One of the things that gives me the most pleasure in my garden is the sight and sound of bees working among the flowers. Our teeny-tiny native bees take flight from their hive each morning on a trajectory to their favourite exotic and native blooms. Larger and solitary native bees, like the beautiful Blue-banded Bee and the noisy Teddybear Bee, find their treasure here too. Honeybees stop by to plunder the flowers and fill their pollen baskets before taking off to somewhere new.
A honeybee upon a salvia flower in our garden.
While they may be only small, the work of bees is of such huge importance. As they go about their work, they pollinate a very significant percentage of our food crops. (80% of Australia's fruit, vegetable, grain and nut crops according to Michael Mobbs in his book, "Sustainable Food"). In our own garden, the evidence of their "handy-work" is everywhere. It's in the newly forming passionfruits that hang like baubles from the vine that runs along our back fence. It's in the ripe mandarins that grew after the sweetly-scented blossoming of our backyard tree. And, it's in the beginnings of a destined-for-soup pumpkin forming on our "volunteer" vine. This is food that we can harvest and eat because of the work of bees.
Bees do so much more than make honey! Unfortunately though, honeybee populations are in decline around the world because of a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. It seems that a number of factors may cause this dramatic collapse/death of a hive: pesticides (with much focus on a group of chemicals called neonicotinoids), habitat loss, disease and varroa mite infestation. With these threats impacting upon their populations, bees need all the help we can give them. We can:
Evidence of the work bees do grows in our garden.
Grow flowers and other bee-friendly plants!
(habitat & food)
Avoid using chemicals and insecticides!
(on lawns & gardens)
Provide water for bees to drink!
(A shallow dish with a stick or stone bridge so they don't drown.)
Construct a bee hotel.
Write to councils to ask them to stop spraying implicated insecticides/pesticides.
(e.g. on parks, roadside kerbs etc.)
Buy raw, local & untreated honey.
(Get to know the beekeeper & their ethics.)
Grow some of your own food without using chemicals.
(The bees will help you with pollination!)
Adopt a native stingless bee hive for your garden.
Read more about bees and their importance to our food supply.
Tiny native bees at the "front door" of their hive in our garden.
If we pondered, just for a moment, what could happen to our food supply without the pollination of crops carried out by bees, supermarket shelves might look like this! That's only one sobering example of just how much our food supply is reliant upon the work of the bees.
The next time I see a honeybee loading up its pollen baskets in my salvia flowers or see one of our tiny native bees atop a passionfruit bloom, I think I'll whisper a quiet, "Thank you" and I'll promise to do more.
p.s. ABC TV's Catalyst program has this story on colony collapse disorder if you are interested in learning more.