Native Bees in the Garden

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Text Steve Maginnity. Photos by Rob Horton

A few years ago a relatively small number of people knew about, or kept, native bees. But the idea of helping to conserve nature an, at the same time, improving germination and biodiversity, both in the home garden and further afield, is making native bees very appealing to lots of people. As a result native bees have become very popular.

So, with over 1500 species of native bees in Australia, how do we attract them to our gardens?

Planting a range of plants that provide pollen and nectar for the bees is a good start. An equaly important objective is to provide habitat for solitary bees. Different bee species are attracted to different houseing mediums, so it is good to have a variety. A few suggestions to try are small pieces of hollowed out bamboo, hardwood with holes of different sizes drilled into it to a depth of at least 5cm and clay (which the bees bore holes into) set into pieces of the PVC pipe. Native bees such as blue banded bees, reed bees, carpernter bees, fire tailed resin bees and others may then choose to reside in your backyard. It is imporant to remember to place your bee housing material in a place that will not get waterlogged, too hot or experience prolonged cold periods.

Creating refuges for solitary bees will attract a variety of bees that will help with the pollination of different plants. Some native bees, such as carpenter bees, teddy bear bees and blue banded bees, can ‘buzz pollinate’ plants such as tomatoes, a job that can’t be done by the common European bee.

What if other insects apart from bees use the housing medium as their home?

This will happen. Mud wasps and other insects may choose to use the spaces you have provided to call home. This is not a big problem as the other insects can also be beneficial in your garden by eating other unwanted pests.

What about social stingless bees like Tetragonula carbonaria? Are they hard to keep as pets? Ulike the solitary bees mentioned above, Tetragonula carbonaria lives in a hive and are the best pets you are likely to have! You don’t need to feed them, they help in the garden, they can provide you, in warmer areas, with delicious sugarbag (honey) and, when you go on holidays, you don’t have to find a boarding kennel to put them in.

When thinking about establishing Tetragonula carbonaria hive in the garden, a lot of people ask ‘what happens if I don’t have a big garden, live in a unit block or my trees and shrubs are not yet established and flowering? One of the best things about these bees is that they do not respect fences. If you don’t have many flowering plants in your garden, but the surrounding bush or your neighbours do, they will fly out of your yard to retrieve food from their surroundings. This species will fly approximately 500m radius from the hive to forage.

How do I get a Tetragonula carbonaria hive? Some local councils supply native bee hives (there may be a waiting list) or you can contact websites such as the Australian Native Bee Company (www.tanbc.com.au) or www.aussiebee.com.au. Tetragonula carbonaria are most suited to warmer climates such as coastal NSW or QLD.

Steve Maginnity, the owner of The Australina Native Bee Company, is passionete about native bees and has been working with them for over a decade. He sells native bee hives and a range of bee-related products (including Tim Heard’s new The Australian Native Bee Book) from his website (www.tanbc.com.au). Steve also run courses and is the author of Australian Native Bees for Schools. More information on Steve’s next course on Native Bees at Holos, here.

Plant these to encourage Native Bees in your Garden:

  • Bottlebrushes callistemon spp.
  • Native Rosemary Westringia spp.
  • Tee tress Leptospermum spp.
  • Lavander Lavandula spp.
  • Grevilleas Grevillea spp.
  • Salvias Salvia spp.
  • Herbs such as basil, rosemary, thyme, borage and mint.