Friday, 5 May 2017

The Work of the Bees

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. 

Evidence of the work bees do grows in our garden.

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:

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 thisThat'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.


  1. Since I started our veggie garden and finally became more aware of our surroundings I have learnt more and more about the importance of bees. I have planted lavender to attract bees to our garden. We also purchase our honey once a month from a local farmers market. We always chat and are getting to know each other more each time.

    Thanks for the Catalyst link too, I'll be watching that one.


    1. The bees will love your lavender, Kylie. Just by growing that you are providing a food source for them. When your veggies flower that's another food source there. Sounds like you are making a haven for them at your place. Meg:)

  2. I planted some Pineapple Sage last year, and it's done really well, even after I gave it a hard cut back after flowering. It's back in flower now, and I noticed more than 20 bees on the one plant the other day! I was so chuffed, and spent moments just watching them go about their business. I'm pretty sure it's from the Salvia family, I can highly recommend it as a bee attracting plant, I'm actually going to take cuttings and grow/plant more.

    1. How wonderful for you and the bees, Cheryl! You're right too, Pineapple Sage is a type of salvia - Salvia Elegans. It's leaves remind me of fruit salad. Both honeybees and native bees love it, it's a great food source for them if you can grow it in your garden. I could spend hours watching bees, I just wish they were easier to photograph! Meg:)

  3. I have a 2m x 5m flower garden in my veggie patch that is planted out with plants that bees and butterflies love and there are always water dishes for them to drink from too, they are such an important part of our ecology and we really do need to start taking the threat of their extinction more seriously.

    1. That's a great idea to have a flower bed in your veg patch, Jan. It provides food for them and also helps you out with pollination. I always plant flowers in my hodge podge of a veggie patch - things like allysium, viola, cornflowers etc. I have lots of salvias too and the bees go crazy for them! I think that what is happening to bee populations is an indicator for us to do things differently, to change our interactions with the natural world. Meg:)

  4. hooray for bees and the important work they tirelessly do! you have a wonderful sounding garden.

    1. Thanks! I love that one of the most important things we can do to is to grow flowers in our gardens...a lovely food source for them and a joy for us. Meg:)

  5. Meg, I am sure we don't have as many bees as we used to. They do such a wonderful job in the garden and I have planted some more flowers in the veggie patch to attract them.

    1. I'm sure they'll make a bee-line to your veg patch when those flowers bloom, Chel. Meg:)

  6. Meg you photos are fantastic!

    1. Thanks, Lucy. You are very kind! Meg:)