Sunday, 21 July 2013

NATURE - Tell the Bees

A favourite tiny plant pot
from The Cliff House,  San Francisco
Although I grew up in California and spent my teenage years in the heady rock concert culture of San Francisco and Los Angeles, my family were not modern, well off or well educated. Our ancient English/Irish/Dutch & Native American heritage came through in quaint unexpected ways which I just accepted as a child and only began to wonder and investigate when my parents were elderly and I lived in England. My Great Grandmother lived simply, in an old wooden shack, having little nor need for it,  but apparently had come from a wealthy Irish settlement family from Missouri who disowned her when she married a farm worker who was half Native American. She had much wisdom of the old days when mankind still had the knowledge of living in harmony with Nature. My Father, although not related to her, also had Irish and Native American heritage. He knew much folklore from these two cultures. He spoke sometimes of the importance of Bees, and reminded me that you need to Tell the Bees which always fascinated me. 

A honeybee on an old teapot
I bought at The Emporium, Hungerford

The Oxford Dictionary of Myth and Folklore has this to say about it:

"In medieval, Elizabethan, and Stuart times, Bees were regarded as mysterious, intelligent, and holy; their wax was used in church candles, honey was a biblical image for God's grace and the joys of heaven, poets praised the hive as a model for the perfect society, grouped around its ‘king’ (it was only in the 1740s that English naturalists admitted the large bee was female). Something of this awe remains in a nursery riddle from the 16th century, with the answer ‘a bee’:

Little bird of Paradise,
She works her work both neat and nice;
She pleases God, she pleases man,
She does the work that no man can.
(Opie and Opie, 1951: 82-3)
Folk tradition about bees stresses how easily they might take offence, in which case they would cease to give honey, desert their hives, or die. They had to be treated as members of the household; in particular, they must be told about deaths, births, and marriages in the family, their hives must be appropriately adorned, and they must be given their share of the festive or funereal food. They would then hum, to show they consented to remain."

Read more:

One of the Palmate Newts in the pond
like tiny Dragons!

With summer in full bloom there has not been much time to continue the quest to find, rescue and re-invent vintage items. We are too busy being in awe of nature and all it offers. The wildlife pond continues to attract new inhabitants even though it is very small. In the current heat wave it seems very welcome with the local birds, bees and beasties.

Tiny striped Spiderlings begin to disperse from their egg ball.
They will soon sail off on the wind.

This photo taken in too bright sunlight
does not do this handsome guy justice.

These pretty green flies appeared en masse. They have very bright luminous eyes and body parts and the wing tips of the males are prettily marked. They are called long-legged flies, Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. I found this out from one of my favourite blogs, called 'Bug Blog'. It is written by Africa Gomez, a biologist interested in Evolution, Behaviour and Ecology based in Hull, England. I love her insights and how she has not lost the wonder with which a child views Nature. Have a look.  

Find her Bug Blog  here:

Long legged flies need a pond to mate. Like most people we tend not to be very fond of flies, but they are brilliant pollinators and unlike common flies these guys do not bother with food, they like nectar instead. Africa starts her post about them by calling them, 'flies dancing on water' and I like that. Nature does dance - we just need to open our eyes and hearts to it and we should dance to the seasons too.

Read more about these bright green flies here on Bug Blog Bright Green Dancing Flies

The pond spider and his web lie in wait like something out of Alien.

When they came we saw that a predator followed closely behind. We do not know what this spider is called but he is pretty impressive. He made his web across the lily pad and underneath it and could stay in the water for awhile. After a few days he disappeared as mysteriously as he had come.

The dancing Tree Bumblebees

The most exciting visitors were the new Bees which took up residence under the clay roof tiles of the old bakehouse in our garden. Our Victorian cottages were built in 1870 in Arts and Crafts style by a benevolent benefactor who gave them to the estate workers. Now enclosed by fences and hedges it was once an open plan community of six who shared a 13th century church, church school, a well, outhouses and washing facilities for clothes and themselves and a bakehouse. The bakehouse and the cottages were roofed in hand made red clay tiles and I love the way the roofs have a higgedy-piggedy look.

