After much anticipation, and amid much excitement, we recently welcomed over 7000 tiny little native stingless bees into our garden.
Two tiny little native bees at work in our garden.
(I had to zoom in to take this photo so they are, of course, much smaller than this:)
We've always had several kinds of native bees working away here among our blossoms. We regularly spy the solitary Blue-banded Bees and tiny black native bees toiling away in the centre of our flowers. Once, we were even lucky enough to see and hear one huge Great Carpenter Bee (Australia's largest native bee) whose very loud buzzing sounded like a mini-helicopter compared to a honeybee's hum.
Now though, instead of just welcoming passing "bee tourists" who return to their hives elsewhere, we have our very own native bee hive. Matthew, a native bee expert who clearly holds a very genuine respect and affection for these tiny creatures, whom he calls national living treasures, split one of his hives for us so that many little native bees can now call our garden home. (I'll post about the process of splitting that hive tomorrow.)
While the little native bees repair the two halves of their split hive, each half now housed separately, it is best to keep them close together in a warm, north-easterly facing spot in the garden. When the bees have finished their restorative work, Matthew will come back and take the extra hive away to a new home.
Native bee hives positioned among basil and fragrant geraniums.
In return for offering a place of permanent residence to these little hardworking bees, we get the amazing privilege of nurturing them (by planting crops they like to forage in and offering them a chemical-free zone) and of observing them as they work. They will venture out from their hive to gather pollen in our garden, the gardens of our neighbours and up into the native forest that borders where we live. As they work, they will pollinate not only our veggies and fruit, but also the native species they favour in our area. Such important work!
All the while, inside their hive, the native bees are making their own special honey, known as "sugarbag"; a precious and important traditional food source for indigenous peoples in Australia. When I got to taste some, from the freshly split hive, it was very different to any other honey I've ever tasted. I'm not sure I can describe that taste, except to say it was unusual, mellow and lemony. The first lick of it off my fingertip made me pause because of the expectation of my known and remembered taste of regular honey. It's very different to that! Matthew also gifted us a tiny sample pot of sugarbag honey from hives far from here and that tasted like the peaches which grow in the area it came from. So, perhaps the taste of sugarbag is unique to the area where it's made by these amazing little native bees.
Every morning, when I go out into the garden, I spend some time watching these busy bees. It such a calming experience to observe them quietly, flying back and forth from their hive, as they go about their day's work. It makes me stop, be still and contemplate the truly fascinating lives of these tiny native creatures.
Have you ever noticed native bees in your garden? Do you love watching them as much as I do?