Bumblebees in the compost bin

by Richard Jones

We have a bumblebee nest in our compost bin. I first noticed them a month ago when the first few workers started coming and going.

Bombus hypnorum on chive flowerWe have a bumblebee nest in our compost bin. I first noticed a month ago when the first few workers started coming and going. Now we have a steady stream. The bees are buff-tailed, Bombus terrestris, one of our commonest species.

I've told the family not to worry. Unlike honeybees and wasps, bumblebees are very docile and not prone to attack even if you stand right in front of the nest entrance. Having said that, four-year-old picked up what he thought was a dead one on the path nearby and it promptly stung him. Not surprisingly, there were lots of tears.

I'm not sure if it was one from the nest, or elsewhere. We seem to have bumblebee heaven just outside the back door - the chive flowers are weighed down with them. Not only do we have this deliciously savoury plant in the beds, it also grows very well in cracks in the old concrete path.

Later, while I'm admiring the constant nectaring business, I see there are several species. The red-tailed, Bombus lapidarius, is there in numbers, as too is the white-tailed, Bombus lucorum. Then suddenly there is another colour-way to catch my eye.

I'm not sure Bombus hypnorum has an English name yet, it only arrived in Britain in 2001, in the village of Landford on the fringes of the New Forest. It has since spread widely. I first found it at Crystal Palace in 2005, and now, there it is. Just the singleton was in the garden, but later the same day there were dozens visiting the raspberry flowers up at the allotment.

B. hypnorum is handsome and unmistakable. The thorax is all over bright orange, the abdomen is jet black with clear white tail. No other British bumble has this coloration.

I try and explain all this to the boy, but he eyes them all with suspicion now.

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Gardeners' World Web User 27/05/2009 at 09:49

Hi Richard, I've heard them called the French tree bumblebees, as they're partial to nesting in trees...

Gardeners' World Web User 27/05/2009 at 19:12

hi. av to tell u that we have a gathering of bees in last years blue tit box!!

Gardeners' World Web User 29/05/2009 at 19:32

Hi, We have some bees making a next in a wall cavity outside our kitchen window. They are entering a hole where the waste pipe is. They are fascinating to watch as 1,2 or maybe 3 bees will leave and then they will return one by one. One will wait whilst another is leaving. I have counted about 6-8 at any one time. They ignore us although a large bee, probably the Queen buzzed around me for a few seconds whilst i was photographing them yesterday. I dont think that they will do any harm being in the wall and i am very reluctant to do anything until they have finished nesting and have finally departed.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/05/2009 at 19:34

We have mason bees in various boxes in our yard. The problem is some are coverd in mites.How can we help them? Some are so infested they can hardly fly. Any advise appreciated. We do take the boxes in for the winter to keep them dry and block up any infested holes.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/05/2009 at 20:20

A few years ago I had about a dozen bees visit my cotoneaster, which was about 2mts high by 6 or 7 long, along my garden wall. Within a short time of their visit, somewhere around 1500 -2000 bees just came and lived on the bush for a couple of weeks! It was quite a sight to see them swarm off in groups, only to return en masse. I have since moved but am training a cotoneaster along both garden fences.

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