Tag Archives: bee hotels

Urban Bees and PWC

Urban Bees has a new client: auditor’s Price Waterhouse Coopers. It began last year when their London gardener, who we worked with at Weil law firm, asked us how to make the terraces and roofs at PCW’s two London offices better for bees and other pollinators. As a result, he’s planted more fruit trees and early and late flowering perennials, shrubs and herbs. And we are hoping to install bee hotels, observation boxes, bee sand planters and piles of drilled wooden logs – all for solitary bees – by spring 2024, to create places where different solitary bee species can nest.

We are giving a series of talks to staff about different bees and their importance and how we can help them. We emphasise that having a hive of honeybees is not the way to save bees and in fact honeybees can often outcompete wild, solitary bees and bumblebees in urban areas. PWC are following our advice and are putting in measures to help wild bees on their offices in London and beyond.

We ran our first bee safari at the Embankment Place office on August 3, which participants thoroughly enjoyed and they seemed to learn a lot – just even the difference between a honeybee (other companies have hives nearby, so they forage on the PWC terraces), a Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) and a Common carder bee (Bombus pascuroum). Lavender proved the biggest hit with the bees.

The second bee safari at EP was postponed because of rain until the first week of September, which was a heatwave. The lavender had gone, so the bees were on a mixture of Catmint (Nepeta), a shrub called Bluebeard or Caryopteris x clandonensis and Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). We didn’t see much variety of bees – just the same as last month.

Comments from staff:

“Loved the bee safari. I never knew there was more than one type of bee and that only one makes honey.”

“Can’t wait to start planting some of these flowers in my garden and see which bees arrive.”

“What a great way to spend my lunch hour. I’ve learned so many new things.”

“Looking forward to seeing different bees next spring.”

“My daughter is going to love this bee guide. Maybe they can do something similar at her school.”

Plans for 2024 include:

  • Installing bee hotels for cavity-nesting bees and a bee observation box so staff can see the life cycle of a Red mason bee nesting in the box
  • Installing a bee sand planter for ground-nesting mining bees
  • putting up signs about the different bees staff may see visiting the terraces at Embankment Place
  • running more bee safaris
  • running bee hotel workshops where staff assemble flat-pack wooden bee hotels to take home
  • visiting regional offices to run bee hotel workshops
  • advising contractors how to make terraces and rooftops in regional offices better for bees and biodiversity.

Review in pictures and numbers of Urban Bees’ 2022

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100s of Bees to See in 2022 and 2023 calendars sold

100s of year-round bee-friendly flowers planted across London including:

Rosemary (Salvia rosemarinus) Wallflowers (Erysimum ‘Apricot Delight’) – pictured middle left with a Buff-tailed bumblebee arriving minutes after it had been planted – Lambs’ Ear (Stachys byzantina); Salvia ‘hot lips’; Hedge germanda (Teucrium x lucidrys); Sedum (Hylotelephium spectabile)

50 bee hotels made in 3 workshops for pupils and community gardening groups

30 bee hotels maintained

15 different species of bees spotted on roof top bee gardens in London including:

  • Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)
  • Hairy-footed flower bee (Anthiphora plumipes)
  • Davies’ plasterer bee (Davies’ colletes)
  • Leafcutter bee (Megachile centuncularis)
  • Furrow bee (Lasioglossum)

10 bee talks given – reaching more than 500 people (in person and online): including

  • CityWire’s Impact Retreat 2022 – where I explained to ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investors why the companies they invest in need to have a pollinator strategy to safeguard bee populations for food security and to mitigate climate change
  • On UN World Bee Day, I spoke online to more than 100 staff at Bouygues construction company about why bees and biodiversity are good for business
  • More than 150 KPMG staff learned about the nature-positive steps they can take to help bees and other pollinators and why they are so important for our eco-system
  • Local Hackney residents learned about bees and how to spot them at Dalston Eastern Curve garden
  • Alison kicked off the Wild World of Bees 2022 Master Academy online class run by Canadian-based ABC Bees (middle right photo)

7 new bee-friendly terraces created at:

  • Take 2 in Fitzrovia (pictured above top right, planting an Amelanchier lamarckii)
  • Price Waterhouse Coopers in the Embankment and More London

