Bought-in bumble bees

Bumble bee
If gardeners want to buy-in mail-order bumble bees, please don’t try to put them off.

Normally I am pretty much a Ken Thompson fan, enjoying immensely and learning a lot from what he has to offer in the way of really helpful stuff for gardeners.

I would, however, like to register a bit of a protest about something Ken wrote in Telegraph Gardening on June 15 about the ecologically pointlessness of the gardening public buying-in bumblebee nest-lets to keep in their gardens and allotments – because what he had to say absolutely missed the point, I think, about why many gardeners (as opposed to commercial tomato-growers, for example) buy bumble bees in the first place.

It is surely all about the very simple pleasure the bees bring as they go to and fro from their little boxes (or their slightly twee ‘hives’).

Bombus terrestris, the buff-tailed bumble bee is our commonest species, apparently. And even though the little chaps we see around the place abuzz on the alliums or reeling drunkenly around on the sedums may not actually be ‘ours’, it is fun – and totally harmless – to imagine that they are.

And for households with children, a visibly busy bumble bee community can provide a useful reminder to the next generation of how important – and actually how gentle -are these charming little creatures whose presence we usually take for granted.

Only the silliest gardeners would imagine that by buying a box-full of bees they will be doing anything to save the planet or even much to pollenate our crops. And there are, after all, plenty of less responsible ways to spend money on your garden: on obtrusive garden lighting, extravagant and inappropriate ‘water features’ and colonies of nasty Chinese plastic meerkats and other atrocious nicknackery.

Nothing more to add. I leave everyone else to fight about the science.

  • Bumble bees and their wooden ‘hives’ and lots of instructions for bee-ginners can be purchased from Dragonfli.

Image via Wikimedia Commons


4 thoughts on “Bought-in bumble bees

  1. New to your blog – and absolutely love your garden! I’m a Doctoral researcher at Sussex Uni, I study bumblebee diet and immunology. I know this is an old post (but still very relevant). The point that Ken was touching on was the problems arising from disease control. I too love the idea of having my own bumblebees, unfortunately at the moment the bought ones – like honey bees – are riddled with pathogens and diseases which spill over into wild populations. Research is underway to change this, but until then I would try providing nests for wild queens in the spring – much more satisfying too I think :). J

  2. Dear Helen,
    Re your enthusiasm for buying in bumble bees from abroad, you need to know that these harbour the varroa mite which plagues all honeybee hives in this country. I’m a beekeeper and love all bumbles and solitary bees too but these parasites literally suck the lifeblood out of the bees rendering them open to viruses like deformed wing virus, so they are unable to fly, and they can live on honeybees and bumbles and fly between colonies. The full name is Varroa Destructor Mite which gives a clue as to their nature. Us beekeepers are advised not to buy from abroad any honeybee colonies and to breed our own.
    X Chrissie Hogarth X

  3. I really pay attention to animals in the garden. Not only bees but also birds and insects. I try to make my garden ‘animals friendly’. Some time ago I was reading so much information about this kind of garden, what plants to choose and how to maintain it. My garden is full of colourful flowers, as they attract both birds and bees. They like, especially, marigolds (mine and their favourite one is definitely French variety – ). I think it’s very important to take care of living creatures!

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