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Ask a Master Gardener: "If you can wait, avoid bumbling with nests"

Q: There is a bumblebee nest in the ground next to a stone wall in my yard. Can you tell me how to safely move it, or who could move it for me? I have read that some species of bumblebees are in trouble, so I don’t want to hurt them, but we would like to replace that wall and we don’t want to work around bees.

 A: It is very difficult to successfully relocate a bumblebee nest, and I’m not aware of any beekeeping group or pest control company that will try to do it for you. But the good news is that if you can wait until next spring to replace your wall, the bees will be gone anyway.

Bumblebee colonies die when the first frost hits. The only bumbles that survive are the new queens that hatched that year. Over the winter, they hibernate in sheltered spots, such as underground or under loose bark. In the spring they come out and each queen forms a new colony. They will not reuse an old nest.

The big, fat bumblebees you see in early spring are queens. They seek out a place to nest, like an old rodent burrow, and then gradually build the nest up over the summer. At first a queen’s eggs only produce female worker bees, but later in the year some of her offspring will be male and some will be queens themselves.

What that means is that if you can wait and let the colony do its thing, you’ll preserve next year’s queens and help ensure there will be colonies to pollinate your garden next summer.

If you can’t wait, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust does have some suggestions for moving a nest that can’t be tolerated where it is:

But they caution that an underground nest is particularly hard to relocate, and that you risk being stung if you try to dig it out.

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