The Life Cycle of the Bumble Bee.
Every Autumn as the first frosts begin the mated young queens seek out a place to hibernate in safety. If you come across a live but sleepy bee in a pile of leaves in Winter don't damage it. Its not dying, just in a deep cold sleep like a hedgehog. Put it back where you found it and cover it gently against the cold.
In the first warm days of Spring you may see the large queens flying busily about the early bulbs and flowers. These large slow bees are searching for nectar and pollen to turn into honey and food for their newly hatching brood. So the organic gardener plants lots of pollen producing flowers and leaves an unmown patch of early dandelions in the wild garden or hedgerow to feed the young queens.
The queen will locate a suitable place to build her nest. There are over 200 types of bumble bee and they look for a variety of sites. Most common are the leaf litter in a hedge bottom, an old mouse hole, a cool dark place under a large stone or under the wooden floor of a garden shed or other building. Because the bumble bee does not live in a large colony the nest is usually little bigger than half a grapefruit even in the busiest days of high Summer.
The queen begins a new nest with a ball of pollen and wax into which she lays just a few (approx six) eggs at a time. When the eggs hatch they try to eat their way through the pollen reserve but the queen continually adds to the pollen and wax sealing them in. Eventually the grubs pupate and the queen spins a bright yellow cocoon of the finest silk from which the grubs emerge a few days later as fully grown worker bees.
As soon as they dry their wings the worker bees begin work to support the colony and their queen. She continues to lay eggs but as it takes more and more of her time the pollen and nectar collection is delegated to the workers, the queen spending her whole time in the nest.
This co-operation continues throughout the high days of late Spring and Summer until the nest has reached the right size for its species. At that point the queen lays eggs destined to become next years queen bees as well as drones or male bees. The drones once hatched leave the nest and live independent lives, their only purpose being to mate with the young queens to ensure the survival of the species. Unlike honey bees the young bumble queens will continue to live and work in the mother colony for the remainder of the Summer and Autumn.
Come the first sharp drop in temperature and frosts the old queen, her workers and the independent drones will die. Only the newly mated queens will survive in hibernation to begin the cycle again the following Spring.