I have a bumblebee nest in my potting shed. As a beekeeper, I'm pretty knowledgeable about honeybees but I had to read up on bumblebees, their behavior, and nesting habits. First, let me tell you that bumblebees, unlike honey bees are native to North America. So they are vital to the environment along with carpenter bees and the 4,000 other species of natives. Honeybees brought here by the Europeans were introduced to provide the colonists with honey and beeswax. They are vital to our food supply but actually compete with native bees for resources.
Bumblebees are amazing pollinators so be kind to them when you come upon them in the garden!
Here's a video of the nest. You can see the queen bringing pollen into the nest to prepare for laying eggs. Once her offspring hatch, which takes about 21 days, she'll no longer leave the nest but stay inside laying eggs. Good thing I caught her on this video!
Unlike honeybees bumblebees nest under the ground usually but one particular species, Bombus hypnorum or Tree bumblebee, nests in birdhouses so I'm fairly sure that's what we have here. After hiving my very first bees I hung the swarm box up in the potting shed where it's been for 6 years. This box is about 5 or 6 feet off the ground and contains an abandoned Carolina wren nest. This box is how bees are shipped through the mail. Let's just say when it contains 10K bees the postal workers are most eager for you to arrive and retrieve your package!
Compared to the 60K-100K residents a honeybee hive might contain a Bumblebee nest is made up of around 50 to 400 bees. Since this nest is in a high traffic area during summer I'm hoping things stay on the smaller side. While male honeybees cannot sting and the females are far less defensive than honeybees or wasps they can sting if the next is threatened so I'll be giving these bees as much space as I can despite the fact that they have made themselves at home in a busy spot this time of year. Being careful not to get too close or breathe on them seems to be important.
I'm moving a few garden tools out of the way today so as not to disturb them. Read about other residents of the potting shed in All Things Great and Small Love a Potting Shed.
Everything about this nest meets the requirements I read about for the Tree Bumblebee: an old birdbox or nest, 5 or 6 feet off the ground, a shady corner out of the day's heat and direct sunlight.
I have to say I'm very excited about having bluebirds and bumblebees in the same year!
I'll keep you posted on what happens with them but if you'd like to know more check out Bumbleebee Conservation. Org
What to do if you have a bumblebee nest:
Quite a few of you have contacted me with questions about how to deal with the nests at your homes.
Here's the buzz on that. (sorry I can't help myself)
1. Remember that bumblebee nests don't last long, unlike honeybee colonies. The bumblebees all die before autumn, with the exception of the queen.
2. It is likely that if you don't disturb them they won't bother you at all.
3. Remember that while bumblebees can sting they are far less likely to do so than ground hornets or wasps.
4. If you can see where the nest is avoid spraying chemicals near it or mowing over it. You don't want to disturb the next but you also don't want to stir them up.
5. If they are in a truly undesirable location you can place a board or other object like a plastic container cut in two to redirect their traffic.
6. If it's absolutely necessary you can attempt to move the nest, at night, while wearing protective gloves and long sleeves. Only half of bumblebee nests are successful so this is, or course, a last resort.