5 articles written: including

5 roof-top bee gardens maintained at:

  • Lush London HQ in Soho (bottom right photo)
  • Bread Street and Carter Lane offices managed by Savills in the City
  • Adam & Eve Advertising agency in Paddington
  • Amazon office, near the Barbican

5 bee observation boxes installed at:

  • Adam & Eve (painted yellow, with bee hotels, pictured middle bottom row)
  • Weil law firm
  • Belgrave House, managed by BNP Paris Real Estate
  • Amazon office

5 mature, large bee-friendly shrubs destroyed by the drought

  • Rosemary bushes and Salvia ‘hot lips’ on Bread Street rooftop in the City (top left photos before and after the summer drought, without an irrigation system)

4 bee tours of Regent’s Park (

3 new clients for Urban Bees including:

  • Take 2
  • PWC

1 roof-top bee garden tripled in size from 5 to 15 planters on:

  • Adam & Eve rooftop in Paddington, west London (new planters pictured bottom left)

1 corner of a housing estate improved for biodiversity in:

  • St George Chelsea Creek housing development in south west London (thistles pictured middle)

1 All-Party Parliamentary Group for Bees and Pollinators Advisory Board joined, which advises MPs

Lessons from 2022

  1. Orange-vented mason bees (Osmia leaiana) pictured above (Pic credit: Jeremy Early) like to nest in garden bee observation boxes and are more common than I realised. I mistook our occupant for a Blue mason bee (Osmia caerulescens) because they too chew leaves to construct and plug their nest and I thought they were more common. But when bee ID expert, Steven Falk, pointed out on Twitter the long orange fur on the underside of her abdomen, it was clear that she was an Osmia leaiana.
  2. Common yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus communis) like to use the smaller holes in the observation box. It’s fascinating they way they create a cellophane-like sac to protect the brood.
  3. Red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) hardly used our bee hotels this year. The tubes were clean, they were positioned in the same place (under the eaves of the shed facing south). Perhaps the early drought played a part, or maybe they found somewhere better.
  4. Hairy-footed flowers bees (Anthophora plumipes) didn’t nest in my lovingly constructed DIY cob bricks. Either they weren’t sheltered enough from the rain, or else they just have other good places to nest in old walls as there are a lot of old buildings where we live. I will try again next spring, with better shelter.
  5. I’ve still got a long way to go to improve my ID skills.
  6. Red hot pokers (Knifofia) are one of the most drought-resistant plants. I was surprised that salvia ‘hot lips’ and rosemary aren’t but they where stretched to their limit – the roots were in shallow soil (20cm) and there was no rain for weeks and weeks and scorching sun and heat.
  7. All rooftop gardens need a timed irrigation system even if the plants are drought tolerant as so few will survive the weather conditions we experienced in London this spring and summer.
  8. More lessons to come

September surprises

You’d probably expect to see less bees flying as summer gives way to autumn, and it’s true that the leafcutters, wool carder bee and many mining bees have gone. But if you have late flowering blooms you may see plenty of bumblebee queens stocking up on nectar before searching for a cosy winter hideaway and smaller common carder bee workers are still out in force. And if you’re near flowering ivy (yes, mature ivy is smothered in tiny white flowers later this month) don’t miss the Ivy mining bee. This short-lived solitary bee emerges just before the ivy flowers and disappears shortly after. It was first recorded in the UK, just over 20 years ago.

We have included honeybees in our guide this month, despite the fact they are managed bees rather than wild bees. We’ve included them for two reasons:

1. You’ll see lots on flowers in your garden because it’s their last chance to collect nectar and turn it into their winter stores of honey, and there are few trees blossoming this month.

2. It’s easy to confuse ivy bees and honeybees when they are both on the ivy flowers. So carefully examine the photos above and ID notes below to tell the difference.

