Back from two weeks holidays and the first thing I saw as the car turned towards the house was the bees flying around my bee hotels.
It was so good to see them chasing each other and flying from beehouse to beehouse.
These are the male Osmia cornuta with longer antenna than the female and cute white tufts on their heads. I don’t know when they hatched out but last year there was a two week gap before the females hatched. Perhaps this wait weeds out the weak and the impatient. The males seem to spend most of their time chasing each other or looking longingly inside the holes which must contain females.
When there is no sun and it gets cooler they retreat into a spare hole to wait.
Most of the trees have opened their leaves. The lime trees and walnut are trailing behind.
After my discovery of my hazelnut flowers, I have decided to catch my mulberry flowers. The bud is about to open!
What a disappointment! It’s not what I would call a flower but it is all the mulberry can offer. No wonder I have missed them up until now.
These insignificant flowers turn slowly into edible red berries. Please don’t ask me what variety this is as I have grown it from seed and kept it as a bonsai for more than twenty years now. There are many varieties of mulberry and many varieties provide delicious berries.
I think my favourite blossom tree is the quince tree with its large delicate pink flowers.
It is a popular flower for all the bees and I was glad to see this Andrena visiting the flowers as I have seen no honey bees near it this year.
The apple tree Belle de Boskoop is my second favourite with its deep rose pink buds and the lighter full flowers.
The pear trees are usually full of bees but once again this year there are few honey bees around and I was glad to see this Andrena visiting it and I have seen my Osmia cornuta in it too.
The Victoria plum tree is not attracting as many pollinators either.
The cherry trees are full of blossom but I have seen no bees in them this year. The bee keepers in the area have had huge losses over this winter. The winter was not unduly cold or wet but many of the hives in the spring still had honey but no bees. I can notice the difference in the garden. I even feel I am seeing less solitary bees but I do not know if this is just as a result of my concern for the fate of the local honey bees.
This is also the time of year for the Wisteria blossom and I cannot leave out the Carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea). The perfume of the Wisteria pervades the garden.
The perfume gives an extra pleasure to photographing the bees.
I always see this queen carder bee at this time of year but I have given up trying to identify bumble bees.
One of the bee hotels is situated beside a Wisteria, so it is very pleasant watching the activity.
The new bee hotel has been very well accepted. The seven holes in the penthouse have all been taken, seventeen in all have been filled up to now. The drilled holes and the bamboo are both being used but none of the bamboo canes lined with paper have been accepted.
The lives of the female Osmia cornuta is one of non-stop action in an effort to lay her eggs in cells well stocked with pollen, so I was surprised when I saw this one sitting on top of the bee hotel and even more surprised when she came onto my hand.
Then I noticed that the hairs on her back were worn away. they bring in the pollen and turn and twist in the holes packing in the pollen and then sealing the cell with mud. All the twisting and rubbing had rubbed away the hairs and she looked very tired. I held her up to the hotel and she disappeared into a hole. Soon there will be less activity from bees and I will be left with the filled holes to care for until next spring.
The bulbs are up but the sun is obscured by a thick grey blanket.
It is true that in our optimism our table was put on the patio a couple of weeks ago but it has since been covered with plastic and although temperatures are not low, there is no sunshine to attract you out into the garden.
The apricot forces open a few sporadic flowers but there is no real covering of blossom.
At least the big plum tree benefited from some warm sunny days and now is showing the green beginnings of baby plums.
One of the apple trees has just started to open up the leaf buds with the blossom still curled inside.
The dull weather hasn’t prevented the “Jack and the Beanstock ” appearance of the Fritillaria persica.
The bulb produces a spike and the grey green leaves reach upwards in a slight spiralling direction. An altogether elegant plant that has kept me company as I watch it from indoors waiting for the weather to improve. This was a trial of an unknown but it looks worthwhile repeating in the garden with some more next year.
We are all waiting. The Wisteria buds to flower;
their leaf buds resting discretely in the background waiting for the word to go.
The Amelanchier is waiting to add some brightness to the back garden –
which is looking empty now that the big plum tree and the willow have stopped flowering.
At least my husband has come up trumps with his latest bee hotel to add to my collection. I think it is the best one yet.
Although even that has become a waiting place for different male bees waiting for their females to hatch. The newly drilled holes in the wood provide a sheltered spot away from the wind and rain. (For those interested in the antics of my mason bees check out “Isn’t Nature wonderful ???” on my Bees in a French Garden blog. These two are Osmia cornuta males.
