...

Good afternoon and a warm welcome to you all :)

* Dear Libby, you always do things right, what with your amazing exotic garden which attracts all manner of butterflies, insects and bees :)

* A warm welcome to you, Artist's Garden, to our little corner of paradise. Long live the bumblies :)

* Lovely to have your company, dear Green thumb. The bees and bumblies pollinate everything which flowers all over the earth. the flowers in this post are just a few examples of where they find pollen and nectar in our garden.

The rasps and strawbs are still producing fruit...we have some and the birds and wasps have a few too :)

* Great to have your company, Linda May. Come sit in the garden and have a glass of wine while listening to the hum of the bumblebees :)

Kathleen said...

Oh, I just knew you had something wonderful going on at Barleycorn! Your bumblebee photos are fantastic! You've really got quite a selection of superb shots. and a plethora of information too. I try my best to encourage them in my garden too tho it no where near equals yours. I'll have to try and plant a few more things they like.
Happy August.

Crafty Green Poet said...

oh what wonderful photos, especially the one of the bee with knees going into the foxglove. I love bees and have been posting some photos of them recently, but you quite put me to shame with the quality of your photos....

A wildlife gardener said...

* Hello again, dear Kathleen. Lovely to see you once more :)

I get plenty of time to take pics of the bumblies as they linger on each flower :)

* I love the bees and the bumblies too, Crafty Green Poet. They bring the garden to life, as it were,...and it's always sunny when they are out and about :)

Abraham Lincoln said...

You have a large collection of flowers and bees in this post. Well done.

SandyCarlson said...

You are amazing.

Miranda Bell said...

These pictures are stunning - the detail is just so clear too - aren't bees amazing! I'm just about to post some of the many pictures of insects and butterflies in our own garden - everyday there seem to be different things to watch... will keep you posted on my seed planting in the autumn - take care Miranda

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and love the detail of your photographs! We try to keep exotic bumblebees out of mainland Australia and the price of honey from honeybees has ridiculously risen over the last couple of years. They are declining in numbers...

A wildlife gardener said...

Good afternoon, One and All, on this sunny/showery summer's day here at Barleycorn :)

* Lovely to have your company, Abe. Glad you enjoyed the bumblies :)

* You say the loveliest things, dear Sandy, and flatter my ego :)

* I look forward to visiting your next post to see the myriad of insects down your way, Miranda. Best of luck with the seed planting too :)

* Honey can be expensive here too, Anonymous, depending on whether we buy from a local person or the supermarket. I like to help out the little people, so I try to buy honey which is locally produced.

Thanks for the compliment about the photos...though the bumblies posed really well, don't you agree ? :)

joey said...

Another amazing and informative post. I love my bees and in all my years of gardening, I have never been stung ... we have a mutual respect for each other, almost as though they know I share my bounty with them. How I enjoy visiting your wonderful 'Piece of Paradise'.

Marie said...

Beautiful photos from your garden :)

AscenderRisesAbove said...

those are some amazing bee photos - i heard about them from crafty green poet; that fat one at the top is my favorite.

A wildlife gardener said...

A warm Monday Morning Welcome to our little corner of paradise :)

* Hello again, dear Joey. Lovely to have your company. So far, I am in the same position as you regarding stings, though I can't say the same for insect bites... as I am attacked all year round by gnats, horseflies and midges :)

* Welcome to you, dear Marie. Glad you came on a visit :)

* Thank you for introducing yourself, Ascenderrisesabove, to the garden. Lovely to make your acquaintance. The top photo really shows the fur of his coat, doesn't it? I enjoyed taking them over the summer weeks :)

Karen Mowrey said...

I came here and what did I see?
found some art/pictures that shows a bee...
if you don't mind,
I would like the world to see,
a link, a picture, in a post from me!

Smile you have "bee"n spotted! I do a weekly bee spotting post and would like to show you off in my next post, usually every Tuesday. If you wish not to bee featured, let me know ASAP!!


*Jacquelyn Berl from
sent me this link!

Duxbury Ramblers said...

We love the bees, they fill the gardens and the countryside with life.
The photos are wonderful.

Q said...

Dear Bee Lady,
All the Bees are beautiful! I have two friends, Mr. Bumbles and another sweet Little Bee. The Little Bee is a honey bee that likes to sit on my leg when I go outside in the morning. I love bee kisses.
My gardens are also filled with many bees. It seems each year I fall in love with a different variety. This year I am smitten with the sweet little MAson Bees. I have a bee box for them.
Lovely post.
Hugs from another Bee Lady,

Ruth Welter said...

Hey WG, the garden looks amazing, I love all your photos. You got some fabulous bumblebee photos as well. They are such fascinating little creatures.

The other day I got some amazing butterfly photos ...I'll post them one of these days when I get around to it. enjoy the beauty around you.


Crafty Green Poet said...

I've given you a blog award, come over to my blog to find out more!

Laurie and Chris said...

Love all of your bee pictures! I relly like the the bee "butts"

Sheila said...

Dear WG, these are great photos.
I loved all the bee facts too..!
WE have a huge hornets nest in our cedar hedge at present and have been giving it a wide berth. I don't want to destroy it, as I'm sure they are earning their keep somehow. They seem rather agressive, but I've read that once winter comes it will kill them off naturally, so I will let Nature take it's couse. I would much prefer the bees to take up residence, but no such luck..!

A wildlife gardener said...

A warm welcome Everyone to our little corner of paradise :)

* Hello, Karen Mowrey. Lovely to make your acquaintance :)

I am delighted to have 'bee'n spotted and do not mind in the least being shown off in your blog. I feel quite honoured, in fact :)

* Welcome, once again, Duxbury Ramblers :) The bees give us everything in our gardens, in the countryside, and all over the world ...Long live the bees :)

* I must get a box to encourage Mason bees too, Sherry. Another of my friends, Cheryl, had some of those boxes, as she is also a bee lover :)

* Hey, dear Ruth! Lovely to see you. I will be coming over to see your butterflies shortly :)

* That sounds just wonderful, Crafty Green Poet :) I will be over soon to find out about my award :)

* Welcome to you both, Laurie and Chris :) I like the furry bee bottoms too :)

* Come and have a glass of wine, dear Sheila :) You are right to give the hornets a wide berth...not as friendly as the bumblies. Enjoy the rest of the summer :)

EcoRover said...

GREAT humblebee pics! I love our native bees, and their ability to unwind that super-long tongue to get into otherwise hard-to-pollinate plants.

Sheila said...

Just checking in to see if you had posted..
I hope your arm will soon be better, and we can enjoy some of your lovely photos and observations here again.