Friday 25 May 2018

An exciting new book about bumblebees

‘Bumblebees, an introduction’
Top bee
Cathi-next-door runs Yorkshire Publishing and frequently passes on new publications. Their self published books are ideal for new authors. No stressful submissions and when no one else will accept them new authors can still have had a go.
Bee book
Not that any rejection applies to the Bumblebee Trust with their modest little title, ‘Bumblebees, an introduction’, it flies off the shelf and its current print run has nearly gone.

Fantastic pictures
No wonder. Its writers love bumblebees, write with authority and everything is evidence based. Their is no dumbing down and yet the book provides masses of easily absorbed information. Packed with beautiful photographs it enables you to identify all 24 UK species and learn much about them.It reports some bumblebee’s decline but also brings several good news stories. Although some populations show serious decline and are endangered it was some relief to me that only two British native species have been lost.

Ten fascinating facts about bumblebees
Buy the book and read more.

'Dangle bee'
  1. Unlike honey bees many bumblebee queens at first forage to provide for their first born. These first workers are smaller than those born from subsequent egg laying when the queen retires to her bed.
  2. Bees evolved from carnivorous wasps about 130 million years ago  (bumblebees 40 million). They co-evolved with the rise of flowering plants
  3. Bumblebees are able to collect nectar and pollen at as low as 10 degrees centigrade which is about 4 degrees less than honeybees. As a consequence they are active for more months of the year, are out for longer hours and in more inclement weather
  4. Bumblebee’s hairy coats help them keep warm
  5. They shiver to keep themselves warm. They are able to temporarily detach their powerful wing muscles and vibrate them.
  6. The same vibration enables ‘buzz pollination’ Thousands of species of plants produce pollen enclosed in their anthers. The buzz of the bee releases the pollen to fall on the flower’s stigma and/or cover the bee with pollen which is transported elsewhere.
  7. Cuckoos, we love them or hate them. Their machiavelian ways are part of nature’s rich pattern. Five British native species of ‘cuckoo bumblebee’ behave the same and deposit eggs in the nests of other bumblebee species. No need to produce their own workers.
  8. Sadly when 14th century human european colonisers took common diseases to South America as a consequence millions of the indigenous population died. So too with bees when foreign bumblebees were imported to south America together with their parasites.
  9. ‘The big seven’. This is the name ‘bumblists’ (or whatever you call them) give to the most established secure British native species of bumblebee
  10. Bumblebees harvest nectar and pollen which they comb into their baskets. For them it is a valuable nutritious resource. Enough pollen covers their furry bodies to pollinate plants.
  11. (10a) From the tropics to the arctic bumblebees are found everywhere!
Peppered with pollen
What can the gardener do to encourage bumblebees?
I am tempted to say ‘get a bigger garden’ in these days of pocket handkerchief gardens paved down for parking
The Bumblebee Trust rightly point out how gardens are a very rich resource for bees. I might add far richer than most farm fields although there are tremendous opportunities for enlightened farmers to make  ecological provision.

'Spider bee'?
The book has a very helpful chapter on how the gardener can cater for bees and makes a fair stab at gardening methods such as sowing wild flower meadows and the rather different gaudy stands of annual plants. Some readers will remember that having last year abandoned vegetables I indulge in ‘throw and grow’  on my old vegetable plot!

Bee bed
I do not believe that you should turn your garden around to cater for wildlife. Grow what you like but perhaps amend your methods. By all means choose nectar rich plants - lavender gets a warm mention. 

Vegetables in a way makes my point. By all means grow them, most of them flower and some are nectar rich. But don’t be too tidy. Why not let your brassicas complete their life cycle and flower! Being untidy to me is not an excuse to grow weeds. 
(Although if you want weeds I recommend verges of dandelions and in a border the dreaded bumblebee plant - better known as Himalayan balsam. There is a lovely yellow impatiens which is just as invasive but has not yet been damned in the media)

Bumblebees love verbena
Garden chemicals
The book quite correctly damns excess - or even any - insecticides and herbicides. This is too serious an issue for this ‘good news’ post today and I will discuss this in a separate post next week.

Bees love nectar and pollen rich trees
Doubts about mites

I was interested to read about mites sometimes very clearly observed being carried by bumblebees. The bumblebee book states that these are not parasites but are beneficial residents of their nests hitching a ride facilitating their spread.

This disturbed me as I have previously published a post ‘How to repair a bumblebee’ that links to a site that claims they weigh down the bumblebee and describes how to remove them.
This is a problem for me when my posts stray out of my area of expertise, namely horticulture. I will add a sort of disclaimer on that original post and leave you to make your own conclusions.

The Bumblebee Trust does describe how to restore a distressed bumblebee that has been unable to renew its energy resource of nectar when out foraging. Either introduce it to a spoonful of dilute sugar or place it on a nectar rich flower

Bee on borage

The Bumblebee Trust website
YPS website

Previous posts
The significance of worldwide decline in bees

Doubt about feeding sugar water to exhausted bees
July 2017
Myth buster Robert Pavlis has published a post suggesting this is a harmless but useless practice in the case of honey bees. One of his readers points out that it is a traditional practice for bumblebees


  1. Thank you for the recommendation! Bees and bumblebees have become objects of attention here in the last few years, too, what with the dying of way too many of them and the continuous loss of habitat. Too many people go for the "clinical" look in their gardens these days, all pebbled over with just a few potted box trees for show, and paving up for parking space as you have mentioned.
    I do not have a garden myself, but my Dad's allotment is a bit on the untidy side - a paradise for birds, insects, lizards and other wildlife.

  2. Sounds to be an interesting book. You mention of lavender coincides with my latest post. We try to grow bee friendly flowers avoiding doubles. Such a shame that much town planting uses pollen poor plants. I shudder when I see sunflower varieties described as pollen tree, I know sunflowers make good cut flowers but the best aspect for me i to watch lots of bees foraging on the flower heads. They flock to our cardoons too.

    The sterile trend id further emphasised but the increased use of artificial grass. Even our local supermarket is selling it!

    1. The best advice to gardeners is to grow plenty of plants. Real ones!

  3. This spring I was surprised how early the Queen Bumblebees were out on my early spring flowers, which was before the snow. Thanks for the recommendation. My copy is now ordered.


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