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The Bumblebee Blog - Part 8

Breakfast is ready! At last the sun has come out, and with it the first bumblebees have emerged from hibernation. These are the queens which hatched last summer, they are the sole survivors from last year’s nest.

It is thought that only around half of the bumbles that hibernated last summer will survive the process. Many will perish over the winter, not from cold as they have an anti-freeze substance in their blood, but from other causes such as disease, predation, parasites, or a flooded nest. This last will have been a big risk with our recent weather. The other main cause of death is simply starvation; insufficient fat stores to last the winter (hibernation can last between five and eleven months). This is something we can assist with by planting ample late-flowering plants in the garden.

Fortunately there is, as planned, a selection of flowers already out in the bumblebee garden ready for that vital first feed, though the bumbles seem to be favouring Crocus Ruby Giant, one of the very few crocus bulbs to have survived the ravages of mice and voles. They are having to share these with the honeybees which are coming down from the hives on the hill above the nursery. There are also snowdrops, pulmonarias, comfrey, daffodils and of course hellebores all flowering. Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, is the first shrub to flower. It has small creamy white fragrant flowers on naked stems. The next will be flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, which has fragrant leaves as well as flowers. This is one of those plants with a scent you either love or detest. A stem cut in bud and kept in a cool room will open slowly and fill the air with a summery currant smell.

Looking ahead at jobs to be done, the focus is on feeding the bees and now is a good time to think about sowing seeds, organising your seed trays, compost and so on. Hardy annuals such as sweet peas, cornflowers and marigolds can be sown now. Half-hardy annuals can wait a while.