How to be a Bee's-Knees Australian Native Bee Supporter!
Those of you who follow our Instagram or FB pages will know that the Balcony Garden at Up On The Rooftop is home to two Australian Native Bee hives of the species Tetragonula Carbonaria. Such sweet and gentle little creatures that are stingless, that quietly go about their days foraging nectar and pollen from the garden and surrounding native plants.
Why Are Native Bees So Important In Your Garden?
Bees, including honey bees, native bees and solitary bees pollinate plants. (Pollination is where insects move pollen from one plant to another, fertilising the plants so that they can produce fruit, vegetables, seeds and so on).
There are over 2000 species of Native Bees in Australia which are important pollinators of our magnificent fauna and they are showing great potential as specialist pollinators of crops such as macadamias and lychees! Some live in colonies (much like European bee colonies) and some are solitary such as the beautiful Blue Banded, Leafcutter and Carpenter Bees.
If all the bees became extinct, it would destroy the delicate balance of the Earth’s ecosystem and affect global food supplies. There are other diverse pollinators too such as butterflies and other small insects that actually do much of the work of pollination apart from bees. With about 40% of the world's insects in decline what can we do in our urban gardens to help keep these numbers up by providing safe havens and food sources?
Learn about the special role of Australian Native bees, and how you can build a safe home for them in your urban small space garden.
Firstly, What Is The Difference Between Honey (European Bees) And Native Bees?
Commercial honey bees are not native and were introduced to Australia in c18th principally for their honey production capabilities, and so this continues today. Honey bees can produce up to 45kg of honey a year compared to a native bee hive in Queensland (optimum conditions exist up there) which might produce 1 Litre. Native bees have co-evolved with native plants for millions of years in Australia. There is a huge range of native plants that rely on native bees for pollination. The introduced honeybee is not able to pollinate these plants.
How To Be A Bee's-Knees Australian Native Bee Supporter?
Be an organic gardener! Don’t use insect harming pesticides (that sounds strange but some pesticides that are used to control some insects are harmful to bees/native bees) or chemicals in the garden.
Ensure bio-diversity in your urban garden - grow a range of plants that flower in each season so there is always bee food available and provide native food sources as well. Select a variety of colours and shapes because the bees have differnet dietary needs, colour preferences, and physical characteristics for extracting the pollen, resin and nectar.
Plant natives and those indigenous to your area as well.
Abelia x grandiflora -- Abelia
Callistemon -- Bottlebrush
Buddleja -- Butterfly Bush
Daisies such as Brachyscome Leaf Daisy and Bracteantha Everlasting Daisy
Eucalyptus and Angophora -- Gum Trees
Grevillea -- Spider Flower
Lavandula -- Lavender
Leptospermum -- Tea Tree
Melaleuca -- Honey Myrtle
Westringia -- Native Rosemary
Let herbs (and other plants) flower late into Autumn and go to seed. Native bees love those late season flowers that spring out of leafy greens at the end of the season (adopt a "little bit for me and a little bit for them" attitude to your garden and critters) If they’re flowering, don’t pull them until after frost has knocked them down or they are clearly spent in non-frost areas.
Some native bees burrow so leave some ground open for them to burrow safely
Provide shallow sources of water particularly in hot, dry weather.
Provide sheltered spaces in your garden where bees can get out of wind and rain.
Why Not Bee-come A Bee Beeper?
If more people raise Australian Native Stingless bees in urban settings, there will be more hives and there will be more urban bees. Unfortunately, not all of the Australian continent is suitable for keeping stingless bees. These bees occur naturally in Australia’s warmer and wetter parts, and hive sellers will usually insist that they be kept and cared for in these areas. Google will provide you with a number of resources and Aussie bee keepers who can help you become a custodian and set up your native bee hive. A great place to start for comprehensive information about NAtive Bee keeping is with Dr Tim Heard of Sugarbag Bees
If you would like to read more about providing your local Australian Native Bees with a home away from home, take a read of another Blog on my site TheBalcony Meadow - B&B Highway Rest Stop(only a short read) and consider providing a rest stop for our urban bees.
My home is a penthouse apartment on the fourth storey of a modern apartment block in a northern suburb of Sydney, about 30 kms from the city. While most other apartment balconies in my heavily built suburb have a potted ornamental or two. There's generally enough vegetables for the two adults here all year-round and a little to share. My apartment is part of a growing global movement of people involved in urban farming.
The Tip Shop is a the perfect plaace to find your piece of PVC drainpipe that converts into a slender, small-space fitting container garden! When you look creatively, almost anything can be used as a container to grow plants in. See how to create a container for a very tight space!
Learn about your Balcony or small space growing zone - did you know that living in a certain place actually determines the type of garden you will have and the plants that grow happily in your space? You can't fight the natural conditions in your garden, work with them by understanding what they are and determining what will grow in such.