In fact, it is only the bumbles bees that put me to shame. They are not put off by a bit of dull weather and get on out there to carry on without grumbling about overcast skies.
We have been having our share of cold weather this week. Our weather is still very tempered by our position and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean so I am talking about temperatures dipping below zero centigrade at nightime and rising to a high of 7 or 8 degrees during the day. From comments I am receiving on the blog, I get the feeling that a lot of gardeners are nevertheless eager to get their seeds sorted and start with the spring planning. If you are restricted in your gardening activities at the moment, it might be the time to think about building or looking for a bee hotel.
My first bee hotel had been a gift that had languished under the lilac tree until in March 2013 I had seen the male Osmia checking out the holes in search of newly hatched females. (Short Mason Bee Update).
I found watching the bees as they nested fascinating and decided to add more bee hotels to the garden. (New Mason Bee Nests)
I decided to examine the best places to mount the bee hotels and monitor the best designs and sizes of holes.
What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter!
Once you have provided the holes, the visitors will begin to arrive.
You are likely to see more than just bees. I get solitary wasps. These are not aggressive creatures so no worry about being attacked and stung, unless you are a caterpillar! These solitary wasps are the gardeners’ friend and will stock their nests with caterpillars and other goodies for their carnivorous larvae.
If you give them a varied selection of holes and hollow stems, they will do the rest. Here is an Osmia bee (I think caerulescens ) cleaning out the holes drilled in a cut log. This is in June. Some bees will come to my garden in March or April, others will come in the summertime and others may return for a second time in the same year.
I must admit to have been pretty excited the first time I saw a bee emerging from “my” bee house in May 2014. This is the very bamboo cane that had been so carefully sealed with a rose petal by a Megachile the previous September.
It is also exciting is to watch which bees decide to take up residence. This little bee (Heriades truncorum, I think) is less than a centimetre long and as well as nesting in the bamboo canes was also quite happy to use the much finer old, cut stems of my Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan nutmeg.)
So the most important action is to put something up. Whether it be approaching a work of art or some hollow stems stuffed into an empty plastic bottle: there are lots of ideas out there on the web. I think they like the sunny spots but all my bee hotels have been used, even the ones in shady places. If you hope to photograph the nests you should think about having good natural light available as you will need to be using a fast shutter speed.
I did not buy it until the end of the summer but I could not resist putting it up, although I thought it was much too late to attract any interest.
But then on the 29th. of September last year Anthea arrived. Yes, it has got that bad! I’ve started giving them names – Anthea, the Anthidium manicatum.
We had lots fun watching her bringing her bales of cotton to make her nest. She harvests her cotton wool by clipping off the soft hairs that cover the grey/green leaves of plants like sage, stachys, artemisia and verbascums. But sometimes she gets it wrong and flies into the wrong hole and makes a hasty turnaround like she has done here, to return to the correct one.
In the middle of December I decided to take my boxes down and I had a look at the inside of the new box. The cocoons were beautiful with no sign of mites. I will take another look before the bees come back to see if they have survived the winter intact.
I also decided to buy some nesting tubes and paper liners from the same site, Wildlife World. The tubes are well cut and will save time as I have been promised another new bee hotel for this year 🙂
One problem I have had is that our lizards love to sun themselves on top of the bamboo stems of the bee hotels. However, to make themselves really comfortable, they kick out the tubes. This year the tubes must be firmly wedged with pieces of wood so that not even the strongest lizard can displace them.
I posted my first Mason bee update on 25 March and I was really satisfied that I had attracted Osmia to my new Mason bee houses and I hoped to gather a bit of data on what might be suitable spots to situate Mason bee houses and what sized holes they preferred.
Firstly, no surprises, it looks like in France, at least, the bees prefer a sunny position. Out of the first three new hotels that were put up, it was the one on the wall in the front garden, with the morning sun, that attracted the most bees.
The bamboo canes had been chosen to give a diameter of 6mm to 1cm. I think the smaller diameter was favoured but my task was complicated as a potter wasp decided to use the hotel too. The potter wasp is responsible for the filling of the larger hole in the picture and the open holes are where the wasps have already vacated. I presume some of the other holes may hold wasp larvae.
The Bee hotel in the plum tree that received only dappled sunlight through its branches has Osmia and some other insects nesting but like the one under the willow at the bottom of the garden received fewer Osmia than the sunny hotel.
The bees arrive!
