Leaf cutter bees

As everything in the garden has been a tad late this year, we didn’t quite manage to harvest any strawberries in time for Wimbledon, but they are ripening off thick and fast now. Reaching into the bed to pluck my third – yes,third bowl of plump, juicy berries, something whizzed past my ear at lightning speed, with nary a care in the world for anything else that might be in its air space.

Looking up just in time, I spotted a bee with an armful of greenery, making a bee-line (sorry!) for the insect hotel we put up month or so ago. After what had seemed like a slow start to the season, it appeared we had guests for the summer. Watching carefully from a distance, the whole thing was a hive of activity. Bees were flying in from all directions, packing leaves into the tubular holes of the hotel.

Leaf cutter bees in the insect hotel

Leaf cutter bees in the insect hotel

Last year we were lucky enough to have Tree Bees take up residence in the bird box, and I was slightly miffed that they hadn’t returned. But luck appeared to be on our side: we now have another type of bee to enjoy.

A quick scootle round the internet revealed that these new guests were Leaf Cutter Bees. They collect pieces of leaves from rose bushes and the like, and stick them all together with saliva, in small tubes. This provides the perfect habitat for their larvae to hatch.  Bees apparently are on the decline, and are excellent pollinators, so I am more than happy to play ‘Hostess with the mostest’ to them.

Elsewhere in the garden, the broad beans are coming in thick and fast – so much so that I’m podding and freezing them straight after picking. The runner beans are a good few inches long, and not long off harvesting, and the courgettes and squashes are beginning to produce small fruits. In the greenhouse we have our first green tomatoes and chillies, and I’ve lost count of how many baby cucumbers have started to form. Cucumbers have male and female flowers. The male is a stalk with a flower and the female has a cucumber on the end. I’ve been picking off the stalky ones as have heard that they can cross pollinate and produce bitter crops.

With all this growth going on, I decided to invest in a tub of granulated feed, to give everything a helping hand. Before I could apply the feed, the patch was in desperate need of a good weeding session, as the aim was to feed the plants, not the weeds: as well as the annual ones that have popped up, I have enough mare’s tail to start my own pony club.

So, off I set to work, and before long had filled two plastic sacks. These went straight in the brown bin, as I don’t want to encourage some of the tough, perennial weeds to seed themselves in my compost bin, only to re-appear with a vengeance next year in the garden.

The birds and the bees

Once upon a time, there lived two blue tits named Madge and Stanley. They lived in a garden, and frequently met up with all the other blue tits at the Silver Birch Saloon. But they always arrived together, and always left together.

One day, Madge looked coyly across at Stanley and said, “My clock is ticking… I want to have eggs with you”

On hearing this, Stanley was overjoyed. He’d always hoped Madge and he would end up together, but didn’t want to seem overly keen in case it scared her off. After a dance about in the tree, Stanley looked at Madge solemnly, and declared, “That is the best news I have heard EVER!” He continued, “I am going to make you the happiest bird in the garden. I promise”. And with that, he fluttered off to find them somewhere to live.

Stanley had noticed a bird box on the fence, very close to Silver Birch Saloon. He’d noticed it, but had never dared believe he might one day own the place. It seemed to be unoccupied, so he flew in through the door to have a sneaky peek about. A quick look around confirmed that there were no other birds in residence. There just seemed to be a bit of fluff in the bottom of the box, but that could soon be tidied up, he reasoned. Stanley was overjoyed.  He flew straight back to Madge and told her the happy news.

The next day, Stanley decided to take some bits and bobs to the house, in preparation for ‘operation nest build’.

Scooting towards the house with a beak full of straw, he noticed something was blocking the doorway. On closer inspection, he discovered a bee standing there, having a crafty fag.

“Excuse me young bee,” he began. “Could you please move out of the way and let me into my house?”

The bee, deep in thought, glanced across and replied, “Your house? YOUR house you say?” With a withering look, he continued, “I think you’ll find, sunshine that this is OUR house. So hoppit mate!”

Taken aback Stanley retorted, “Errr… I was here only yesterday. The house was empty. How can it be yours?” He went on… “and I’m no Einstein, but this is a BIRD box, and not a BEE hive”. Feeling brave, he finished with, “So YOU hoppit mate!”

The bee looked slightly peeved and explained, “We are tree bees mate. Been here the last two years.” Puffing his chest out, he continued, “Bombus Hypnorum – that’s what we are. We live in bird boxes. No-one’s sure why… it’s just the way it is.”

