The past month has been a defining transition for me and my relationship with the bees. I’ve traded in a life in London sat at a desk with very little natural light or ventilation [leading to frequent existential and physical crises] for 6 months of working on the land in Devon.
As an apprentice in Sustainable Horticulture at Schumacher College, I now find myself surrounded by bird song and buzzing while I’m learning how to work mindfully with soil, plants and ecosystems. I’ve been living on the Dartington Estate for nearly three weeks now and already I’ve spotted a wide variety of busy pollinators here. So far I’ve been introduced to some ‘newbees’ that were not easily found in the wilds of my previous home in London, including some solitary bees and the rather endearing bee fly.
The bees here are extremely lucky to be in foraging reach of the tasty pollen delights and sweet nectary goodness on offer in the Grade 2* listed gardens at Dartington Hall. The most popular tree for the bees in the gardens at the moment is the Japanese Cherry [Prunus Serrulata]. These trees have been alive with a strong hum of busy bumblebees and honeybees. We have been learning about the importance of observation as a tool to understanding natural systems so I wanted to share some of my observations about the very special relationship different bees have with different flowers.
I’ve noticed that when visiting the blossoms bumblebees [like the buff tailed above] get more involved with the blossom than honeybees. They like to take their time crawling from one neighbouring blossom to the next, burying themselves deep into the centre of each flower, going round and round them until they are finally satisfied and move on to the next. Bumblebees have a definite ‘buzz’ about them; being generally larger and fuzzier than other bees they can pollinate using their movement and vibration alone.
Honeybees [like the one above], well known for their communal work ethic in their large colonies producing lots of honey are more regimented in their foraging approach. They stick to lots of the same type of flowers on foraging trips. They flit from flower to another flower rapidly, rather than visiting each flower in the ‘clump’ like the bumble, in what feels like a less thorough but more efficient pollination.
So to finish this introduction to my new situation here in Devon, I wanted to share some funny little shots I took on Easter Monday of a honeybee taking a pollen bath in a dandelion. This time of year honeybees flock to dandelions. Flitting from flower to flower drinking nectar, they bath themselves with pollen as they go.
The lawn here is cut using a hand-push mower, which is brilliant because it doesn’t use electricity or make the noise of an electric mower so its a more enjoyable and meditative mowing experience. We set the height of the blades so that the daisy and dandelion heads are not cut off with the grass which offers a source of food for bees. So give it a try at home and leave the magnificant dandelions and see who you get visiting your pollen rich lawn.