Keeping on track, not only did my original hanging house hatch out last year’s Osmia cornuta and have some more bamboo canes re-occupied but the new neighbouring one on the wall was even better received.
The O. cornuta preferred the new nest on the wall either because it was sunnier or because it was fixed securely to the wall rather than swinging on the branch of the lilac.
And then a second variety!
I had first seen the O. cornuta males around the old nest box at the beginning of March but in April I spotted another species of male Osmia in the garden.
The Osmia rufa are not as brightly coloured as the O.cornuta and hatch out and fly later. I had never noticed them in the garden before.
Both the O. rufa and the O.cornuta have curious prongs on their heads just under their antenna. The prongs are used to tamp in the mud they bring to seal their nest.
With two species of Osmia nesting in the hotels my husband became concerned that they would run out of holes or feel overcrowded so he hastily built a fourth hotel to go on an outbuilding wall that receives the sun all day long.
The third Osmia provides lots of entertainment in the summertime!
The Osmia leiana were the next arrivals in May and stayed around well into July. These little bees really put everything into building their nests. Gradually they fill the holes, cell by cell, and you can get a better look at all the action as they complete the last one or two compartments. I had now three species of Osmia nesting!
The Osmia leiana is not so colourful as the other two Osmia but nested for a longer period and the females even slept overnight in the bamboo of the hotel.
All the Osmia bees have strong mandibles to help them in building their nests. The O. leiana were prolific nesters and nested in all the bee hotels, even building a few nests in the hotels in the shade under the trees.
Then there is the Anthophora!
I have Anthophora plumipes nesting in the stone walls of the house and in May they were feeding on the blue Cerinthe in the front garden. I think this is a female of the light form that I have here starting off her nest in the holes of the trunk section of the bee hotel in the front garden.
The Anthophora have nested in the bored wooden holes in the cut tree trunks of the bee hotel on the out building too. They nest deep inside the holes but their presence is noticeable as they leave “paths” of sawdust on the bottom of the holes. They do this in the holes in the house walls but the “paths” in this case are like fine sand produced as they excavate their nests in the soft limestone.
And the Anthidium!
Another bee that nests in the bee hotels is the Anthidium. It is called the cotton bee in French for obvious reasons. She gathers the soft hairs from plants such as Stachys and brings them to the bamboo canes to make her nest.
Frequently the nest is made deep into the hole and the cotton does not protrude so it is easy to miss their nests. It is really amazing to see the quality and quantity of cotton that this bee produces. I have a great attraction for this lovely bee.
Different Megachiles arrive!
I had noticed suspicious pieces of leaves missing from plants in the garden during the summer and I had suspected leaf cutting bees but I had never caught any “in the act” so I could not be sure. So I was ecstatic when at the end of August I found them nesting in the sunny hotel on the outbuilding. They were so engaged in their task that they did not object to being watched. I found their determination and hard work fascinating to watch.
Some leaf cutting bees also nested in the hotel in the front garden but they were not early risers and I used to enjoy watching them wake up. This little bee had been so busy that she fell asleep on her back with a piece of leaf for a blanket. I took the photo at 9.49 a.m. and she was awake shortly after.
Hole sealed with rose petal
At the beginning of September one of the leaf cutting bees used rose petals to make her nest. I did not see her but the end result was beautiful. I think they are most likely to be Megachile centuncularis.
I am puzzled by this hole as it is shiny (I couldn’t manage to get a photograph to show the shine). Who has filled this hole? Is it another species of bee such as Colletes which line their underground nest with a cellophane? Or is it some other insect?
The other puzzle is how many different types of bees are nesting in the bee hotels? I have photographed six different species of solitary bees in this post. In addition, I think there is more than one species of Anthophora in the hotels and what about the ones I’ve missed?
I am always on the look out for parasites and predators, which are numerous.
I was concerned when I saw this on the nests at the end of September.
This wasp came around at the end of September and seeing her putting her long tail into the bamboos I worried that she had been laying eggs in the bees nests. Apparently she prefers to parasitise wood boring insects but the larvae of the potter wasp which also used the bee hotel could also be a target.
And then there’s our lizards!
The lizards can be a bit of a pain as they insist on squeezing in between the bamboo and sometimes they will dislodge one causing it to fall. I replace it but I think a winter job will be to put a backing behind the bamboo to keep out the lizards. I comfort myself thinking that they will eat any little flies that might be lurking around.
I’m just not sure how vigilant my lizard guardians are but I can always hope.