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The Bumblebee Blog- Part 10

Read the latest installment of the Bumble Blog from the nursery gardener, Becky Martin.

There is a bit of a lull at the moment in the bumblebee garden. The spring bulbs have finished, and the roses and nepeta are still in tight bud, and not likely to budge until we have warmer nights. Primroses are still in flower, and Aubrieta, Ajuga and Cerinthe are adding colour. The bees are mainly getting their food from the forget-me-nots, Symphytum (comfrey) and Pulmonaria. The latter two are not wildly exciting to the human eye, but the bees seem keen. Broad beans, leeks and peas have been planted in the veg garden, and February-sown sweet peas planted in numerous spots. The star performer at the moment is Cytisus Zeelandia which has been making a show for several weeks.

Apart from the perennial flowers which will bloom in due course, we always plant a lot of annuals. It was originally hoped that there would be enough self-seeding to sustain a good show, but this has not proved to be the case. The self-seeded Cosmos which did appear last year germinated late and flowered poorly. We could, of course, sow directly into the flower beds, but the soil here has so many annual weed seeds it would be difficult to get good results. Instead we opt for sowing under glass and transplanting the seedlings. I have always favoured a fine textured compost for seed sowing, but this year tried Melcourt Sylvagrow which has a much coarser texture but declares itself suitable for seed sowing. It is peat free and contains no green waste. It is very free draining, it does not make a crust on the surface, and when you come to prick out the seedlings they separate easily with their root systems intact. I am converted. So now we wait, and any moment things will change, everything will grow and we will struggle to keep up.

Though the garden was made for bumblebees, it attracts many other insects too, and all are welcome. One such is this bee-fly, which you can just about make out here on Pulmonaria Raspberry Splash. It is a very odd creature sounding like a bee, looking like the front half of a bumblebee, but with only one pair of wings and a vicious looking spike at the front. It is in fact a fly, and the structure at the front is a proboscis, or tongue, which it uses to collect nectar. It cannot sting but it has a ruthless life-cycle; it is parasitic on solitary ground nesting bees. The female bee-fly will identify the site of a nest, and lay her egg close by. She has evolved an ingenious method of ‘laying’ her egg. First, using her legs, she collects soil particles which she then attaches to her egg. With this added ballast the egg is then launched at the opening of the bee nest. On hatching, the bee-fly larva finds its way into the nest where it feeds on the nectar and pollen stores left by the bee to feed her own larvae. When this is used up, the bee-fly larva attaches itself to a bee larva and consumes it.