Tips for IDing September bumblebees:

  • Tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum) – if you’ve been bee spotting all summer, you should be quite adept at identifying tree bumblebees by now. But they can be confused with similar sized common carder bees as both have a gingery thorax. The tree bumblebee sometimes looks like it has a bald patch and it’s abdomen is blacker and it’s bottom (or tail) is always white. They usually have two generations each summer so the ones you see flying this month will be new queens, workers and males from the second 150-strong colony. The only difference in appearance between the queen, males and workers (known as the three castes) is their size. Queens are a larger 15mm, males 13mm and workers 11mm.
  • Common carder bees (Bombus pascuorum) seem even more common at this time of year. Queens that began producing worker bees in April are now producing new queens and males so they are flying too . The castes all have the same ginger pile on their thorax, but their fluffy bodies can vary in colour from light to dark brown as they fade with age. They are the smallest bumblebees flying in September.
  • Red-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius) – easily recognisable with their gorgeous red butt, but unfortunately this bee is a less frequent sight for many of us these days. In the south, queens can produce a second colony of up to 300 bees, so it’s this second generation there are now flying. The queen is one of our biggest bumblebees: measuring 17mm, she can look quite intimidating with her velvety black body and striking red tail. Workers are a smaller version of the queen(12mm), but males (12mm) look quite different with their cute yellow facial hair and yellow bands on their bodies.
  • Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) our most common bumblebee, has two generations in the summer and even a third which flies during the winter in the south of England. However at this time of year, I find them much less ubiquitous than common carder bees. This may be because only the huge mated queens (18mm) are flying stocking up on nectar and looking for a suitable nesting site to raise a new colony in the south, or further north, the queens are stocking up on nectar and looking for a suitable place to overwinter.

How to ID September solitary bees:

  • Ivy mining bee (Colletes hederae) – one of the highlights of autumn is being able to spot an ivy mining bee. To the untrained eye, they can look deceptively like a honeybee, especially as they are both found on mass buzzing around nectar-rich ivy flowers in the south of England and Wales. However, look closely and you’ll see the ivy bee sports a quiff of orange hair on its thorax and its body has much more defined and shiny segmented bands in buff and brown alternate colours. Ivy bees are also a little smaller (10mm) than honeybees (14mm). Ivy bees are the last solitary bee to emerge in the UK. The males first, in late August, or early September, and females a couple of weeks later. They can gather nectar (and the females pollen) from a variety of late flowers before the ivy flowers, but the easiest way to see them is to inspect the tiny white ivy flowers. Ivy bees belongs to the Colletes family, which mine into the ground to make their nests – often next door to each other in very large numbers – and they line their nest with a cellophane-like waterproof and fungus-resistant substance, which is why Colletes are also called plasterer bees. If you have a south-facing slope with light soil you may see hundreds, even thousands, of these bees emerging from their individual nests. It is easy to forget that they are solitary bees. As you can see on this great video from the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. Fascinating fact – the Ivy bee was only described as a separate species in 1993 and wasn’t discovered in the UK until 2001 in Dorset. Unlike the other newcomer, the Tree bumblebee, Ivy bees aren’t thought to have spread to the north of England. But if you see one beyond the Midlands, please report your sighting to BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society).
  • Common yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus communis) – these small (5mm) predominately black bees with tiny yellow spots or a triangle on their face has been a familiar sight in gardens since mid summer (if you’ve been able to spot such a diminutive bee) and this year we were lucky enough for a female to nest in our bee observation box as the hole dimension was small enough. They also plaster their nests, but unlike other bees collect pollen in a special stomach, called a crop, and regurgitate it to make a semi-liquid mixed with pollen to feed the larvae. Fascinating fact: They have been observed blowing bubbles of nectar to evaporate the water. This is known as water homeostasis and it concentrates and thickens the nectar/pollen mixture making it tacky like honey. The bees eggs and larvae ‘stick’ to its surface, unlike many other solitary bee larvae which ‘sit’ on top of the more solid pollen mixture. Here is a video of the bubble blowing. (Thanks to Nurturing Nature and Api:Cultural for the info and footage).
  • Pantaloon bee (Dasypoda hirtipes) – I always associate this sand-loving mining bee (9-11mm in length) with beaches because of the way she uses her large, rather comical oversized pollen brushes on her hind legs, known as ;pantaloons’ to dig a hole for nesting in coastal dunes. But she is just as happy on sandy brownfield sites in mainly southern England and Wales. Her nest can be distinguished from other burrowing bees by the large fan of sandy spoil she leaves to one of side of the hole.
  • Common furrow bee (Lasioglossum calceatum) – these small solitary bees with an elongated black shiny body have been flying since early spring. So there is no excuse for not recognising them (although I still have problems with ID). The ones you will be seeing now are males and females that were born in July and can fly until October. Fascinating fact: These burrowing bees can display primitively eusocial behaviour, which means the early flying females in warm climates are actually queen bees that in early summer produce workers. These worker bees will collect nectar and pollen for the new females and males that are born later in the summer.

