Bumblebee aware - July 2019

Once you have decided to throw a lifeline to our endangered bumblebees, the question is “What is the best plan for my bit of land?”  The two major approaches are to create either a wildflower meadow, or a year-long buffet.

There are more and more programmes about growing flowers for bees and it can be confusing but there are pros and cons to consider.  A meadow provides nectar and pollen from May onwards.  In its first year, food is not available before June but blooms appear a month earlier thereafter with an established meadow producing 20 times more pollen and 6 times more nectar than in the first year.  Peak forage production is in August but it declines rapidly in September.  For most of the year our fields and hedgerows have nothing to offer pollinators.  During the Summer, the “Meadow” approach is valuable even if your garden is small because this is when large numbers of pollinators are collecting food for their growing broods. 

The “Buffet” approach aims to offer a range of flowers throughout the year, particularly in the cooler months when natural resources are low but when the future of bumblebee colonies relies on the survival of individual queens as they prepare for hibernation or when they emerge to found new families in Spring.  To achieve this, gardeners can grow a selection of bulbs, shrubs, annuals and perennials that are known to be excellent sources of pollen and nectar for extended periods.  Choice of plants is easy these days because there are many helpful lists available (such as at www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk) and the “Buffet” makes it easy for bees to concentrate their collecting in a single area throughout the year.  Bumblebee queens need to be very well fed and healthy in order to survive the colder months.  Because of global warming, some individuals do not hibernate, bumblebees evolved in the cool Himalayas, and may be unable to find any food in Winter.

At the end of the Summer, the queen that founded the colony (her family) for the year, dies and so do all her daughter workers.  Her sons also die once they have mated.  The only survivors are the new princesses who have to know how to survive on their own.  Once they have mated, they carry the future generations in their bodies.  They need our help.

Dr Bumbledore   (July 2019) on buzz@bumblebee.myzen.co.uk


Bonus fact!

The field poppy supplies twice as much pollen as any other wild flower species but it is the common ragwort that is the best source of nectar.