Bumbling

I often bumble. I bumble out of bed early mornings, bumbling down the hallway to feed cats as they mew their kibble requests around my feet. Then, bumbling to the kitchen, I grind coffee beans, though to add to the morning bumbling is the sad reminder that the freshly ground coffee is no longer of the caffeinated kind, a reluctant nod to caffeine intolerance developed and morning wake-up routine compromised. At some point, I bumble out of doors, greeting the sunrise in the garden, sometimes with camera in hand (if I don’t bumble and forget to grab it).

What don’t bumble are American Bumble Bees. They move about their chosen nectar plants buzzing gracefully and intentionally from bloom-to-bloom, gentle in movement, determined in task, beautiful to observe.

In late summer and through autumn cooler, I’ll see Bumble bees in my garden. They feed from many flowers, but in my garden, their proboscis-down favorite is the blue-blooming Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’. Each morning, there are 3 or 4 at this lovely native hybrid, the Bumbles often sharing the blooms’ bounty with other pollinators who enamored with this plant.

Two decades ago I grew a related perennial, a large Salvia x. ‘Indigo Spires’, which is a hybrid of S. farinacea and S. longispicata. It was taller than the ‘Henry Duelberg’ and had longer bloom spikes; the blooms were also a rich purple-blue. In those years, the late summers and autumns saw the plant hosting15 or 20 gentle, giant bumbles each day, all working the blooms, minding their own business, adding life and movement to the garden. At some point, the bees disappeared, I suspected (though don’t know for certain) that their disappearance was related to the conversion of a nearby untouched field to a development of neighborhood housing. While that new housing addition has been positive for the neighborhood in many ways, the missing bees were, and are, missed. Bumble bees nest in the ground and require undisturbed ground. Urbanization (cement walkways, asphalt streets, swaths of non-native turf) isn’t kind to ground nesting bees, as well as other beneficial insects. In my garden, I have several uncultivated areas–no garden plants, no turf, no mulch–and have seen insect ground nests in those areas. I’m betting that the bees that visit my garden also have other places where they’ve set up their homes and nurseries, and with some good luck and knowledgeable human hosts, those areas will remain protected.

I don’t know if the numbers of bumble bees that my garden once hosted will ever return to their former glory, but I’ll certainly continue to leave open space and plant food sources for them, supporting their full life cycle.

28 thoughts on “Bumbling

  1. I think I have the same bees and I did not know they nested in the ground. I really notice them at the end of summer into fall. I happen to have a wide wooded greenbelt behind the house which would provide plenty of nesting area. I keep finding perfectly round holes in the yard about the size of a nickle. Could that be them?

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    • It could be any number of bees or other insects nesting in the ground, quite a few critters do that. I imagine your greenbelt is a good provider of space for insects! Lucky you!

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  2. Well-described and important message. I still have many bumbles here, although the area is undergoing a great deal of development. It’s hard to watch. I believe that’s why there are fewer predators here and too many rabbits. Anyway, it’s tough when the ecosystem gets out of balance. Good on you for providing habitat for those insects and critters that remain.

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    • Thanks, Beth. It is hard to see “development” and how it destroys habitat. I dearly wish more homeowners/renters would convert even a small amount of their sterile turf for wildflowers and native plants. It’s so easy and the benefits are tremendous.

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  3. Your garden should be on every bee’s bucket list! I wish I could say I was a “knowledgeable host”, but I can’t. For one thing, I had no idea they nest in the ground, but that’s just the start of my ignorance. I always learn something fun from your posts, Tina!

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    • Thanks, Anna! Bee bucket list–lol! I’m really happy so many pollinators, especially bees, find my garden. They are certainly welcome! There are so many kinds of bees and I never realized it until I learned and observed.