How to help bees in September

  1. Plant flowers that bloom this month to provide important late sources of nectar and pollen. Sedum, Michaelmas daisy, dahlia, fushsia, Devil’s bit scabious, Perovskia Blue Spire, commonly known as Russian sage, and wild marjoram (Origanum) are all good, and don’t forget Common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), the solitary bees favourite, according to Rosybee nursery’s fantastically helpful research . A particular fav in our garden is Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ a slug-proof sunflower, and of course, the Geranium Rozanne is still going strong! For the long-tongued bumblebees, black horehound, salvias, buddleia and hemp agrimony are still flowering.
  2. The best late forage for short-tongued honeybees and Ivy mining bees without a doubt is ivy. But ivy only flowers when it is mature and that can take 11 years! So if you have any sprawling ivy that needs a trim, please don’t cut it back until after it’s flowered this month.
  3. If you only have a window box, Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus), trailing nasturtium and bird’s-foot trefoil are still flowering. Add sedum and annuals such as cosmos and snap dragons. If you grow herbs in pots and window boxes, let the mint and oregano keep flowering.
  4. Gather seeds Store them in labelled paper bags in a cool, dry place for sowing or scattering next spring. Or, just scatter them around your garden now while the soil is still warm. Lightly rake the soil, scatter the seeds, cover them with fine soil and firm down.
  5. Leave parts of the garden undisturbed, as ground nesting bumblebee queens may be looking for a snug place to overwinter and don’t chop down old, dead stems that solitary bees may have laid eggs in.
  6. Boost your wildflower meadow . If you started a meadow this year, now is the perfect time to do a final cut this month, scarify the cut meadow to expose bare soil where seeds can grown, then add yellow rattle seeds to suppress grasses taking over next year. Finally, add perennial plug plants of wild flowers that will grow well in the soil and feed bees.
  7. Ditch the weed killers and pesticides. 
  8. Take semi-ripe cuttings if you are patient and want to propagate heathers, ivy, Mahonia, Escallonia, flowering-currents, verbena, penstemon and salvias. The cuttings should be ready to pot on next spring.
  9. Create a bank of sand mixed with some clay soil against a south facing wall, or a free-standing mound, for mining bees which like to burrow into sand. It needs to be about 400mm deep. Create steps in the sand as some bees like to nest vertically and others horizontally. The clay will help the bank to keeps its shape after the bees have tunnelled into it. If you’re lucky you may get ivy mining bees nesting in it this autumn next door to each other in large neighbourhoods.
  10. Drill holes in blocks of wood – 10mm, 8mm, 6mm and 4mm diameters and up to 30 cm deep (although some bees only need a depth of a few centimetres to nest in) – and screw them to a sturdy support. Drill holes in existing structures such as fence posts, or dead trees. Large-headed resin bees, scissor bees and yellow-faced bees may take up residence, but probably not until next year.

For information on IDing and helping bees earlier in the year see my Bees to See in August blog here,  Bees to See in July blog hereBees to See in June blog here,  Bees to See in May blog here and Bees to See in April blog hereBees to See in March blog here.

Summer unit nesters

L-R Orange-vented mason bee (Osmia leaianna) and Common yellow-face bee (Hylaeus communis)

We had 2 bees nesting in the summer unit bee observation box which we put up in the garden for the first time this year.

One is an Orange-vented mason bee (Osmia leaianna) who we confused for a Blue mason bee (Osmia caerulescens) . They are a similar size (8mm) and both carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen. They could both be confused for a leafcutter bee, but they divide their birthing cells and plug the entrance of their nest with chewed up leaf, whereas the leafcutter uses whole pieces of leaf. The easiest way to tell the Orange-vented and Blue mason bee apart is to observe the colour of their pollen brushes after the pollen has been deposited. You’ll see that Orange-vented mason bees have orange pollen brushes and Blue mason bees’ pollen brushes are black.

