To bee or not to bee: cohabiting with bumble bees

We’re at the tail end of a long renovation project. Slow and steady is my mantra in life and the same has applied to our house renovations (not always out of choice, but it is what it is). For a couple of years, the double story breeze block extension overlooking our back garden has stood naked, patiently awaiting a cloak of cladding which, due to busy schedules and a seemingly endless to-do list, never quite materialised. This spring the cladding was finally delivered and our builder came back to fit it. Imagine his surprise when he was drilling away, only to be confronted by a few none-too-pleased bumble bees. There were bees in our eaves!

Now there are two ways to look at this.  My reaction was, how amazing, bees!  My husband’s was, how do we get rid of them so we can finish the project?  I understand where he’s coming from, they’d laid a couple of stings on his favourite builder and we were so close to completion, he wanted to get the job done. But we’d waited years, a few more months wouldn’t hurt. We tried some cinnamon and peppermint close to the nest which google told us might encourage them to relocate, but our new neighbours seemed as happy with their new home as we are.

Thankfully, our builder is a friend of nature and was reluctant to do anything to harm the bees.  After some research I discovered the nest will die out naturally at the end of summer, so we left the part around their entrance unclad, and now I’m free to sit on my window seat and watch the bees, they’re already growing in size and numbers!

The nest is just under the eaves outside our bedroom window and the steady buzz of the bees keeps me company during the night, sometimes finding its way into my dreams.  I’ve not found much information as to why they buzz at night (maybe it’s the bee version of snoring, maybe they ‘talk’ in their sleep?) but one site suggested they’re using their wings to reduce the moisture content of the nectar they’ve collected to prevent it fermenting.

Just as there was more than one way to look at the presence of a bee nest outside our bedroom window, so the same applies to the gentle buzzing of the bees.  I could consider the noise an annoyance and will the spring and summer months to hurry on by so I can reclaim my peaceful nights, or I could marvel at the proximity of such wonderful creatures, going about their bee business and surviving against the odds.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m choosing to marvel at the companionship of these blooming beautiful bees, how lucky am I that they’re nesting right outside my window?!

Here are some interesting facts about my new friends…

Our bees are wild! Unlike domesticated honey bees that live in neat, hexagonal hives tended by beekeepers, our bees are likely to be tree bumble bees (bombus hypnorum), whose nests are more chaotic and disorganised (just like mine).

A solitary queen will find a suitable nesting site and begin laying eggs which become larvae and then bees.  Her first batch of eggs are female workers who collect pollen and nectar to bring back to the nest to feed more larvae.  Eventually males and females hatch, including new queens who will eventually leave the nest to hibernate over winter, starting their own colony somewhere else in spring.

The males don’t have stingers and the females will only sting when they feel the nest is threatened (like when your builder drills into the wall outside their nest, sorry about that Geoff).  Luckily for Geoff. they sting lightly (relatively speaking) and don’t leave stingers behind.  Since Geoff stopped drilling, they’ve stopped stinging.  Now we have a peaceful co-existence with the bees and all has been forgiven from Geoff (he even left out some sugar water to pep up a tired bee on the patio the other day, what a gentleman).

By autumn, as the last of the workers reach the end of their life cycle, the nest begins to die off.  The males will have left the nest to mate and never return, and the new queens find a place to hibernate for the winter, starting their own colonies in spring. The old queen will die, her life’s purpose completed, and our nest will become empty (no more gentle buzz to lull me to sleep).  If we don’t want a visit from more bees next year all we have to do is clad the gap we’ve left on the wall so no new queens can discover the nesting site in spring. I’ve grown a little attached to the steady hum of bees in my life though, I might petition my husband to leave this small square of our home ‘unifinished’ so we can enjoy the companionship of bees a few years longer. 

If you want to find out more about bumble bees and see some pictures of them nesting here’s a link to a fact sheet:

If you’d like to read a poem I once wrote about a very creative bee, click here.

Photo by Matthias Zomer on

6 thoughts on “To bee or not to bee: cohabiting with bumble bees

  1. Wild bumblebees humming you to sleep! I’m so jealous! This is such a cool and interesting story. I vote for the unclad square and future buzzing!

    Liked by 1 person

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