I have found a temporary home, not yet the admirable one I am hoping for, but this little cottage will be fine for now and its setting is quite lovely. It’s only a few yards from the shore of Grafham Water and the 8.9 mile cycle track which skirts the waters edge, and bounces you through woods and fields, up, down and round the reservoir.
If I was happy about the location, I was even happier when, opening the car door to unload the luggage, I was met with a hum, a very loud hum. The whole building, two cottages and the outhouse were humming. The walls, roofs and the surrounding air were thick with the hum and buzz of clouds of bees, and it turns out we will be sharing our accommodation with hundreds of busy Osmia bees.
They are just everywhere, living in every nook, cranny, crevice, nail hole, airbrick space, and in every tiny chink in the mortar. They are in the eves, in the gap between the door frame and the bricks, they are behind the fascia boards, they are in the roof.
Watching the constant to-ing and fro-ing is dizzying with lots of jostling for access to the nest entrances. The exposed holes in the structural bricks used for the decorative inset have all been enthusiastically colonised. Optimistic spiders have strung webs between the bricks but these robust little bee are not much deterred by them and clamber over or break through the sticky strands I have only seen one wrapped up and stored for later.
Spider’s webs draped across the bricks
The bees hum all the time. We are lulled to sleep with the hum. We are woken with the hum. I hear them in my dreams and I could swear that when you put your ear to the bricks, the cottage walls are gently vibrating.
Lost bees wander into the house and have to be rescued. Mating couples had to be gently and respectfully coaxed away from footfall and from under car tyres. They are out and about early and finish work late, endlessly backwards and forwards, carrying load of pollen for food stores for the developing larvae and mud to seal up the nest cells. I watched the females collecting mud from a nearby damp rut in the road. They will carry this back to their nests in their awesome jaws and tamp it down with their strange little horns. After three days this mud source had dried up in the sunny warm weather, but by the edge of the water they will, I am sure, find more. I filled a couple of nearby plant pots with wet earth.. just in case.
These pretty bees will not live to see their offspring develop into bees. The larvae stay in the nest, eating the pollen supplies, getting larger and larger, eventually spinning a cocoon in early autumn.
The bizarre and wonderful process of pupation sees them develop from grub to a little bee and they spend the winter hopefully safe and secure in their cocoons to emerge in the spring. Females may make make 5 or 6 nests of 6 to 9 cells. By the look of all the activity outside here there will be many more bees next year!
Below: I found a lost female bee looking wistfully out of the window this morning. You can see her little horns very clearly.
I took her outside and she flew away. If you do have mason bees there is no need to fear them at all..they don’t sting.
Observing these bees now poses more questions than it answers. How far do they go to find water, mud and food? Why are so many bees using one hole. I know these are solitary bees but I have watched and counted ten bees using the same entrance. I suppose the wall is just full of individual nests. It must be honeycombed with nest tubes, It’s an odd thought that the fabric and insulation of the cottage is partly made up of sleeping bees.
According to the owner of the cottages the bees have been here for years. I wonder how much of the existing nest material they re-use and does that mean the nests are prone to parasites?
A little yellow bottomed bee carrying pollen in her scopa is disappearing into the mortar. Some of the construction holes in the bricks are semi blocked. Is this old or new building? There is one at the top left of the photo.
Go to Paul’s Solitary Bee Blog where he has been recording his “beekeeping”(in as much as you can “keep” wild bees) for 6 years. His recent post “ Thank you solitary bees” details some key facts about these wonderful helpful friends of the gardener and pollinator of our fruits.
I wrote about, and painted, the red mason bee in my “There will be Apples “ post last April. I am so delighted to be sharing some time and space with them here in Grafham…. a few sketches tomorrow!