How to: keep native bees
Every weekend people call us on the Garden Clinic radio show on 2GB complaining of poor yields in their vegetable garden due to lack of pollination. One answer? Follow Matthew Carroll’s lead and keep native bees.
If you live in the warmer parts of the Australian east coast - think north of Ulladulla and east of the Blue Mountains - you can keep native bees in your garden.
There are more 1,500 species of native Australian bee (commercial honey bees, Apis mellifera, are not native and were introduced in the 1800s). Some are communal and live in hives, while others are solitary and live alone in burrows in either soil or timber. Trigona carbonaria is the most popular for keeping as it is a communal bee that does not sting.
Trigona pollinating low chill stone fruit. Photo - Robert Luttrell
Native bees are great pollinators in the garden of both native and exotic flora. I have a large macadamia that this year has produced an exceptional crop thanks to these little workers. Try using them to increase the yields in your vegie patch. Some beekeepers hire out their hives to glasshouse owners for this reason.
As well as industriously raising your productivity, the bees are great educational entertainment. It is fascinating to watch them carry out their tasks such as cooling the hive, cleaning it or collecting food reserves.
Trigona on eucalypt. Photo - Robert Luttrell
Hives are available from mail order companies in far north NSW and QLD in either log or hive form. Logs are generally the safest option south of Sydney, as they are more insulated, and hives are preferable further north. Honey, known as ‘sugarbag’ can be extracted from hives, though its not advisable to do this in Sydney as the hive will need its food reserves over the cooler months.
Once the hive arrives, it should be placed in a position that is warm, preferably with morning sun. It also needs protection from the elements. I situated mine under the roof of my potting shed to protect it from the rain, and provide a warm spot through the cooler months.
Colony opened for splitting. Photo - Robert Luttrell
Care should also be taken to make sure that the hive does not get too hot over summer. On hot days you will see the bees lining the entrance of the hive fanning in unison as a way of ventilating the hive. A supply of water near the nest is also desirable.
Bees are a relatively carefree garden creature. Their main defence is the fact they seal up all parts of their hive, except the entrance, with wax and resin. Take care that you use safe ‘bee-friendly’ products in your garden and your bees will take care of your pollinating.
Where to buy
Brisbane QLD Phone: 07 3844 4914