Just then, from deep within the house came a loud yawn, followed by a woman’s voice. “Barney! Barney, I say! Who is that at the door?” Slightly annoyed, she continued, “I’m TRYING to take a nap. I’m the Queen, for goodness’ sake… I need my sleep!  All I can hear is you, yakking outside”.

Barney threw Stanley a sidelong glance, rolled his eyes, and said in a hushed tone, “You’ve done it now mate. You’ve only gone and woken ‘er inside up. Our lives will not be worth living now”.

The voice from the house continuned, “Barney! Barney! Whoever it is… tell them to bugger orf!”

Stanley had heard enough, and realised that the little house was not destined to be his and Madge’s. With a nod of his head, he fluttered away in search of alternative accommodation.

Will the bees nest in the bird box for the third year running? Who knows? I’ll keep you informed…

Tree bees in the bird box

 

Beekeepers by proxy

I’ve often toyed with the idea of having a bee hive (not the hairdo), and on a recent outing to the Edible Garden Show, had a nice little chat with a chap from the Bee-keeping Association to find out more. On speaking to him, I’ve decided that keeping bees may be slightly more involved than I have time for.

I’d quite enjoy the ‘prancing around in a white suit’ bit, and would probably wear my beekeeper’s hat at a jaunty little angle just for the fun of it, but the actual honey extraction would seem to take a little more effort. True, you can borrow the equipment, but you’d still have to fetch it, assemble it, extract and jar the honey, clean it all down, take it back… I’d have lost interest by about Step 4.

Last year we were bee-keepers purely by accident when a colony decided to camp out in the bird box. After much rootling around on the ‘tinterweb, they transpired to be Tree Bees – a type of bee that was first spotted in 2001, and has spread further north each year since then. After much excitement and jumping about at the fact we had rare ‘uns, we registered them on the Bumble Bee Conservation website, so the rest of the world could share in our wonder. The confirmation from BeeWatch (do they identify bees sporting red swimmies and bad 80’s hair, I wonder) was that they were indeed, bombus hypnorum.

Tree bees – or bombus hypnorum if you want to sound posh

So last summer the veg plot was blooming, everything was getting pollinated to within an inch of its life, and we were proudly showing the bees off to all who visited our garden, announcing in a nerdy voice “Yes, they are Tree Bees, you know… quite rare indeedy”. It has to be said, we were in our element.

Imagine our dismay when a couple of months later, without a by your leave, they buzzed off to pastures new. To this day we have no idea where they went, or why – perhaps they upgraded to a bigger property.

Last week, thinking  a couple of blue tits had their eye on the bird box, I decided to give them a helping hand with moving in. Taking the bottom off to give it a spruce up, a ball of fluff dropped to the ground. A quick poke with a stick revealed a comb-like structure, a couple of bees and the Queen. They’d obviously slipped back in unnoticed.

After guiding the Queen back into the box, I donned my beekeeping outfit (aka my gardening gloves), gingerly put the nest back in the box, and put the bottom back in place.

Hoping I’d not disturbed the budding colony too much, I tentatively watched the bird box over the next couple of days. Yesterday, there was definite bee activity in there, so it looks like all’s not lost. It’s great that the bees have decided to return, as I get all the excitement and interest of keeping bees, without any of the work!

This was in The Hinckley Times on 10 May

Where’s Kate Bumble when you need her?

Early in spring we discovered bees nesting in the blue tit box. After much deliberation and searching on the web, it transpired that they were, in fact ‘Tree Bees’. After much excitement and jumping about at the fact we had ‘rare’ bees in the garden, we registered them, so that the rest of the world could share in our wonder.

The veg plot was blooming, everything was getting pollinated to within an inch of its life, and we were proudly showing the bees off to all visitors to our garden, announcing in a nerdy voice “Yes, they are tree bees, you know… quite rare indeedy”. It has to be said, we were in our element, and felt at one with Kate and Chris, who endorsed the tree bee website.

Imagine then, our dismay when we discovered our bees had buzzed off to pastures new last week. I sent a frantic email to the website, asking – nay – demanding some sort of explanation. To date… nothing… nada… nil return. The mystery goes on.

I expected Kate to be as worried as I, and to be straight round to help search the herbacious borders, but alas, this was not to be. We are alone, and bereft of bees, with still no idea where they went. Perhaps they upgraded to a bigger bird box – who knows?