The courtyard of Victorian cottages and their outbuildings of flint and red brick with red tiled roof

The Bees first appeared while we were building the pond but at that point we did not think about them. We have a lot of solitary Bees who we know gather leaves and mud to make their little nests in holes in walls. The Bees were very interested in the old mud we took out of the bottom of the pond. They like mud with a high nutrient content because they put this in the nest to feed the young. They were non aggressive Bees and they often buzzed around us while we worked on the pond. We kept the old mud wet for them so they could take what they wanted. After a few days they stopped coming to the pond for the mud.

A Tree Bumblee resting.
Note the bites taken out of this plant from our solitary Bees
who use it to close their nests.

We began to put the story together when we noticed new Bees one morning who exhibited a habit we had not seen before. They were in a small group and were very small themselves but looked to us like Bumblebees. They were very furry and a bright orange colour. They had a non menacing 'buzz' and sounded happy. They were also doing a little dance above the roof, which was quite delightful. We loved them at once. Remembering what my Father taught me about Telling the Bees we told them they were welcome and asked them what they were but they took no notice of us so we resorted to the trusty internet. We found that they were Tree Bumblebees. This species is European but has over the past few years begun to spread across Britain. They look very different to other Bumblebees, if you look closely.

A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee on our Clematis

A Tree Bumblebee on our Clematis

They usually nest in trees, hence the name, but they also like roof spaces. They are particular about where they nest though and chose the sights carefully. We can only surmise that they chose us because they liked the area, the wildflowers, Bee and Butterfly friendly plants and the perfect roof space where they get morning sun and afternoon shade. They have also nested on our next door neighbours roof and they buzz around all of our plants all day.

A Tree Bumblebee hurries off into the nest

Apparently the Tree Bumblebee commune has different kinds of Bees in it, the Queen is about the size of a normal Bumblebee, the workers who dance around her nest are doing so to protect her and to impress her in case they get a chance to mate with her when she emerges. It is believed that they are not able to sting. Inside the nest are slightly larger drone Bees who can sting, if you disturb the nest. The community does not get very large having only a hundred or two at most. Ours are very small, perhaps 40 Bees and dwindling all the time. The Bees are so active that they appear to wear themselves out and we have found several dead. By September they all die except the new Queen who will leave the nest and go to ground to hibernate. She will emerge next Spring and find a new nest, although sometimes they return to an old one. We now have another small nest on the other side of the bakehouse roof as a second Queen emerged from the nest.

They have been delightful companions in our garden and we hope that they continue to grace it with their presence.

No matter where you live, however small you can help nature and it will reward you. I am always shocked by how little some people care for nature, not realizing that we are only a very small part of it and without the other parts we would cease to exist. I am also grateful and inspired by those who remember Nature. This garden is at the back of a rented flat in a busy high street. How lovely that it is and on the day I visited the song of Birds and the sound of Bees was wonderful.

Thomson's Delicatessen and Winebar in Pewsey, Wiltshire is a delight. The building is very old and it's topsy-turvy windows and thatched roof are so charming that many tourists take photos of it. It has delicious things to eat and drink too. It lies in the High Street just in front of a roundabout on which a statue of King Alfred The Great was placed. It is a place of ancient history and great beauty. Well done to them to plant their boxes and not to forget the Bees and Butterflies.

Mrs Black is loving the weather and forgetting her house and shoppe keeping tasks. The sun is soothing on her old bones and arthritis. We hope that all of you are enjoying summer wherever that you are.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.
    My saving grace has always been my connection with nature.
    I was also delighted to hear about your roots.
    I have Celtic and Native American hertage and have always had such a reverence for nature.
    A beautiful part of my childhood was spent in England in the country .We also traveled throughout the United States and I was fortunate to become aquainted with many different aspects of nature in a variety of regions .
    I now live on a small farm in New England where I have taught nature classes as enrichment programs for many Elementary Schools and Summer camps, very rewarding to see children connecting with nature ~ their connection and reverance will be important to the nature of our future.
    As I write this I am peeking out across the Cranberry bogs to the colorful bee hive boxes on the grassy hill, without the bees help the cranberries would not thrive.
    Sorry I have gone on a bit ...your post was inspiring !

