Bob Luttrell, known as Bob the Beeman, presented his latest research on native stingless bees to an enthusiastic audience at the Gurehlgam Healing Centre on Saturday 14th May. The workshop, funded by the Australian National Landcare Programme, included fascinating insights on hive management and gardening for bees.
There are about 2000 varieties of Australian native bees Bob told us. Most are solitary bees and can sting, repeatedly, like wasps do. A few of these are eusocial, with a number of females congregating to support one breeding female. A small group of native bees are social and stingless, perhaps fourteen species. Of these Tetragonula carbonaria is the most commonly kept species in the Clarence, which is within its natural range.
Bob’s techniques for splitting hives attracted keen attention as this is perhaps the activity most challenging to inexperienced native bee keepers. It is a disruptive process that weakens the hive until the bees rebuild their defences.
When splitting a hive Bob prefers to give both portions of the hive mass a new top on the box rather than the original top being placed on a new bottom portion. Bees are reluctant to extend their hives downward so adding new sections to the top of the box enables them to more easily renew their defences and strengthen their hive. Bob has developed the AusINPA box for this purpose. The box also has a number of features that make it more secure for the bees; an inspection panel to keep an eye on them and a cover and shroud to stabilise temperatures and protect against predators.
Bob’s invention of honey frames is exciting. When the frames are included in his boxes the native bees build their honey pots in the frames making honey collection much easier, with fewer bees lost or killed in the process. Honey pots are easily pierced by a matched tool and the honey can then be collected manually by inverting the tray over a container. Bob has also shared the development of a mechanical extractor which greatly increases the speed of extraction.
The last session of the day focussed on gardening for bees. “If you want to keep bees you need to know about plants, at least from the bee’s point of view,” Bob said.
The bees need shelter, nest building material and food supplies. Avoid plants toxic to bees which includes African tulip tree. Blue water lilies can kill bees because they are strongly attracted, but often drown in the water contained in the flower.
For shelter the Tuckeroo tree shape is ideal. Place the bee box near the north east side of the trunk where sun can reach the box in winter but there is shade between 10am and 4pm in the summer. Deciduous trees like Jacarandas are also suitable.
Stingless bees collect resin for building material and will keep a wound open in trees like, pines, cypress, mangoes and turpentine.
For food supplies quick growing plants include radishes, basil, Brassicas (broccoli etc.), salvias, nasturtiums, Dianella, river lilies (Crinum spp) and sunflowers. Do plant perennial basil. The native basil at the Healing Centre always has native bees around it.
Bob’s recommendations for shrubs and trees included a long list of natives: amongst them were grafted Eucalypts, Angophora hispida, melaleucas and banksias.
Recommended creepers were, Fraser Island creeper, Wonga Wonga vine, Hardenbergia, wombat berry and scrambling lily.
Bob’s presentations were warmly received by all and Carole Faulkner’s vote of thanks was enthusiastically supported, as also were the venue and catering. Another great day for the Clarence Native Bees Group.