Yes, I went on a bee hunt. You know the story – Long wavy grass, deep cold river, thick oozy mud, big dark forest, snowstorm and…no, there was no narrow gloomy cave and no bear! I did say it was a bee hunt! It was a short hunt, just to the garden to a patch of geraniums which was abuzz with bees and I wanted to see if I could do a little better than simply notice them and pass by.
We all know a little about bees – they fly, they buzz about, they make honey – actually, no! Only one makes honey – the honeybee! They sting – not really, only very occasionally when threatened; otherwise they are too busy about their own lives to be bothered with us and prefer if we don’t bother too much with them.
On this occasion, I had my camera in hand and snapped away for about five minutes. The geraniums were busy and there seemed to be a good population of bees in attendance. Without knowing which bees they actually were, I could see that there were three different species at work, flitting about ever so busily flower to flower. Two were bumblebees and one what I took to be a honeybee – and I was correct in this identification as I checked it in a book I had just read and had a friend confirm it for me later. The friend is somewhat of an expert on bees and many other insects.
Even from my short observation I noticed one peculiar thing about the bumblebee’s behaviour. It was the smaller of the two I was watching and it didn’t stop at every flower but would approach each flower and often simply hovered for a moment in front of one before moving along to check out the next. It seemed to have some way of knowing if the flower had what it wanted – pollen, I imagine. So, I guess, there is some method to their foraging; it isn’t simply a haphazard buzzing about and diving into every flower they meet. For the record, so you will know that I’m not bluffing: one of the bumblebees was the Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris and the other was the Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum, though I don’t like it being referred to as “common” as I felt it was rather special. The other bee was, as I had guessed, the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Three different bees in the space of five minutes was quite an achievement, I reckoned, and I was delighted with myself. So delighted, that I am now very curious about a large number of small burrows in a bank of earth on the garden boundary. I am certain that these were made by one of the ground-nesting bees or mining bees. Why, I am already becoming an authority on the subject of bees!
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth but I am a little more informed that I was 24 hours ago for I have just read a new book to hand, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jean Vernon. It’s a very pleasant book, not at all a serious study of bees nor meant to be a handbook for the bee enthusiast but it is an enthusiastic book, a book which opens the door to the reader to begin an exploration of the fascinating world of bees. We are all aware of the importance of bees, how vital they are as pollinators and also, unfortunately, we are also well aware of the serious decline in their numbers over latter years. There is nowadays a general appreciation, a general goodwill and genuine wish to take care of our environment and secure a future for bees and for us. This book will encourage you on this journey of learning and action.
The author tells us that there are 276 bee species in the country (combining the UK and Ireland). This is rather an amazing number. Of these 25 are bumble bees; there is the one, only one, honeybee and the rest are solitary bees – they prefer to live alone rather than in a hive – and there are about 250 species of these! Would you believe there were so many! The author doesn’t set out to overwhelm us with information and describes only those which are most common, the 7/8 species of bumblebees which we are most likely to see in our gardens and a number of the mining bees.
You, like me, probably have no ambitions to become an entomologist(expert in insects) or a melittologist(expert in bees) but have a mild and general interest in bees nonetheless and would wish to garden in a manner which be favourable to them. This book will suit you and you will enjoy reading it. The earlier chapters describe the bees you are most likely to see in your garden and is followed by a chapter on how bees behave – very interesting; another on what bees eat. One deals with the dangers in the garden for bees – The Hostile Garden while Plant Intelligence tells us of some of the amazing adaptations of some plants to suit and to take advantage of bees. Bee Good Plants informs of on best plant choices in garden plants to suit bees and Season by Season in the Bee Garden is, well, just that.
This was a pleasant and enjoyable read; not intended for the person already well-informed on bees; not a field guide nor a reference book for identification but an exciting and fascinating introduction to the wonderful world of bees. Did you know, by the way, that there is a bee which cuts pieces from leaves and rolls them into mini-cigar shapes to hold its egg and developing larva? It is called the Leaf-Cutter Bee! I had found these “cigars” in a bag of garden compost some time back but didn’t know what they were. Now I do. It was just one of many interesting snippets of information in this book. You’ll enjoy it.
[The Secret Lives of Garden Bees, Jean Vernon, Pen and Sword White Owl Books, Yorkshire, 2020, Hardback, 191 pages, £25, ISBN: 978 1 52671 186 1]
Available online from the publishers: https://www.whiteowlbooks.co.uk/ where I notice it is listed at £20.
SPECIAL OFFER FROM THE AUTHOR: Thank you for the lovely review of my book. I am glad that you have found it interesting. My quest was to beewash as many people as I could and get them to look a little closer at the insects in their garden. If anyone would like a signed copy with a bespoke inscription I have a limited number of the First Edition hardbacks at 20% off RRP, so £20 plus postage on my website: http://www.addictedtobees.com
With Bee wishes