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The Bumblebee Blog - January 2022

As we pick up the debris after storm Arwen, the autumn flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella autumnalis ‘Rosea’) has started flowering with a sprinkling of tiny single pink flowers. These will continue sporadically into the new year, up to February or March. A hard frost will see the blooms brown and fall off, only to be replaced by a new batch.

Other flowers still in bloom are Hebe ‘Wiri Prince’, a purple variety which flowers later than most, and Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’.

The storm has destroyed the remaining cosmos and marigolds, though the nasturtiums are still hanging on. The perennials have been cut down and the garden is looking rather bare. Unfortunately it is also looking rather weedy. Close inspection will show that actually a lot of the weeds are self-sown flower seedlings. The only downside to forget-me-nots is the sea of seedlings that follow and many of our “weeds” are just that. In spring we will move some clumps of the seedlings around to fill gaps. It was always a hope that annuals in the garden would become self-sustaining and at last this is beginning to happen. Cosmos will still have to be sown annually because, though they do self-seed, this happens too late in the season for useful flowers.

The nursery has grown and developed on a north-facing slope. We are very exposed and always catch the wind. This time the information hut in the bumblebee garden was damaged and two of the roof panels have had to be replaced, but there is always a silver lining, and the storm has stripped most of the leaves from their trees. It is frustrating when the leaves hang on and hang on and the raking never comes to an end but equally satisfying to have a major sweep-up. As you rake and clear, you may inadvertently disturb a hibernating bumblebee queen. Put her back where you found her. If she is buzzing and moving around, cover her gently with the material (leaves, debris, moss) surrounding her and leave her alone. Mark the place to remind yourself to avoid disturbing that spot again. Do not bring her indoors because she will need to complete her hibernation outside with natural fluctuations of temperature.

Our changing climate with warmer temperatures, city dwelling, and increased planting of winter-flowering plants is affecting bumblebee life cycles. Some species, such as the Early and Tree Bumblebees which normally emerge from hibernation early in the year, may now have two generations in a single summer. The new queens emerging in early summer are making their own nests and raising another generation before winter comes. Some Buff-tailed Bumblebees now stay active all year, without hibernation. They may establish new nests in October and November, with the workers foraging from winter flowering plants such as crocus, mahonia, snowdrops, and winter heathers.