Northants Bee Keepers Association

Northamptonshire Beekeepers' Association (NBKA) Registered Charity No. 295593


Northants Bee Keepers Association

Copyright © NBKA 2007-2018

Northants Bee Keepers Association

A member organisation representing beekeepers in the County of Northamptonshire

Bees & Wasps

In your garden you may see honey bees, bumblebees, solitary bees and wasps.

Only honey bees are kept in hives, survive the winter as a colony and swarm.


When bees are mentioned, many people think of BUMBLEBEES. They are large, round and noisy and wear striped football jerseys!

There are about 6 common species, which can be identified by their different coloured stripes.

In the spring, large queens emerge from hibernation and may be seen looking for suitable nesting sites e.g. disused mouse nest, bird box or compost heap. The colony she establishes never totals more than a few hundred.

At the end of the year, new queens are produced and mated. These find suitable locations in which to hibernate and the original colony dies.

Although they possess a sting, they are not aggressive and are valuable pollinators, often flying when honey bees are indoors.


There are some 250 species of SOLITARY BEES in Britain. They may look like honey bees, but do not live in colonies. Some tunnel into sandy soil, lawns, or soft mortar in old houses (however, they do not cause houses to fall down - the brickwork only needs re-pointing!). Some use existing holes and construct cells from mud or pieces of leaf. They are harmless and are valuable pollinators.


There are 7 species of WASPS found in Britain, differing in size and colour markings. All common wasps have tapered abdomens, striped black and yellow.

The HORNET, the largest wasp is reddish-brown with a mostly black head and thorax.

Like bumblebees, the wasp colony dies in winter and the newly mated queens hibernate. In spring, the queen builds a nest, made from 'paper' composed of chewed wood fibres, in hollow trees, roof spaces, compost heaps etc. Larvae are fed on insects. In summer, wasps seek out sources of sugar and can become a nuisance especially at picnics.

Wasps can sting and will defend their nests with vigour. However, wasps are beneficial - one worker wasp can collect over 100 aphids in one day.


HONEY BEES are not domesticated but are kept in hives for the convenience of beekeepers to make the taking of honey easier. Honeybees are by nature tree dwelling and feral or wild colonies may exist in hollow trees or, more inconveniently in chimneys and hollow spaces in houses (big trees!).

They are smaller than bumblebees and similar in size to wasps, but are mostly black with the occasional tan or grey banding. They form large colonies headed by a queen. A strong colony in summer may contain 50,000 bees.


In your garden, the worker honey bees (all female) can be seen visiting flowers for pollen and nectar - their food. The nectar is converted into honey. In the process, plants become pollinated.

Honey bees are the most efficient pollinators - over 70 crops depend on honey bees for pollination. Fruit growers and farmers depend on bees to pollinate their crops such as apples and field beans. They provide us with delicious honey to eat or ferment into mead and beeswax to make candles and may be packed in glass or plastic containers either as crystallised , or "soft set" honey, or clear (liquid) honey ranging in colour from almost pure white to very dark amber. Honey comb can also be obtained straight from the hive known as "sections" or now the more popular "cut comb" packed in clear top, plastic containers. Beeswax and honey is found in many cosmetics, body lotions hair shampoos etc. Honey is a well-advertised ingredient in health products, breakfast cereals and similar pre-packed foods. Honey bees also provide pollen and propolis (a resin collected from trees) both of which are being used more and more for medicinal purposes.