Watch some amazing footage of her in action

The other nester is a much smaller bee, the 5mm Common yellow-face bee (Hylaeus communis) – black apart from yellow marking on her face and legs. She nested in the cavity with a smaller entrance hole underneath the mason bee.

It’s amazing to be able to see 2 very different species of bee creating nests in very different ways. You won’t see pollen on the hind legs or under the tummy of a yellow-face bee because, unusually, they carry pollen back to the nest in a special stomach, called a crop and regurgitate it to make a semi-liquid mixed with nectar to feed their brood (larvae).

Left – Top right: pollen-packed cells of the Orange-vented mason bee; Middle: Orange-vented mason bee Bottom: Common yellow-face bee creating cellophane-like bags and depositing nectar and pollen and an egg in each waterproof cell.

Right: Top right: second row of eggs and pollen created by the Orange-vented mason bee Middle: Eggs have hatched into larvae in some of the Common yellow-face bee cells and she is making more cells

Orange-vented larvae developing ,

Our Orange-vented mason bee used three cavities and the Yellow face-bee one before unprecedented heat hit our garden and the adult bees disappeared. Hopefully, they had finished their work and died naturally. The summer unit was in full sun, so we’re not sure if the brood has survived or was cooked alive!

We will keep an eye on them to see if they develop further by spinning a cocoon and pupating over winter.

These summer units can be purchased from a variety of suppliers. We got ours from George Pilkington at Nurturing Nature They really do open up a hitherto hidden world.

Gardening for bees in March & April

From L-R clockwise: Hairy-footed flower bees on Comfrey; wallflowers in rooftop planters; primroses for short-tongued bees; lungworth (pulmonaria) for long-tongued bees

If, like me, you didn’t get round to March tasks because of the rain, don’t worry, do them at the beginning of April instead. At least the dandelions, alkanet and other ‘weeds’ for bees will have grown well with all that rain followed by early April sunshine. Here’s a recap of the tasks to do.

Gardening for bumblebees:

  1. Leave a patch of the garden wild for nesting sites and don’t disturb a nesting site if you find one in a compost bin, under a shed, or even in a watering can (it will only last until the end of the summer).
  2. Put up a box for blue tits. After the chicks have fledged, the box may be inhabited by tree bumblebees. The colony will vacant at the end of summer, so the blue tits can use it again next spring.
  3. Plant dead-nettles, primroses, forget- me-nots, and rosemary to provide food this month for short-tongued bumblebees.
  4. Leave ‘weeds’ like dandelions and alkanet to grow. They provide much-needed pollen and nectar in early spring. And you’ll see lots of different bees coming to feed on a clump of alkanet.
  5. Sow seeds inside now to create more flowers later in the summer. Sweet peas, sunflowers, cosmos and Anise hyssop are some of the easiest to grow in pots. Try growing on a heated mat until the seeds germinate. I’m also going to try chives, viper’s bugloss and cornflowers outside.
  6. Don’t mow the lawn to let clovers flower.
  7. Ditch the weed killers, like Round-up, and any pesticides and bug sprays you may be using on your roses, or any other plants.

Gardening for solitary bees:

  1. Plant lungwort, wallflowers, early-flowering comfrey and flowering currants (Ribes) for long-tongued hairy footed flower bees. Red mason bees and mining bees, with shorter tongues prefer flowering fruit trees, willows, spurges, alkanet and forget-me-nots, and mining bees.
  2. Leave old mortar untouched as hairy-footed flower bees may be nesting here.
  3. Make cob bricks with holes in that hairy-footed flower bees could nest in instead.
  4. Install bee-hotels in a warm location at least a metre off the ground, where red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) can check-in and lay their eggs. We like to use these type of bee hotels with the cardboard tubes. You can take the cocoons out of in the winter and clean them. Leafcutter bees may use the hotels during the summer.
  5. Install a bee observation box which many different solitary bees may nest in over the season, including large-headed resin bees (Heriades truncorum) , common yellow-faced bees (Hyleaus communis), and blue mason bee (Osmia caerulescens) . The box comes with a removal panel which allows you to observe the life cycle of the bees.
  6. Leave a patch of bare earth for mining bees to burrow and nest, and where red mason bees can collect soil to plug their nests.
  7. Leave a pile of tiny pieces of grit that resin bees may use to plug their nests.