  2. Willow - Please do not apologise for your long comment, I loved it! How wonderful that you teach nature classes. It is so important to share the wisdom of the Elders with the young ones. our heritage sounds quite similar to mine, how fascinating. Although my teen years were wrapped up in cities and I loved it, the countryside has always called to my soul. And what a fabulous view that you have too! Minerva x

  3. Dear Minerva - what a delightful post, and so interesting to discover a little more about you and your interesting heritage.
    The bee is such an important little being for us all, and we neglect him at our peril. At the moment I am having a traditional bee skep handmade by a local farmer. It is for solitary bees. I am not too sure about how it works, but I am looking forward to its eventual arrival. Apparently the farmer has been inundated with requests of late, which in itself is a good thing. I have a perfect alcove in my drystone wall where I shall place it when it is ready.
    Glad you are enjoying nature and the weather.
    By the way I live in the hills above the World's First Bee Guardian Town.

    1. Your Bee Skep sounds fantastic! And how wonderful that ou live near the World's First Bee Guardian Town. I'm so glad that people are waking up to how important the Bees are to mankind. x

  4. Our small garden is bee and bird friendly. We don't plant double flowers except for Philadelphus. All are single so that insects can enjoy nectar and pollen. Earlier on, we were worried that honeybees had died off after a long winter, but recently lots of them are on lavender. There are lots of bumble bees all of the time. They are so cute! A lovely post! I love the photo of the newt. Once we found one in the garden even though we do't have a pond!

    1. Midori, It is true, both Bees and Butterflies prefer single flowers. You hardly ever find a double wildflower. Our Bees were very late also, and we have had no Lady Birds at all this season. Your Newt may know something that you do not, perhaps there once was a pond, or even an old well. x

    2. 'Your Newt may know something that you do not, perhaps there once was a pond, or even an old well.' I like what you say here. It might. How wonderful!

  5. What a beautiful tribute to the insects we have in our garden! Enjoy your summer mrs Black.

    Madelief x

  6. I loved this post. I grew up in New Mexico and traveled with my father when his business trips took him into Indian territory -- what fun we had and how much I learned. When I went to university, I studied them even more -- the wonderful story tellers, medicine and nature and lived on one of the pueblos for a while. We must take better care of Mother Nature and all her children -- plant, beast -- for as they leave the earth ... so shall we. Mrs. Black looks quite comfy. My kitties have each picked out their own sun spot for the afternoon. I'm going to remember to welcome the next bee I see!

    1. Snap, How fabulous that you got to live on a pueblo! Your travels with your Father sound fantastic. I'm sure my neighbours think I am a mad old cat lady when they hear me talk to the Bees! x

  7. What a fabulous post. You have a wonderful heritage and it shines through in your words and your love of Nature. I shall tell my bees how important they are when they pass now, I am pleased to say there has been an abundance of them this year here.

  8. Dear Minerva,
    the same advice of talking to the bees we have in Germany too (my granddad von Kroge was a hobby beekeeper, and he told me about it - together with his solace that I will never get rheumatism when I was stung by a bee). Now they say I am allergic to them - but I don't believe it - and am still mumbling to them on my balcony :-)
    The green fly - if it is the one I'm thinking of, I will look up the blog you mentioned, is sometimes in winter in the house. For me it is the insect that comes as nearest to an incarnation of an elf as can be - the douce sapphire green, sort of lacy, and the golden eyes - really beautiful. Thank you for a great post!

    1. Britta, Your green flies sound marvellous! I love your description of them.

      Some of my family have German heritage and I was also brought up with German folklore too. I love it!


  9. After many years of absence, the bees have returned en masse to the Island. I love to sit in the sun near the flower beds and listen to their hum. We don't have hives, but our neighbours do, and I love to think that some of the honey I eat at breakfast owes a little of its taste to my flowers.

    1. I am so glad that the Bees have returned to your island paradise! I wonder what has changed to entice them to return? Perhaps it is just warmer weather ad we are having at the moment. I like the idea of you and your flowers contributing to the luscious honey. x

  10. Hi Minerva, I really love this post about bees! I have a tiny garden, one cannot actually call it a garden, more like a courtyard, but I have a tiny space where I have, with the help of a green-fingered friend, planted flowers that attract bees and butterflies and I am so enchanted and at once amazed as I sit in my tiny garden and see these bees buzzing and drinking nectar from my lovely flowers! Did you know that honey is the only food that never goes off? In Biblical times when the Israelites fled Egypt they took with them bees, honey is also healing and if you have a cut, put some honey on it, and it will heal! Have a lovely week!Sharon x


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