Bumblebee queens and their foraging plants
Soon last years ‘new bumblebee queens’ will be emerging from hibernation, feeding up on pollen during the day and hiding from overnight frosts. Then healthy queens (as opposed to nematode infected ones) will shortly be looking for nesting sites. Single queens establish one nest, providing certain requirements are met.
Nest searching behaviour

Watch for low level flight zig-zaging, along field boundaries, rough grasslands, garden fences, stone walls, under hedges, banks, hollows, compost heaps and around sheds. You will hear a low buzz followed by a ‘buzz ump!’ as she lands to recce a potential nest site. e.g. small mammal nests. NB. She has no pollen inside her pollen baskets.

 

Notice pollen in her pollen baskets. She has a nest

Forage is critical
Access to nearby spring flowers is critical for the successful establishment of her nest. Quite simply no flowers for queens = no food = no bumblebees. Scarcity of spring forage has a detrimental effect on the survival of overwintered queens and their nests. They need to obtain adequate supplies of nectar, to fuel flight and generate heat, with pollen (protein) for her offspring. I have often watched queens leave their nest and forage on flowers in my garden.

Bumblebee queens need early flowers nearby

What does she do?
Inside her chosen site, she creates a brood chamber, a pollen mound, (brood clump), on which she lays eggs. She makes a wax pot to store nectar, (honey pot) to feed from during inclement weather and during the night. She will sit brooding her eggs, keeping them warm, by muscular activity, similar to shivering! When hatched, she supplies larvae with pollen/nectar in a manner that depends on the species. As the first brood grow, she enlarges the brood cells and lays more eggs. Soon she will remain in the nest, egg laying and undertaking other nest duties.

Wax honey or nectar pot used to top up in bad weather

Danger when venturing out
Keeping her brood warm requires energy. Besides during the nights and during poor weather, e.g. fog or heavy rain, she may have to stay inside the nest. She is then dependent upon her honey pot reserves. If it is empty she will have to forage and leave her nest. The longer she is away from her comfy brood chamber, with its bounty of pollen, nectar, eggs, larvae or pupa, the more likelihood it may be raided by predators or destroyed by mice. Whilst outside foraging, the chances of her being injured, killed or eaten, are increased. The nearer her forage flowers, the better chance her nest will survive. We need to plant the right flowers though!

They may look lovely to us but double flowers are useless for bees!

What to plant for bumblebee queens

They do not care whether it is a tree, shrub or a flower, native plant or non native. It’s the pollen and nectar they need and if a plant provides it, that’s all that matters to them! Like us, they need a variety of food to keep healthy. Our bumblebee queens need them and they need them to be neonicotinoid free

Please consider planting these plants to cater for our different bees species, or leaving them to flower in the case of dandelions.

Dandelions

Dandelions are used by bumblebees, honeybees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and caterpillars. Goldfinches eat the seeds! Do not use weed killer! Let them flower and later de-head them.

Alkanet
Aubrietia
Berberis e.g. Darwinii
Blackthorn
Comfrey
Crocus (single)
Dandelion
English Blue Bell
Flowering current
Fruit trees/shrubs 
Grape hyacinth
Hazel
Heathers (Winter/early spring spp.)
Lesser celandine
Lungworts (Hairy footed flower bee likes as well!)
Wall flower e.g. Bowles’s Mauve
White/red dead nettle
Wild primrose (esp. B. hortorum)
Wild daffodils
Willow spp. (e.g. Kilmarnock Willow for gardens)
If anyone would like add to my list please contact me. Thanks.

Bumblebee queen on willow

Soil Association organic herbaceous perennials and alpines try Caves Folly
For peat and pesticide free plants try rosybee 
Further reading
“Plants for bees: A guide to the plants that benefit the bees of the British Isles” by W.D.J. Kirk and F.N. Howes.– Excellent updated book, covers wild and honey bees, with lavish photographs, written by experts.
Interested in citizen science and pollinators? The BuzzClub
For an interesting, light hearted read try ‘A Sting in the Tale’, by Dave Goulson

Video Organic Raised No Dig Beds Hugelkultur style improves soil

13.02.2017 A selection of my garden wildlife videos

The magic of woodchips and earthworms in your vegetable beds I was prompted to write this article as I have so much information, experiences and photographs, just sitting on my Mac not being of use to anyone! Then I saw this Tweet and read “Agroforestry and using woodchip to improve soil health” in late October […]

BTO Garden BirdWatchers find Hedgehogs active in December 2016

25.01.2017 Gardening For Wildlife

Why are you still awake? Rise in Hedgehog sightings due to late start to winter. Active Hedgehogs were being seen in gardens well into December, according to reports from the British Trust for Ornithology’s weekly Garden BirdWatch (BTO GBW) scheme. Volunteer Garden BirdWatchers reported more Hedgehogs in November and December than in previous years. Before […]

Do neonicotinoids harm/affect other wildlife besides bees? Yes! Update Jan 2017

12.01.2017 Birds

My article “Do neonicotinoids affect other wildlife as well as bees? The new DDT?” made me realise that to keep abreast of this mounting evidence that they do affect other non targeted wildlife, I decided to collate science papers and corresponding press articles to allow people who don’t generally have access to the scientific knowledge enabling you to make […]

6 Blue Tit chicks die in my nest box in worst year ever 2016 video

23.12.2016 A selection of my garden wildlife videos

BTO state worst breeding season on record for Blue Tits in 2016 I am an avid bird feeder and enjoy, like many millions of other people, watching the birds and their antics in the garden. I have encouraged many birds to nest here as well, such as, Great Tits, and Robins as part of my wildlife garden. As food becomes […]

Osmia leaiana, Red Mason bee and leafcutter bee cocoons comparison video

17.12.2016 A selection of my garden wildlife videos

Red Mason bee, Osmia bicornis, Osmia leaiana cocoons and a leafcutter bee cell to compare Lined next to each other for comparison, with the pesto bee! Osmia leaiana cocoon left inside its cell in situ and the other two added. As with other solitary bee cocoons, usually the female is larger than a male, depending upon […]

Video Bullfinches feeding on Sorrel seeds in wildflower meadow lawn

01.12.2016 A selection of my garden wildlife videos

A pair of Bullfinches feeding upon Sorrel seeds in my wildflower meadow lawn Although they visit my garden for the bird feeder during the winter and spring months, it was great to see the pair of them visiting my new wildflower meadow and eating seeds of Common Sorrel that I deliberately left to seed early summer. […]

Organic Gardening the Natural No-Dig Way by Charles Dowding Readers offer

01.12.2016 Composting

Organic Gardening the Natural No-Dig Way At the very start of my organic gardening life, I was fortunate to come across Jack Temple’s book ‘Gardening without Chemicals’. I mixed that with Geoff Hamilton’s raised deep bed gardening ‘Gardeners World Vegetable book’ and a HDRA booklet about raised beds and off I went experimenting, reading, experimenting. […]

Weeds. This book is a little gem! Special Offer to readers.

01.12.2016 Gardening For Wildlife

I have been gardening organically using the no-dig system since the mid-1980s and am a Life Member of the Good Gardeners Association. I have taught wildlife and organic gardening to many students and school children over the years. I am still learning myself! I am rather particular as to which books I read on these subjects. […]

Bee and other pollinator decline research paper links

13.11.2016 A selection of my garden wildlife videos

Managing Solitary bees in my garden I am regularly asked why do I manage my solitary bees instead of just leaving them outdoors like most other people inside their bee house. I find it absolutely fascinating, educational and interesting. I have learnt so much about their ecology, foraging, species using them, nesting, biology and the […]