what's all ThIs 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.

Tim Heard launched his new book on Australian native bees at March 2016's workshop at Randwick Community Centre. Tim worked for 25 years as an entomologist with Australia's national science research organisation, CSIRO.
A Sydney Bee Club member makes sales of Tim's new book at the workshop.

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.

Native bee educator and landscape architect, Elke Haege, introduces the workshop on native bees in Randwick Sustainability Hub's classroom made largely from recycled building materials.

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.

Native bees cluster in the entrance tube to their hive.

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.

Tim explains the design and construction of the native bee hive. The metal bands assist in opening the hive. The hive is made of hardwood and coated to improve its weatherproofing.
Tim attaches a roof to weatherproof the hive.
Native bee hives. The entrance tube is for weatherproofing.

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.

The hive opened, the honeycomb revealed.

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.

The small native bees are seen on the honeycomb formed mainly from a material called propolis. These are bees of the Tetragonula hockingsi species.

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.

Doug Purdie's raw honey fresh from Sydney suburban hives. Doug markets his honey labelled according to the suburb where the hives are located. This is authentic Surry Hills honey from Sydney's inner urban area.

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

Elke Haege, native been educator.

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.

The beekeeper's tools. The spatula is used to prise open the hive.
Just as bees like sweet food, so do people attending workshops on native beekeeping. Morning tea is always an important feature of the day.
What better way to celebrate the joy of beekeeping than to eat a hive-shaped cake?

Learning more

2016, Tim Heard; The Australian Native Bee Book; Sugarbag Bees, West End, Queensland. ISBN 978-0-646-93997-1.

The Sydney Bee Club offers several free introduction to beekeeping workshops a year at the community centre. They are advertised by the City East Community College, that takes bookings:

Sydney Bee Club's introduction to beekeeping workshops at Randwick Community Centre are booked through City East Community College:

Elke Haege constructed the native bee shelters installed in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden. The 'bee motel' is of sufficient depth for the insects.
Accommodation for solitary native bees. Aquaponic unit in background in the balcony gardening installation in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden at Randwick Community Centre.

Photos and story by Russ Grayson

Created By
Russ Grayson
Photo and story by Russ Grayson - pacific-edge.info

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.