Summer: bee & plant news


collecting a swarm

collecting a swarm

The bees

This has been a very mixed year for bees so far with spells of fine weather but often accompanied by high winds making it much harder work for bees to forage. Honeybees – which are quite temperamental, in my view – don’t even venture out on windy days except to pee!

Several of our honeybee hives swarmed very early in April then the new queens failed to mate – probably because that wet spell then kept them shut in the hives – and we are still trying to re-queen some to save the colonies.  The upside is that we caught a couple of swarms and those are thriving.

As for other bees we – along with the rest of England if reports are right - are seeing a huge number of tree bumblebees this year but still plenty of the other common bumblebee species too.

Bee spotting

I have been trying to improve my knowledge of solitary bees and, now that I have my eye a bit more tuned into the smaller species, I am amazed at how many tiny bees I spot that I must previously have either not noticed or dismissed as flies.

If you follow our twitter (@rosybeeplants) or facebook (rosybee) you might have noticed the photos of our sightings.  My favorite sightings this summer are the tiny (6mm) lasioglossum bees some of which are a shiny metallic green like this one, above.

Many plants flowered early

From a mass forage perspective many plants bloomed early this year. This included the oil-seed rape which, in our area, started flowering in March and was over by early May; at least 3 weeks earlier than last year. Our acre of borage and phacelia overwintered successfully and provided a wonderful food supply for about 7 weeks until early June. Sad to see if fade but it is now being replaced by a secondary sowing.  The brambles seem to be having a great year, probably benefiting from the regular rain and have been buzzing very noisily for the past two weeks. I counted 8 bees per square meter one day which ranks as very high. But again: early. 

All this early flowering may result in a dearth of natural forage for the bees later in the summer producing a ‘July/August gap’. 

Bee plants in the garden

In the borders, throughout June the veronica spicata has been the star plant (above) producing its slender deep blue spires from the end of May and looks set to continue for a good few weeks yet.  This clump appears to be about 30cm higher than last year and I measured some of the flower spires at 40cm which is a lot of nectar! I have seen a wide range of bumblebees as well as honeybees working it every day.

Now the echiums and the malvas have begun to flower. Neither of these are common in the garden centres but both are very excellent garden plants as well as being in our top 5 recommended bee-plants.   I can see why garden centres shy away from echium vulgare as it looks terrible when there is only its leaves on show and, to the untrained eye, closely resembles some nasty thisle, but when those flower spikes start to shoot up it is transformed into a really exotic and sculptural splendor.  The result is 1.5m high nectar towers which attract all sorts of pollinators; just sit with your camera and watch.