A sting in the tale

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THERE is a constant buzz in my garden at the moment, not a delicate in the background kind of buzz, but an ‘in your face sounds a bit like a Spitfire’ buzz.

It’s the sound of bumblebees taking nectar from a Pieris we have planted by the back door. The bumblebees adore this shrub but I have yet to see one of my honeybees taking pollen from it; they are far too busy pollinating the oilseed rape in the local fields.

You can’t mistake a bumblebee, big, hairy, often with a distinctive orange or grapefruit coloured stripe, or perhaps a red, white or buff coloured bottom. People do sometimes get confused though and it isn’t surprising, the world over there are over 20,000 known bee species and in the UK we have around 260 different types of bees. Generally what you will come across in your garden are bumblebees, solitary bees such as leafcutter, mason or mining bees and the honeybee. Most beekeepers in the UK keep the European Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera).

Honeybees are highly sociable and form a colony with one queen, depending on the time of year a few thousand drones (fertile males) and in the height of the summer thousands and thousands of worker bees (sterile females).

The Queen’s sole reason for being is to produce more bees. Once mated with a drone she lays eggs – up to 2,000 a day in the spring build-up– which are tended by worker bees as they develop into larvae and finally adult bees. A drone’s sole reason for being is to mate with a queen and they are pretty much ignored once their job is done. They do no work in the hive and nothing to support the colony - some might say that’s a male thing! The workers have many different roles, there are nursery bees who tend the eggs and larva, cleaners, undertakers, foragers who collect pollen, nectar and water to produce honey for the hive and the beekeeper and finally there are guard bees who hang around inside the hive entrance to ensure only the colony’s bees enter and not wasps or a nosey human finger.

All our bee species are friends in our gardens and none will sting you unless you interfere with them. If you stuck your finger or a stick into a hole in the ground where a bumble bee nests, or roughly handled a solitary bee as it popped in and out of your brick or stone work, or poked your nose into the honeybees’ hive entrance then you are in danger of a sting.

Learn more about honey bees at the Alnwick Bee Keepers’ Association website www.bbka.org.uk/local/alnwick/