Native bees are all the buzz at the moment, with many gardeners like us keen to encourage them into yards to improve pollination of our fruit and veg. We also love doing anything in our little piece of suburbia that can improve biodiveristy and create habitat for native wildlife!
We often see a few sweet blue banded bees hanging around the purple salvia in our garden. They also love the perennial basil.
The noisy Teddy Bear is one we usually hear before we see it! As well as humming loudly, it’s large in size, brightly coloured, and flies very erratically, making them a challenge to photograph!
So I was really excited this weekend to join in a presentation about ‘Native Bees of the Illawarra’ facilitated by Megan Halcroft from Bees Business and organised by Shellharbour City Council. Megan has wonderful knowledge about native bees, and a contagious enthusiasm for native bee conservation.
Megan explained there are 20,000 bee species worldwide, with over 1,600 species in Australia. In the Sydney, Blue Mountains and Illawarra area where we live there are about 200 different species. Only one of these 200 species, the Tetragonula carbonaria or sugar bag bee, is a ‘social’ bee, meaning it forms a hive and makes stores of honey like European Honey bees.
It’s these sugar bag bees that people can order hives of and look after in their garden. Tim Heard from http://www.sugarbag.net/ has been running some great workshops with some Councils and Milkwood Permaculture about this. In our climate Megan recommends people don't harvest honey from their sugrabag hives as they aren’t able to build up their stores as much as in warmer climates. One of our local schools put in a hive recently to help with pollination in their kitchen garden and teach children about native bees.
All the other bees in our area are solitary, meaning they live out their lives alone, or semi-social, where some females share a nest together. Though many of these bees can sting, they are not at all aggressive, so you can feel safe having them around the garden and getting up close to take photos!
I remember Megan showing us a video about how female solitary bees dehydrate nectar before mixing it with pollen to form a food for their young. This added an amazing insight to the below photo I took of a native bee in my yard – I think it’s a female bee dehydrating some nectar!
There was lots of great ideas provided about what we can do in our gardens to create habitat for native bees. One was of course planting more flowers – particularly herbs like perennial basil, lavender and salvias. Bees also love things in the veggie patch going to flower, broccoli and parsley. Gardening organically as we do also really helps native bees.
The other fascinating idea that Megan spoke about for attracting solitary native bees was to create nests and ‘hotels’ that can provide homes for them. We’re really keen to give this a go sometime! Pictured above is a gorgeous native bee nest Megan made for resin bees by drilling holes into hardwood. Instructions on how to make one are on Megan’s Bee Business website. There’s also instructions on how to make some very sweet simple nests for native reed bees here.
Megan has lots of other great info on her website at http://www.beesbusiness.com.au/. Another great website to check for native bee info is http://www.aussiebee.com.au/. There’s also a really awesome site where you can post sighting of your native bees and get comments from other people - http://www.bowerbird.org.au/projects/2/sightings. There’s so much still to be learned about our native bees, and sharing info about your sightings is one way to help build that knowledge bank!
Have you seen any native bees in your garden or done anything to help create habitat for them?