It’s been a disappointing spring. The first two months being colder than usual, and November so far being hot and windy. Coupled with almost no rain, the result has been fewer than usual spring blooms. Native bees do not appreciate this sort of weather.
After two months of impatient waiting, I finally allowed myself to check the honey superon my native beehive – to discover no honey and a partially blocked hole. My local bee advisor suggests that they are not ready to fill the honey pot yet and that I need to wait impatiently for another couple of months.
In the meantime, just so there’s no doubt that I’m running a bee friendly garden, I’ve named my garden “maam dungaarrgundi” which means “place of bees” in the local indigenous Gumbaynggirr language. Native bees are welcome, stingless or otherwise.
A lack of flowers doesn’t stop the native bees from keeping up with the housekeeping – the Poo Patrol regularly brings out rubbish in the form of little pellets. So I decided to do some housekeeping of my own. Thinking that the Bee Motelthat I created several years ago had been all but abandoned, I moved it to a shadier spot and then decided to clean out the nest holes. Ooops – I very nearly killed a pretty Homalictus bee which emerged spluttering and covered in dust. Thankfully, the rest of the holes only contained little dead bodies.
Dust covered Homalictus
Poo Patrol – bringing out the rubbish
The European bees are busy in the pecan catkins, and hover flies are still around, but I’m not holding out much hope for a good native bee season unless we get some meaningful rain. All very disappointing.
Today is the first day of spring and I’ve put my native bees on notice.
They’ve had a lazy winter. Whilst their European relatives toiled daily, returning to their hives (wherever they are?) with loads of pollen, my bees snoozed, only venturing forth on warm days to clean out the poo and make a few half-hearted forays into the garden.
No more excuses. The weather is warmer, I’ve seen them out and about, and there are plenty of flowers in the garden … so now it’s time for them to provide me with some honey.
You might recall that twelve months ago, being a bit impatient, I attempted to fool my bees into giving me some honey by removing the top of the hive and placing a small container over the access hole . My bees promptly sealed it up and went back to the business of collecting pollen.
This time I’ve gone professional and ordered a proper Honey Super kit from Sydney Native Stingless Bees. The helpful Melissa sent me several honey pots, a honey super and two straps to secure the hive.
Adding the honey pot
Bees exploring the honey pot
Super and straps in place
I’ll have to wait 6-8 weeks before peeking, but as my Bee Beds are about to burst into flower, I have high hopes that by the beginning of November I’ll have a little native bee honey to drizzle on my morning yoghurt.
Well, the Bee Garden has been a huge success! Much more so than my ultimately unsatisfactory attempts to grow veggies in the same beds. And it’s not just bees that have been attracted to the garden, all sorts of beneficial insects like hover flies, butterflies, wasps, ants and many more previously unobserved bugs have arrived. Many of which have eluded my desperate attempts to photograph them.
I’ve gained a new respect for nasturtiums and their bee attracting powers, although I now know why it’s often considered a weed, and I’m about to replant with a less rampant variety.
Salvia, perennial basil, sweet basil, cosmos, mint and even parsley gone to seed have all performed well, but yarrow was a bit of a disappointment. The flowers are quite attractive, but not a single insect to be seen. I wonder if some yarrow varieties don’t attract bees?
My newly replanted beds include the best performers, plus a few experiments like cat’s whiskers, borage, bergamot and coleus which the Blue Banded bees seem particularly attracted to. Crossing my fingers and hoping for a repeat performance …
I had assumed that whilst I was in Sri Lanka I would miss most of the beautiful spring weather at home. But temperatures stayed low and 40mm of rain just before my return meant that I came back to a blooming garden and bees making themselves busy everywhere.
The nasturtiums in the bee garden are putting on a spectacular show and attracting hordes of native bees – sometimes three or four in just one bloom. And I’m appreciating their delicate scent as I wander around the garden.
Such wonderful value for a $4.00 packet of seeds. I’m collecting from this crop of flowers, so I should never have to buy another packet of seeds.
Encouraged by all this bee activity, I decided to risk removing the top layer of the roof of my native beehive, and to place a honey pot over the exposed hole. The idea is that the bees will fill it with honeycomb and then I can just keep replacing the pot for a modest but unending supply of honey. After an initial show of interest, the bees returned to their pollen collecting duties, and I’m optimistic that once they fill the main chamber with honeycomb, they’ll start filling my honeypot.
I also added a simple roof made from a sheet of propeller plate folded in the middle. Now I think we are ready for summer ….
Winter is here and my native Aussie bees have decided that it’s time to snooze in the warmth of their hive. But being neat and highly organised creatures, they have to do the occasional spot of housekeeping, so now and then when the daytime temperature climbs to 20C they bring out the rubbish.
Their rubbish consists of a disgusting sticky mess of hundreds of little bee poos and the occasional dead body, all of which they throw from the entrance of the hive.
And while the native bees are sleeping on the job, their cousins the hardy European bees are still hard at work on viburnum and early apricot blossom.
I have to admit that my general attitude is … “all weeds must die”, but yesterday my attitude softened slightly, when I realised that I don’t have to grovel around on my hands and knees pulling them all out and composting them – I can actually eat some!
Let me explain … I spent the day with the lovely couple Damien and Laura of Chamomile Naturopathy a Bellingen based natural healthcare business. In addition to offering remedial massage, blending herbal teas and practising naturopathic medicine, they run herbally focused courses.
Their Day of Herbal Exploration was a chance for me not only to explore our local Northbank Community Garden but also to indulge in my current obsession of seeking out bee attracting plants. The weed revelation was an unexpected bonus.
Ecological prayer flags
The first part of the morning was a little heavy going as we delved into the Glossary of Therapeutic Terms. More than once, my heathen brain wandered to thoughts of double-shot flat whites. But I soldiered on, fortified by herbal teas and deliciously healthy protein balls made by Laura.
Damien talking herbs
Laura’s protein balls
Soon enough we escaped our outdoor classroom for a quick course on Botany, followed by an exploration of the community garden, beneficial weed identification and a final discussion of 10 or so easily grown beneficial herbs.
My favourite photo of the day is of this Native Rosella, a species of hibiscus that is endemic to New South Wales. I didn’t realise until later that it was packed with bees, so of course it has gone straight on to my plant wish list.
I’ve decided to give up veggies. Not eating them of course, just growing them.
What with the constant watering, applications of fertilizer, minerals and mulch, and fending off marauding birds, wallabies, those “damn bandicoots” and caterpillars – it all got a bit too hard. So I’ve planted out my vegetable beds with salvia, exotic mints, perennial basil, nasturtiums, society garlic and anything else that I think might make a bee happy.
So far, it’s working well … I’ve seen butterflies, ordinary European bees, native bees, hover flies and other insects all taking advantage of the flower buffet!
And it’s not like I’ll have to resort to eating those plastic-wrapped supposedly “fresh” supermarket vegetables … I can still eat local and organic …
Every second Friday we have our Bellopy Organic Market in the main street of town. Then every second and fourth Saturday we have another Growers Market at the showgrounds. If I really can’t find what I want at either of those, I can always visit the Green Grocer in the middle of town. They have a policy of no overseas fruit or vegetables and NO plastic.
While the weather’s still warm, I’ve been experimenting using the mints in smoothies, and in Winter I’ll try herbal teas – the Liquorice Mint should make an unusual tea.
Seems like a win for me, the bees, the organic growers and the environment. And those “damn bandicoots” will have to make other arrangements.