Moving bumblebee nests

by Kate Bradbury

I have bumblebees nesting in my garden. They didn't choose to live there, I introduced them. Or rather, I rescued them.

Bumblebe foraging on a flowerI have bumblebees nesting in my garden. They didn't choose to live there, I introduced them. Or rather, I rescued them.

With a reputation for being a bit of a bee fanatic, I get the odd call from friends of friends who have bumblebees nesting in their gardens. Most of the time I convince them to leave the bees alone, but last week’s call was different. Darren and Jason were landscaping their garden and couldn’t keep the nest. So last Monday I went round and moved it.

If you have bumblebees nesting in your garden, the best thing to do is leave them there. They only live for one season, so will be gone by autumn at the very latest - some nests are finished by July. However if they're nesting in an awkward place or you've been asked to get rid of them by your neighbours, or landlord, you should be able to move them without harming them or yourself. To avoid confusing them, either place the new nest close to the original site, or 3km away so they get used to a completely new environment. It's also important not to confuse bumblebees with wasps. I don't want to be responsible for any deaths.

Moving bumblebee nests is easy if you know what you're doing. It's best to do it at night when most of the bees are back in the nest. Bumblebees don't fly in the dark, so they're less likely to fly up and sting you (though they will if you shine a torch on them). You need to prepare a box lined with dry grass clippings and moss, and make an entrance hole, which you tape up for the 'move'. Then it's just a matter of putting the nest into the box, sealing it and taking it to its new destination. Let the bees settle and wait until morning before removing the tape from the entrance hole.

I had only moved one bumblebee nest before, and that was a disaster. The bees were living in a discarded duvet, and all I had to do was cut the nest out of the duvet and place it in a prepared box. It took hours: I was stung twice and managed to spill a lot of the bees' honey from their little wax 'pots'. But, I took the nest to my allotment and the bees did very well after their traumatic experience. I even witnessed a mated queen digging into the ground to hibernate.

Luckily there was no duvet involved in last week's Operation Bumblebee. I went round just before dusk, so I could see where the nest was before I moved it after sundown. It was originally at the bottom of a compost bin, but when that was moved by the landscapers it exposed the nest beneath a pile of twigs. All I had to do was slide a spade under the nest and lift it into its new home.

Bumblebees get angry when they think their nest is being attacked, buzzing loudly and rushing out to defend their queen. Learning from my last experience, I decided to catch a few of the bees before lifting the nest, to avoid being stung. This worked a treat. I caught around 10 bees and placed them all in a jam jar. Then I lifted the nest into the box, emptied the jam jar on to the nest and let the bees settle. An hour later I took them home with me.

Since then, the buff-tailed bees (Bombus terrestris) have made themselves at home in my garden. They spent two days rearranging the nest, which now sits at the left hand side of the box and is hidden beneath the grass clippings I placed at the bottom. They have already grown in number, and I often get up earlier than usual just to watch them forage on red clover, alliums, poppies and viper's bugloss before setting off for work.

The only slight problem was that I found a wax moth in the nest when I moved it, but that's a blog for another day.

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Gardeners' World Web User 20/05/2011 at 18:02

Thanks for the timely advice. I have a nest - same species as yours - right where a poly tunnel's going. Strangely, I wasn't searching for an answer to this 2 week old problem, I was actually looking for an upside down cake recipe. Funny the places life takes us.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/05/2011 at 18:58

Pictures - do you have pictures? I have never identified (let alone moved) a bees' nest before but there's one heck of a buzzing from a pile of fluff by our polytunnel!

Gardeners' World Web User 20/05/2011 at 20:16

Miss Adventure - go on, let us have your recipe so I can bake cake as a result of writing about bees ;) Graceandflavour - I took one photo (which I'll link to later) but there's really nothing to see. I had to lie down in front of the nest before I could see what the bees were coming in and out of. If you can't locate them they could be underground. Are they troubling you? They'll be gone in 6-8 weeks, then you can dig out the nest and look inside - amazing!!

Gardeners' World Web User 21/05/2011 at 10:32

I have two types of bubble bees. One with stripes and the other with a brown bottom. I accidentally dug into a nest two years ago and was surrounded by angry bees, I just stood still and they did not sting me. I realised then that that was their territory. How many species of bubble bee and do they live happily together? Enjoyed reading the info as I do love them!!!Did not know they could sting.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/05/2011 at 12:30

Wonderful story! Thank you.

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