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Eastern Bumble Bee, Bombus impatiens, on a flower

How To Help Bumble Bees In Spring

Excerpted from: Five Ways to Support Queen Bumble Bees this Spring

Spring is upon us, which means the buzz of Bumble Bees fills the air! This is a great time to ensure that your green space is ready as bees begin waking up and looking for food. When preparing habitat for Bumble Bees, it is critical to understand how their needs change throughout the year.

The queen Bumble Bees faces two critical challenges:

  The queen needs to find a suitable nesting site to rear her brood.
  The queen needs sufficient food for herself and her brood in spring, when floral resources are limited.

Bumble Bee Nesting

In spring, the queen bee emerges from the hole in the ground in which she has been hibernating all winter. The queen will immediately begin to search for a nesting site. Nest sites vary between Bumble Bee species. Most of the more common species prefer dry, dark cavities and nests can turn up in a variety of unexpected places.

Some nest underground, in places such as abandoned rodent holes, under sheds and in compost heaps. Of those that nest above ground, some make nests in thick grass, while others make nests in bird boxes, lofts and in trees. Bumble Bee nests vary in size depending on the species and time of year. A well-established nest may contain up to 400 Bumble Bees.

When searching for a nest, the queen will investigate the environment using both sight and smell. When she finds a potentially suitable site she will investigate by going into the hole. If it proves unsuitable she will continue searching until she finds a nest site. The low-flying zig zag flight of a nest-site searching queen is seen in spring and is very distinctive. Once she finds a place, the queen will construct a few waxen pots, fill them with nectar and pollen, and proceed to lay her eggs on top.

How To Provide Nesting For Bumble Bees

You can help Bumble Bees by providing them with somewhere to nest. The first step of course is to provide lots of the right kinds of flowers in spring. At this time of year the nest-searching queen will be attracted to gardens where she can find plenty of food to help her produce her first batch of eggs. For information on the best flowers to plant for Bumble Bees, read Garden Plan For Bumble Bees

Commercially available Bumble Bee houses are not properly designed and will not help support Bumble Bees, nor are the native bee houses sold for Mason Bees.

DIY Easy Bumble Bee Nest

Supplies: A flowerpot greater than 8 inches in diameter, a piece of slate/tile and a bit of tube or pipe.

Instructions:

1. Sink the upturned flower pot into the ground and use the slate/tile to cover any drainage holes to keep the rain out.
3. Run a hose or pipe underground to the pot, leaving a prominent entrance. Be sure to make drainage holes in the pipe.
3. Finally, fill with a generous handful of nesting material, such as old bedding from a pet mouse, guinea pig, etc.

Do-It-Yourself simple Bumble Bee nest
DIY More Advanced Bumble Bee Nest
Do-It-Yourself advanced Bumble Bee house

The following project provides instructions on how to build a wooden Bumble Bee house. For the best results, install the house in an area with plentiful sources of food for the queens (i.e. pollen and nectar from diverse flowering trees, shrubs, and forbs). Avoid sites that are within 10 feet of anthills, or at risk of being sprayed with pesticides or vandalized.

The house will be installed below ground should have a 6” piece of plastic pipe inserted into the entrance hole. Below ground houses should be partially buried into the side of a well-drained gradual slope, with the pipe angling slightly down the slope to ensure that rainwater does not drain into the house. The house and pipe length should be covered with a piece of sod so that only the very end of the pipe is exposed.

Complete Instructions: Building and Installing a Bumble Bee House

What Should You Do If You Find A Bumble Bee Nest?

Bumble Bee Mating

If you find a Bumble Bee nest, consider yourself very lucky! They aren’t very common, and can be difficult to find.

it is best to leave it alone and avoid disturbing it. If you do approach close to it, be sure not t o breathe on the nest, as this can make the bees behave defensively, and they may sting. Please note that though Bumble Bees are not generally aggressive, they might get aggravated if you interfere with the nest itself.

Bumble Bees don’t form swarms, but you may see a cloud of male bees flying outside the nest. They should just get on with life and do their own thing — doing a wonderful job of pollinating plants, wildflowers and your vegetables. Even the very largest nests produce very little “traffic” in and out, so you won’t see threatening numbers of bees at any point during the summer.

Bumblebee nests don’t live for long, so the nest should die naturally within a few months. After that time, the new queens will have flown from the nest to hibernate in the soil elsewhere.

It is possible that a different Bumble Bee queen will find and use the same hole next year. The ld nest will die in the autumn though, and all the bees will have left or died. If you don’t want bees in the same place again you can block the entrance to the nest up after it dies down to prevent a new queen finding the nest site in later years.

Further Information:

 Wisconsin Bee Identification Guide
 Spring Wild Bees of Wisconsin
 Bumble Bees of Wisconsin
 Wild Native Bee Nest Boxes

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