Autumn, Bees and Bits – don’t be too tidy!  by Margaret, a Chelmsford Beekeeper

Human beings like things to be orderly and tidy. Part of the pride in our homes is to keep a tidy garden. But, I implore you to leave a little space for our six-legged friends. The winter is especially hard on insects, the least we can do is leave them somewhere to hibernate.

Every garden can sacrifice a quiet corner for a pile of leaves or sticks. Insects, spiders, frogs, newts, voles, hedgehogs, etc all need a safe place to snuggle up for the winter.  My bug heap also has rabbits and newts living in it. It just gets added to each year when I tidy the rest of the garden, heaven knows who is in there now.

Garden sheds are a great place for butterflies to hibernate in. They will hang in a corner somewhere and wait for the warm weather to start their life cycle all over again. So don’t ‘Spring clean’ until the spring!

Check piles of wood for insects and animals before you have a bonfire. Make a separate pile, and move it to the fire as you burn it. That way no-one will be burnt by mistake.

Leave your fallen fruit for animals who need to build up their fat reserves for the winter.

Postpone cutting back any flowering plants for as long as you can bear it – every last flower counts for insects just now. Lots of insects hibernate in the hollow stems of plants, so don’t be too quick to put it all in the brown bin, or burn it all.

My honeybees are still busy collecting nectar and pollen to store for the winter. Pollen is their protein, and bee grubs need it to grow. So, if you see a bee collecting pollen it may be still feeding young. In a  warm winter, honey bees may have eggs and grubs in the hive throughout the year.

Honey bees don’t hibernate. They stay in a tight ball to keep warm, and eat honey. As long as their queen survives, the colony will re-populate in the spring. I always put sugar fondant in their hives for the winter, just in case they run out of honey.  On warm winter days, bees will come out to search for food and water, and have a poo.

Bumble bees and wasps are different from honey bees, as only the queens live through the winter. They have to work very hard to build up their colonies in spring. Bumbles are quite tough and can often be seen on winter flowers when honey bees are staying inside in the warm; their thick fur must help.

Bees of all sorts are happy to make their homes in old furniture. I was once called to collect a bumble bee colony which had made its nest in an old chest of drawers. Old wood can make a good winter home.

If you leave a little space for nature, you will be well rewarded by lots of fascinating animals to watch.