Photos and bee notes from a pollinator day at Kew

A couple of weeks ago I had a day off while Tommy was at nursery. Time to myself! Trying not to feel guilty, I went to a ‘Pollinator day’ on 20th July at Kew.

The day involved lots of talks by bee experts, along with display tables to visit, a chance to flutter between honey tasting to a nest of bumblebees to seeing hand pollination in action. My favourite honey was made from coffee flowers, a rich dark honey. You can see tweets from the day by looking at the #pollinatorday hashtag on Twitter. Kew were running a Twitter competition asking people to guess how much honey the average honey bee produces in her lifetime – as beekeepers reading this will know, it’s a tiny 1/12 of a teaspoon.

1/12 teaspoon of honey

Bee hotels talk

An expert from the University of Reading gave a talk on creating solitary and bumblebee hotels. I learnt new things at this talk and was happy to hear people with gardens asking for advice on how to attract bees. We were advised that garden centre solitary bee hotels often use bamboo tubes that are too big. The tubes should be between 4-10mm in diameter to attract British bees, although there is one British species that will accept tubes up to 12mm in diameter.

Solitary bee tube

A model of a solitary bee nest (not life-sized!)

Solitary bees have interesting life cycles. Each species is slightly different but their eggs are often laid in tube-shaped cavities which solitary bee hotels replicate – in the wild this might be holes in wood or dug in the ground. The females are laid first, as they are most valuable, followed by the more expendable males, which are laid closer to the entrance where predators are most likely to attack. The growing eggs are provided with food in the form of pollen and then each little chamber is sealed up by their mother with a wall of mud or chewed leaves. There might be 7-8 eggs inside each tube.

The adults only fly about 150 metres to forage, so having a good supply of flowers in that area is really important. The males hatch first and hang about the nest site waiting for the females to emerge. As soon as the poor females hatch out they are jumped upon by the eager males. Most of the females then stay in the area and lay eggs which will survive over the winter and hatch out the next spring. However around 30% of the females go into a ‘dispersal phase’ and fly further away to start nests in a new area. This presumably helps prevent in-breeding.

It was surprising to hear that the cocoons can survive a bleach bath! Indeed they can survive most conditions apart from being squashed. At Reading university the bee team clean solitary bee cocoons to remove parasites and then put them back into the wild (you don’t need to go this far with your own nests if you don’t want to!).

We were also given advice on creating bumblebee nests. Avoid most of the commercial bumblebee nests as they don’t get used. You can make your own using polystyrene and soft hamster bedding within a terracotta flowerpot. Bumbles in particular need to avoid moisture building up in their nests. Unlike honey bees they never collect water, as their nests create lots of condensation. They need somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight to nest but not somewhere damp or soggy. Their nests only last between 16-20 weeks.

Bee myths: Busted

I liked these snazzy postcards produced by the University of Reading, who had provided lots of the resources and displays available on the day.



I managed to spot plenty more pollinators on the way home – here’s a little bee bottom poking out of himalayan balsam.

Bee in himalayan balsam

Bee inside Himalayan balsam

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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10 Responses to Photos and bee notes from a pollinator day at Kew

  1. disperser says:

    Lots of good information here. As soon as I own a house again I’ll be providing for wild pollinators.

    . . . 1/12 of a teaspoon . . . that surprised me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Carpenter Bee Nest (Arizona) | standingoutinmyfield

  3. Malcolm Evans says:

    Hello Emily,

    I read your Adventuresinbeeland Blog with interest. I find your posts interesting and helpful. I am a member of Newbattle Abbey Beekeepers Association in Scotland. Our teaching apiary is in the grounds of Newbattle Abbey College. We have an excellent relationship with the college and the principal does all she can to support us. We have been offered a WW2 ex army hut to use as our meeting place and to house our library and microscopes. We are very keen to take up this offer but it needs to be refurbished and the Association needs to raise the funds to do this. I am writing to you in the hope that you will find this story to be interesting enough to include in your blog. We are trying to raise £25,000 through crowdfunding and we have made a reasonable start but we need to widen our net to get our story out in the hope that those interested in beekeeping might be persuaded to contribute to our crowdfunding effort. To find out more please visit our campaign page at:

    We attempt in our story to emphasise the importance of the honey bee in pollination of our food crops and how the Association is instrumental in training the next generation of beekeepers. Our proposed Bee Academy will help us to do this.

    I do hope our story will interest you and that you will be able to give us a mention in the next posting of your blog.

    Warm regards,


    Malcolm Evans



  4. Pingback: Photos and bee notes from a pollinator day at Kew | Raising Honey Bees

  5. Lindylou says:

    Hallo Emily,
    I enjoyed all of your informative writing about the wild bees and bumbles and I’m glad you shewed those postcards that Reading University have designed but I think they have missd a huge chance by keepng their text so bland. I get attention from the school kids when I do bee classes with my tray of fruit, veggies and dairy products, most people are becoming of losses in those spheres but we tend not to think of cotton t-shirts and jeans, towels and flannels! The children then realise that most of what they are wearing and/or use everyday will also suffer if we don’t start providing more and better forage for pollinators soon.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Now that you mention it I see what you mean. They probably have a limited graphic design budget and were going for an easy to read font. Great that you do the bee classes, really important to teach the kids.


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