Bees to See in March

Here are tips for identifying the different species bees you will hopefully see in March in your garden, patio pots or window boxes if they are planted and maintained for bees.

Bee hotel winter management

If you have a bee hotel containing cardboard tubes or a wooden bee box with separate units and trays, then October is the perfect time to move out any occupants into a drier and safer place to spend the winter.

You can tell in there are occupants by the number of sealed tubes or entrance holes. Red mason bees, by far the most common bee hotel guests, plug the tubes/entrances with mud, blue mason bees and orange-vented mason bees use finely chewed leaf and leafcutter bees make their front door from pieces of leaves. As you can see from the photos above, we only have red mason bees nesting in our bee hotels.

Behind each plugged entrance there could be seven or eight cocoons from which adult bees should emerge next spring.

The cocoons started life as an egg laid by the female mason or leafcutter bee. When the egg hatched into a larvae a few months ago it gorged itself on all the pollen its mother had provisioned in the cell and then began to spin a silk cocoon and pupate into an adult bee.

We can help the bees on this journey. Gently tear the cardboard tubes and tease out the cocoons, or prise them out of the detachable wooden bee boxes. The cocoons look like small kidney beans covered in fuzz. This fuzzy stuff is specks of bee poo and could also be parasitic grubs. Dust it off with a soft brush and wipe with a damp cloth until the black cocoons are smooth and shiny (like the photo above)*. Then place the cocoons on some kitchen roll to absorb any excess water before storing them in a cardboard or plastic box with a lid. Put the box in a cold place like a garage or shed. Label the box just in case you forget what’s in it!

Red mason bee cocoons can also be popped into the fridge as they can be safely stored at around 3-4 C.

The next step is to thoroughly clean the bee hotel or nest box with a brush and hot, soapy water and bring it inside for winter. The bee boxes will have instructions for how to take them apart and clean.

Then order new cardboard tubes to put in your cleaned bee hotels ready for next spring.

At the beginning of March, I will explain how to take the cocoons out of storage, but for the next few months you can have peace of mind knowing that they will be safe and sound in their winter home…

* Thanks to Rosybee for the cocoon photo, I couldn’t find any of ours

Bees and lockdown

It’s been a challenging spring for all of us, but a fantastic one for the bees. They’ve been able to take advantage of the lengthening days, blossoming trees, and warmer than average temperatures to get out and collect food.

Spring is always a crucial time for bees. Honeybees emerge from the hive after winter and need to forage for nectar and pollen to take back to the hive to feed the young. The queen bee is busying laying eggs and these hatch into hungry larvae. Queen bumblebees also emerge from their temporary winter residencies to find a new home where they will lay stores of food and rear a new colony. And a new generation of solitary bees are born. One of the most common in urban gardens, the Red mason bees (Osmia bicornis), usually appear from the bee hotels we’ve erected on the south-facing side of our garden shed at the end of April, or early May. But this year, there was frenzied activity around the entrance of the hotels weeks earlier. The male bees, which check-out first, were buzzing expectantly around the hotels waiting for the females to be born so they could pounce on them and mate. She then finds clean, vacant ‘rooms’ in a hotel and spends the next 6 weeks filling them with eggs and pollen she collects from nearby flowers, often a blossoming apple tree.

Other than a few rainy, blustery days, it’s been perfect for bee spotting. And with lockdown, there has never been a better time to observe the natural world right under our noses. While we have had to adapt to a ‘new normal’, nature has been continuing apace. And many of us have been able to take some comfort in trees coming into leaf, bees buzzing and the joyful sound of bird song, often shut out in cities by the noise of road traffic and planes.

Planting Comfrey in a new flower bed near to the house means that we have attracted many more Hairy-footed flower bees (Anthophora plumipes) to the garden this spring. So we’ve had the pleasure of watching the females with their furry black bodies and outstretched proboscis (straw like tongue) darting between the purple bell-flowers sucking up the nectar, with pollen on their back legs. They really are the most adorable bee, and so distinctive; perfect for any beginner bee-spotter to identify. Just plant the Comfrey and they will come.

