Go Organic: Be kind to bumblebeesBy James Ashford
February 11, 2013
I was clearing out a gutter at the back of my shed last weekend when I disturbed an enormous bumblebee.
It may have been disturbed but I was downright startled and almost toppled off my ladder.
But solitary bees are not an uncommon site at this time of year if you keep your eyes open, especially on a sunny afternoon.
The size is something of a giveaway and my bee was almost certainly a queen looking for a new nesting site.
Bumblebees live in small colonies of 50 or so and at this time of year queens that have hibernated through the winter are foraging for new quarters to populate.
They will sometimes use old tunnels and crevices in logs and tree stumps and sometimes make their own hollow in a grass tussock.
Last year I was lucky enough to have a nest tucked away in the bottom of a compost heap on my allotment.
It meant I had to leave the compost bin alone for a few months but it gave me a steady supply of bumblebees to help pollinate my crops.
And pollinate they do.
Because they are big and strong bumblebees can get inside the more robust flowers like peas and broad beans and do their vital work.
They also play a crucial role in pollinating tomatoes because of the unique way they buzz when they are in contact with the flower.
You can watch videos of them doing this on YouTube and also a rather laborious human version which relies on using an electric toothbrush for the same effect.
Sadly bumblebee populations – like most bees – are under threat.
Loss of habitat, wet summers and widespread pesticide use all make life difficult for bees.
Gardeners can help by growing bee-friendly plants, especially ones which provide nectar at the beginning and end of the growing season when it is hard to find.
The Royal Horticultural Society has put together a useful list of 400 plants for pollinators which you can download from www.rhs.org