Bumblebees are one of natures reminders that we humans do not know as much as we think we do. According to our laws of aerodynamics, bumblebees should not be able to fly. Obviously, we have overlooked something, as fly they do.
However, bumblebees, like other native pollinators of flowers, are in trouble. Competition from European honey bees, pollution, pesticide use, and habitat loss all take their toll on these bees. Since they pollinate approximately 15% of our crops as well as countless wild plants, when they are in trouble, so are we.
Bumblebees are generally docile, but will sting if provoked. They are very defensive of their nest, which is built in a hole in the ground. People mowing pastures often get stung when they mow over a nest. Unlike a European bee, bumblebees can sting repeatedly. The sting is painful, too.
A nest contains a queen, workers and drones. The queen lays the eggs, the workers forage for nectar, and the drones wait to mate with the queen, then die. As winter approaches, the queen stops laying eggs and lets the workers die out, then hunkers down to wait out the winter. In the spring, she lays eggs again and the nest cycle repeats itself.
There have been attempts to rear bumblebees in artificial nests for use in pollinating crops in greenhouses. These have met with limited success, but the cost is pretty high. Bumblebees are not attracted to artificial nest structures outside.
To attract bumblebees, you can plant almost any flower that is marked as attractive to European bees. Some examples are clovers, roses, fireweed, daisy, iris, milkweeds, St. John’s wort, evening primrose, lilac, vetch, yarrow, and asters. Providing clean water, such as a birdbath or shallow dish, is also appreciated.
Bumblebees usually forage within two miles of their nest. If you start seeing them in your garden, you will know to be careful mowing so you don’t find the nest by accident. It is hard to see, unless you observe bees going into and coming out of a small hole in the ground.
Another important factor in attracting bumblebees is limiting your use of pesticides. Even organic pesticides still kill, so do not be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that you garden organically. Use only the minimum toxicity of pesticide necessary to get the job done, target the pest as directly as possible, and treat only the effected plants. Try to use pesticides in the evening, after the bees have finished foraging for the day.
Bumblebees are fun to watch. They look so big and clumsy, but manage to delicately sip the nectar from flowers so they can take it back to their nest. Plant some flowers they enjoy around your vegetables and they will even help pollinate your crops. What more could you ask?
For more help gardening, buy my book, Preparing A Vegetable Garden From The Ground Up
Available in print or ebook from Amazon.com or other retailers, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!