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  4. I love bumblebees: when I was in my garden at the country house, I spent time looking at them spellbound, they are adorable. I really want to see them again. Tub your Henry Duelberg sage with her divine blue flowers is a pantry for pollinators: I love it. It is unfortunate that the bees have disappeared from your garden and I am with you that removing the field to put houses has been the cause: they have been left without habitat. Tina you have an urbanization on the ground of insect nests in the areas of your garden that you have left wild for them: I love it. Tina you are a great preservative and disseminator of wildlife: that is how conscientious and acting we would have to be all people. Tina, thank you very much for everything you teach us in your fantastic blogs: I have learned a lot. Tina I also stumble fresh out of bed and throughout the day! Take good care of both of you. Hugs. My best wishes. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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  5. Isn’t it sad with the decline of bees. 😦 I do my best to keep areas and plants for the bees. I’ve never seen other bees than bumblebees, but it makes me happy to see them, at least. This summer I’ve seen a third species (carder bee) that I haven’t seen the other years I’ve lived here so that’s very good. I love bumblebees!

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    • Yes, Susanne, it’s very sad. I’ll bet you have other bees, it’s just a matter of time of year they’re active and what’s available to nectar from. Bumble bees are boss!

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  6. I am not expert on the numbers here, but our bumblebees seem to be in good numbers which has been good for pollination in the absence of honeybees. I used to pop out of bed raring to go but, like you, now bumble my way through the morning. ’tain’t fair.

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    • I’m glad to hear that, Steve. I assume they’re not active during your winters? Most of our bees are dormant after late November, or so, though there are certain butterflies that I see all winter. I keep honeybees, so they’re always around!

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      • No, it is very rare on an unusually warm day that one or two may venture out but there really is nothing for them so they pretty much sleep the season off. So you must be a honey farmer too. 🙂

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  7. I’ve come to adore bumblebees. The most I’ve ever seen were swarming around native wisteria on the banks of the Brazos River. There had to be hundreds of them — the plants were climbing everywhere — and the sound was indescribable. They sounded like a well tuned engine idling at a stoplight.

    I’m sure I told you the story of the day I learned that bumbles nest in the ground. Do not disturb the mama bee when she has babies to protect! They don’t put up house signs, either. Every time I’ve found them, they’ve been beneath old grasses and other detritus. Like fireants, they can be kicked up before you even know they’re there.

    Some day, if we ever get the chance to meet, I’ll tell you the funniest bumble bee story ever. I can’t do it in writing, or even over the phone, because like so many children’s stories, there are some actions that have to go along with it. A friend was with me when it happened, and it was funny enough that we can set one another howling with laughter with a single gesture that brings it all back. It might be worth a trip to Austin just to share it!

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    • Well, I definitely want to hear that story! Bumble s are so fun to watch, I wish there were more around. I’m sure that mama bee didn’t take kindly to her nest and babies being disturbed. I think bumbles are considered pretty gentle, certainly my experiences with them have indicated that, but I know they’re stings can really hurt and it’s mostly when their nests are disturbed that they show their muscle!

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  8. We went down to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th and noticed a slew of bumblebees in the central area near the restaurant. It may have been the most bumblebees I’ve seen in one place. They seem to be having a good year.

    I’ve not heard of anyone developing caffeine intolerance. Do you have a sense of how often that develops in people?

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    • Do you remember what plant(s) they were bumbling around on? I’m glad there were so many. I haven’t been to the LBJWC in a while, need to do that.

      I’m not sure it’s an actual intolerance, though I’ve always been sensitive to caffeine; if I have something with caffeine for 3 or 4 times consecutively at the same time of day, and then miss the next day, I have a massive withdrawal headache. Not fun.

      I just got to the point that I didn’t like the jitters I got, even after one cup o’joe, so I segued to decaf, which I don’t think is as good, but I make it strong. Part of this is just that nice morning routine of coffee and sitting outside, watching the day begin.

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      • The most prominent plant I noticed bumblebees on at the Wildflower Center was Liatris punctata var. mucronata, known as gayfeather and blazing star. I’ll have a picture of that coming up in several days.

        Have you run the experiment of substituting tea or chocolate for coffee and seeing if your symptoms are the same? Your second paragraph makes it seem that perhaps you have.

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      • I haven’t substituted either for the coffee. I’m not a big fan of regular tea, though I really enjoy herbal teas, especially Stash tea. I like chocolate, but not that much. The decaf is fine, it just took me a while to get there. 🙂

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