The buzz on Aussie bees. In­spi­ra­tional wa­ter lilies. What to do with gum tree bark.

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - HE­LEN YOUNG

Did you know that Aus­tralia has more than 1800 species of na­tive bees? They range from 2mm long up to 24mm, some furry, some shiny, and some with beau­ti­ful metal­lic green or blue mark­ings. Many species are soli­tary, some ground dwelling, while oth­ers live in com­plex so­cial groups. Not all make honey and some have no sting.

Euro­pean hon­ey­bees were brought to Aus­tralia in the 1820s, but be­fore them na­tive bees pol­li­nated our na­tive flora, some of them spe­cialised to par­tic­u­lar plant species. They are still sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tors to crop pol­li­na­tion, but loss of habi­tat, in­dis­crim­i­nate use of pes­ti­cides and the in­tro­duced hive bee­tle all threaten their sur­vival.

Ku-ring-gai Coun­cil, in Sydney’s bush­land-stud­ded north, is rais­ing aware­ness of na­tive bees. Un­der its WildThings pro­gram, the coun­cil has placed 450 hives of the na­tive stin­g­less bee Te­tragonula car­bonaria.

“They are no work at all”, says pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor Peter Clarke. “Be­ing stin­g­less, you can have them on a bal­cony or just out­side your win­dow. Watch­ing them fly in and out, see­ing them ar­rive with lit­tle bas­kets full of pollen on their legs, is hyp­notic, like watch­ing an aquar­ium.”

Af­ter van­dals at­tacked the first hives placed in bush­land, the pro­gram now places hives with res­i­dents. “It’s a much bet­ter way to go,” Clarke says. “Peo­ple con­nect strongly with the bees; they be­come thor­oughly ed­u­cated about them and they love to share the story. That promotes wide­spread in­ter­est in bees of all types, and en­cour­ages peo­ple to limit their pes­ti­cide use.”

Te­tragonula bees pro­duce honey in clus­ters of small wax and resin pots, al­though it can’t be col­lected in the same way as reg­u­lar honey, and the quan­tity is much smaller. A hive con­tains 6000-10,000 bees, for­ag­ing up

to half a kilo­me­tre from the nest. In the wild they nest in tree trunks in coastal ar­eas from far north Queens­land south to Bega on the NSW south coast.

Be­ing a trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal bee, te­tragonula likes warm weather. “They’re a poor man’s ther­mome­ter,” Clarke says, laugh­ing. “They hate rain and tem­per­a­tures less than 18C, when they just stay in the hive, but they like any­thing up to 40C.” Above 44C the hives can die from heat stress.

Te­tragonula bees for­age on a wide range of flow­ers, both na­tive and ex­otic. Their pref­er­ence is for open flow­ers with lots of sta­mens, such as na­tive eu­ca­lypts, bot­tle­brush, melaleu­cas and tur­pen­tines. They also love sin­gle-bloom camel­lias, crepe myr­tles, salvias and, sur­pris­ingly, palm tree flow­ers. While te­tragonula are suited to ur­ban hives, other na­tive bee species are seen in our gar­dens. The pretty blue-banded bees ( Amegilla species) get no­ticed be­cause they’re rel­a­tively large (15mm), noisy and have a dis­tinc­tive dart-and-hover flight ac­tion be­tween flow­ers. Leaf-cut­ter bees saw neat cir­cu­lar holes in rose leaves for their nests. wildthings.org.au

Visit bees­busi­ness.com.au and aussiebee.com.au for in­trigu­ing pho­to­graphs, ad­vice for en­cour­ag­ing na­tive bees into your gar­den, videos, and in­struc­tions on build­ing nests. Aussiebee also pro­vides de­tails of sell­ers across Aus­tralia.

Ku-ring-gai Coun­cil has 450 hives of the na­tive stin­g­less bee Te­tragonula car­bonaria

A na­tive Te­tragonula car­bonaria bee, far left, its legs loaded with pollen bas­kets; the te­tragonula hive’s left, is a hor­i­zon­tal, spi­ral brood comb of cells in a hexag­o­nal pat­tern, sur­rounded by in­su­lat­ing ma­te­rial to con­trol the hive tem­per­a­ture

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