A lonely queen

I was sitting on my north facing balcony the other morning, when I saw a lonely bumblebee buzzing by. I got so happy to see her, probably a lone queen just woken up from her winter sleep, looking for food or a space to build her nest and lay her eggs. Then I looked around and realised I have no flowers at all in my outdoors space! She had flown all the way up to my balcony on the 6th floor, and I had nothing to offer her. No food, and nowhere for her to nest. I was devastated!

The bumblebees here in my neck of the woods have a yearly cycle. The queen mate in late summer and hibernate during winter while all the other bees die, then emerges in spring to find food, and somewhere to build her new nest and lay her eggs. She founds the new colony all by herself, usually in deserted rodents nests, bushy hedges or old hollow trees. When she has found a suitable space to lay her eggs, she will start collecting pollen. Some of it she uses to make a ball where she can lay her eggs, and then, like birds do, she brood her eggs, for about four days, when the eggs hatch into white larvae. It is estimated that a queen will have to visit a staggering 6000 flowers per day in order to produce enough heat to brood her eggs! 6000! The larvae develop into the pupal stage and it takes about 4-5 weeks from egg to adult bumblebee. First female workers, and later males and new queens.

Now, did you catch that number? 6000? I sure did! And I never realised how important it actually is to have blooming flowers as early in spring as possible. And how many. And how important it is for our gardens to have areas where the bumblebees, and other insects, can thrive. I don’t have a garden – yet – so helping out with a nesting spot is not really an option (I don’t think the neighbours would appreciate it), but I sure can help out with the food. From now on you will find flowers on my balconies from the earliest of spring to as far out in the year they can survive. And I hope you will keep at least a flower or two as well. Or, if you have a garden, please make space for the bumblebees too. The bumblebees, Mother Earth and me will thank you for it!