December might seem like an odd month to be gardening for bees. After all the solitary bees and bumble bee queens are tucked up hibernating until the spring, and the honeybees are clustered inside their hives. Or are they?
Yesterday I was busy minding my own business, when I got a resounding smack on the head and heard a rather loud buzz of annoyance. For some reason best known to herself one of the most enormous bumble bee queens I have ever seen saw fit to fly straight into me and then gave me a good telling off for being in her way! She flew off too quickly for me to get a proper look at her but I’m betting it was a buff tail bumble bee queen.
(Buff tail bumble bee queen on blackberry)
Usually bumble bee queens would be hibernating, but with the warmer winters we’ve been having some of the buff tail bumble bee queens who are raised in the late summer do start a nest rather than hibernating. Warmer days have also been known to bring them out of hibernation as well.
Honeybees will also emerge from the hive on warmer days and will look for forage. Whilst there’s not many flowers around, winter flowering shrubs such as winter jasmine, mahonia and viburnum as well as winter flowering clematis will offer pollen and nectar to bees which are venturing out during December.
(Honeybee on clematis)
December is an ideal time to be planting bare root trees. Whilst there are lots of trees providing forage for bees, not all of us have the space for large trees. Why not plant a fruit tree instead?
(With it's open flower this apple blossom is ideal for bees)
These days there are fruit trees to suit the smallest of spaces. Choose from cherry, plum, apple, pear or even a crab apple. The bees will enjoy the pollen and nectar during the spring. Then in the summer or autumn (depending on the fruit you chose) you get to enjoy the fruits.
(This hairy footed flower bee is one of our earliest solitary bees)
Soft fruits are also ideal for bees and other pollinators. Blackcurrants, red currants, gooseberries and raspberries can all be planted now. They will establish over the winter ready to flower and produce fruit next year. If you’re short on space, blackberries and tayberries can be trained up a trellis or along a fence. This year I’ve even discovered a raspberry which can be grown in a pot so even if you’ve only got a small patio or balcony you can still enjoy your own home grown fruit.
(Honeybee on raspberry)