April 2, 2016

What is all the buzz... about native bees?

WHAT'S ALL THIS BUSINESS about bees? Why the interest in these small, buzzing insects?

I'm still not sure I can answer that even after attending the launch of Tim Heard's new book on Australian native bees and the native bee workshop that came with it at Randwick Sustainability Hub, the name given the commuity education program at the Centre this March.

Forty or so bee fanciers? lovers? mavens?… whatever, they crammed into the little recycled-material-made classroom on the green at Randwick Community Centre and got all excited about these small insects.

Bees… not those yellow-and-black-striped types we see hopping from flower to flower and that we avoid for fear of being stung, nor the big, bloated, larger version you find down south in Tasmania, but the smaller, plain black stingless type Australian native bee.

Turns out those little black bees produce very little honey. We did get to try some though, when Tim split a native bee hive at the workshop. Quite a different taste to honey bee honey.

But what is their value? Why install hives for our native bees as has been done here at Randwick Community Centre and its adjacent Permaculture Interpretive Garden?.

Well, those little black bees pollinate our plants and pollination, we know, leads to fruit and fruit leads to seed-set and seed-set leads to new plants and new plants leads to more food for the bees and for us.

Australia's native bees

SO, what did we learn about native bees at Tim's workshop?

First, they are related to the wasps that predate them, and to ants too… yes, ants. Compared to the familiar honey bees, native bees cope better with cool weather. That's why Tim could crack open a hive at the workshop when he would not do that with a honey bee hive on such a cool Autumn day.

Something a bit more weird, those native bees have a hollow tongue for slurping up the nectar they find in the flowers in our gardens. This gives them their carbohydrate.

The good news for those with honey bee phobia? These small native been do not swarm like honey bees.

There is around 2000 or so native bee species found in Australia.

There was so much more at this information intensive workshop. You will find it all in Tim's The Australian Native Bee Book.

A mixed bunch

Some of those attending the book launch and workshop were from courses Randwick Council offers through its sustainability unit 's sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, located there at the community centre (free courses in Organic Gardening, Forest Gardening, Living Smart and a science education program for pre-and primary schools in the local government area).

Others were from the Sydney Bee Club. The Club maintains honey bee and native bee hives in the grounds of the community centre and offers several free introductory workshops in beekeeping through the year.

Among Club members at the workshop were The Urban Beehive's Doug Purdie, who has hives through the suburbs and the CBD and who sells his honey labelled according to the suburb where the hives are located.

Also there was native bee expert, educator and landscape architect, Elke Haege, who installed the stingless native hives at the community centre.

Sugarbag honey

The Australian Native Bee Book bills itself as being about "keeping stingless bee hives for pets, pollination and sugarbag honey". 'Sugarbag' honey is an Australian Indigenous people's term for the honey that they harvest in the wild.

The book covers getting started in keeping native bees, understanding them and their role in the global biodiversity of beekind, foraging behaviour, nest architecture, the stingless bees of Australia, indigenous people and native bees, constructing hive boxes, bees and pollination, honey production and so much more. You're really going to have to buy a copy of the book to properly explore its range of topics.

Learning more

Click on the image below to view photo essay... 

What is all the buzz...

 Story and photos by Russ Grayson, April 2016.

Comment on this