Like many enduring loves, it started before I was even aware of it. Sure, I knew bees. They were a part of my life. I remember vividly the first time a bee tried to attract my attention. It was the 1970’s, a hot summer day and I was running carefree and barefoot with my sister on the lawn in the front of our house. Then there was piercing pain, tears, shouts and then the long shockingly red painted fingernails of the lady next door extracting a stinger from my tender young foot. I am ashamed to admit now the wash of vengeful comfort I felt upon learning that the bee had in fact died after attacking an unarmed innocent such as myself.
As first meetings go, it was impactful. From that time on, a wary respect existed between us. The ice was only thawed quite recently, and descended almost instantly into full-blown amour. Attending a course on Native Stingless Bees with Michelle, we had declined the Early Bird offer to order our own hive of Tetragonula carbonaria, both of us baulking at the $350 price tag. On our way to the course, I predicted, that by the end of the day, we would succumb to the siren call that is knowledge and come home with a hive. How right I was. We could not write our names down fast enough on that order form during the first break in the course.
One of the main reasons I wanted my own native hive was to promote and support biodiversity. Pollination and ‘sugarbag’ honey are bonuses owning a hive. With honeybees in decline worldwide, it makes sense to be promoting the natives who have been here all along and who have co-evolved with our native flowering species.
So, I have my own hive now, and spend my days alternately checking on my bees, and scouring the garden for evidence of the other 1660 or so solitary native bees that may be lurking there. I love looking for the bright flash of iridescent blue that may reveal a Blue Banded bee, or peering into small reeds of bamboo or hydrangea where I might find a Carpenter bee. Holes in fences and wood often reveal the telltale cellophane whiskers of a Masked bee’s entrance. I am now bee conscious enough to catch the small flash of movement revealing the flattened abdomen of the Reed bee, cleverly designed to cover the entrance of its tunnel-like nest from predators. I love to stand, still, amongst the Thai Basil, and watch for the different hovering and looping flight patterns of varied bees, wasps and hoverflies.
I love peering under the house to look for burrows in the soft soil that may lead me to the (elusive, to me at least) burrow nest of a Blue Banded bee or Leafcutter bee. I check the crevices of every sandstone block, orcrumbling mortar for the same. I get such a thrill to see the neat, semi-circular cuts on my rose bush leaves that announce that a Leafcutter bee is nearby, labouring away making her beautiful leaf-tunnel nests. I have half an ear cocked at all times, ready to dash out at the distinctive low loud humming buzz of the Teddy Bear bee.
Having learnt so much already I am still voracious for more information on these everyday, secretive, abundant and quicksilver creatures.
I often wonder what I look like to my neighbours, who have a view overlooking my garden. What do they think when they see me frozen, in the vegie patch, unmoving for stretches of time? Or see me lurking with camera hopefully poised? Or, while sitting beside my white sugarbag hive, wistfully watching the sun glint on the wings of my tiny bees as they venture fearlessly up into the unknown; one second in my sights, and the next…gone.
As the season moves to winter, I know I will have to wait until spring before I see most of my solitary bee friends again. They will have provisioned their nests with eggs and food, prepupae, ready for spring hatching. Most of the adults will die over winter, a small number may hibernate.
Luckily, I’m not alone in my passion. I have met and been in touch with bee people who have the same quest for knowledge and information. I am jealous of the scientists and entomologists that get to spend their days looking at bees. I ampart of a Citizen Science movement, which started with a project at the University of Western Sydney, where we share sightings, photos, excitement and knowledge through social media.
My perception of the world around me now, occurs through bee eyes.
Some people may look out their window, and see gorgeous green parks and expanses of lawn; I now see a flowerless landscape, a bee desert. No forage for bees, most especially during the winter months, where there is little or no food resources. And have they sprayed that grass for weeds? Is it laced with Neonicotinoids?
I choose plants that will flower most of the year and I let most of my herbs and vegies flower and go to seed. These are measures that everyone can take. Most bees will be drawn to purple and blue plants, and they love Thai Basil. However, they will forage on most flowers if they have good nectar and pollen resources. A messy garden is perfect habitat for solitary natives that love a hollow stem to nest in. Evena small part of the garden left undisturbed, unplanted and unmulched, creates the habitat that small ground dwelling bees desperately need.
And I don’t think that is a bad thing, to always be thinking about bees. That is one of the best things about love; it inspires you to make changes, to make yourself a better person.
Author: Natalie Er
Seed Harvest Spoon Education Leader
Copyright 2015 Seed Harvest Spoon Education Foundation Ltd.
Amegilla asserta - Blue Banded bee © Bees Business
Amegilla bombiformis - Teddy Bear bee © Bees Business
Amphylaeus morosus - Masked bee © Bees Business
Lasioglossum parasphecodes sulthicum - Male Ground Dweller bee © Bees Business
Megachile maculariformis - Leaf Cutter bee © Bees Business