The other flowers that are attracting most bees in the garden just now are all considered weeds – Alkanet, Forget-me-nots, and White dead nettles. Will the Alliums and honeysuckle lure them away , when they are in full bloom (any day now)?

Over the next few weeks, the role of the beekeeper is vital to ensure the honeybee colonies are strong and healthy. They will visit hives weekly to inspect the colonies. The bees may need feeding if the weather turns bad, or extra storage space if the weather is fine to store the nectar they are collecting to turn into honey – their winter food. Beekeepers may also need to undertake swarm management to prevent bees swarming in the city environment. For this reason, beekeepers are allowed to undertake this crucial work during lockdown.

For the rest of us, we can take enjoyment in observing different bees in our gardens or in the parks and streets where we are taking our daily exercise. For help with ID, try the fantastic Field Studies Council ID chart , the great photos in Penny Metal’s book, Insectinside or Steven Falk’s comprehensive, Field Guide the the Bees of Britain.

Happy bee spotting!

Bees in winter

I’ve not known a whole month like January when woke up to a carpet of hard frost in the back garden every day and had to put on five layers, including leggings under my jeans and two pairs of socks to cycle the 20 mins to work in central London! The temperature has hovered around 5 C. So did the bees cope? Well actually this is better for them, than a mild winter when they’re out flying and using up their energy reserves. Honeybees huddle in their hive, keeping it nice and toasty by using their bodies and wings to create a shivering sensation that heats them and their home. (Rather like penguins on the ice). The cluster of some 10,000 worker bees and their queen will eat the honey left by the beekeeper. That’s fine if they’ve enough stores and it’s easy to get to it. Problems can occur if it’s a mild winter when they need to eat more honey to fuel their flights outside the hive looking for the very few plants that are flowering.


Given the mild December, many beekeepers (even the ones like us that left each hive a super of honey) were out by mid January putting some bakers’ fondant on the top of their hives for the bees to eat if they were hungry.

For bumblebees, the cold weather is also good. Only the queen is alive at this time of year and she’ll be tucked away in a nest – probably an old mouse hole, or a compost bin, or under a pile of untouched leaves – ready to come out when it gets warmer. As long as she’s not disturbed, she’ll be just fine.

As for the cavity-nesting solitary bees that lay their eggs in hollow stems, or our man-made bee hotels, their babies spend the winter in a cosy cocoon before they emerge in the spring as adult bees. Here there’s just one tube in this cylindrical bee hotel that contains eggs. It’s the one you can see that has been sealed with mud.




We can’t feed wild bees during the winter, but what we can do is think about how to feed them when they start flying by planting early forage, like this Sweet Box (Sarcococca), which smells devine and was covered in honeybees foraging for pollen and nectar _ in preference to the Fondant – when the sun came out on Friday.

Haggerston hotels

haggerston1 Two bee hotels from the bee hotel workshop at St Peter’s have now found a home in Haggerston Park. LBH gardeners, Andy and Brian, helped Brian from Urban Bees, put them in a nice sunny spot.

haggerston3 They are high up, away from dog walkers and other park users.

haggerston4 The hollow bamboo stems should attract the lovely Osmia bicornis (Red Mason Bees) who will shortly be emerging from their winter slumber. Hopefully they will be checking into the wooden-framed hotel filled with bamboo stems later this month.

This is what an Osmia bicornis looks like. redmansonbee She’s browner and slightly rounder than a honey bee, but a lot smaller and less cuddly than a bumble bee. She does have a sting,

Home… sweet home

The first solitary bee hotels – made at last week’s community workshop – are put in place in De Beauvoir Square.



Brian at Urban Bees and Craig, the Hackney gardener who maintains De Beauvoir, are putting up a couple of the bee hotels on the south facing wall of the building in the square. It’s a nice sheltered sunny spot.

Craig is proudly showing off the new hotels he made with bamboo from local gardens and the wooden organ pipes kindly donated from De Beauvoir church.


Now we just have to wait for some warmer weather to see if the solitary bees, mainly Red Mason bees,