When I was in my late teens or early twenties, I noticed a bee on my dad’s foxglove that was rather unexpected. Instead of yellow stripes, it had light blue stripes. I thought I was seeing things. But no, it was one of our native bees.
We have this idea entrenched in our psyche that bees are black and yellow striped – my daughter came home from kindy the other day with one she’d painted as did each other child in the class – but it’s a funny assumption. The European honeybee is really yellow and a sort of muddy fuzzy brown. And our native bees could be blue-striped, but they could also be black, or white-spotted, or shiny metallic greens and reds and golds. I’ve not often seen any of our native bees. They must be around, but I suspect not nearly in as great quantity as the honeybee. And they’re solitary so you don’t normally see them en-masse. So I was surprised to find how many types there might actually be around here (courtesy of the Australian Native Bee Research Group – which ones are in your area?) I was also unsurprised to hear that a new bee species was discovered in Forrestdale, just down the road from me, in 2010. That area’s been overlooked as unworthy of interest until recently when the mushroom housing developments started to encroach.
I haven’t thought much about bees for a while. I’ve done a couple of typical bee-supportive things that ecologically-aware gardeners might do, such as refuse to use persisting insecticides and making sure there’s pollen-producing plants here and there in multiple seasons, but not really thinking about it much. I thought briefly about them once when here in this garden I heard an unusual and loud kind of buzzing which made me look around, and to my delight I saw a blue banded bee. According to the WA Museum, that flight sound is typical for the blue bandeds. I did start thinking about them a bit more when Milkwood Farm, I think it was, mentioned a workshop on natural beekeeping and working with our local native stingless bees, and I discovered that there is a lot of good information around about that. We can’t have the stingless bees here in Perth though. They’re only found naturally in WA north of the Hamersley ranges, and aside from it being marginally too cold in Perth for them, local authorities don’t want them introduced down here in case it upsets the ecology of our famous wildflowers. Which is fair enough. So, no native honey bees in my garden. The stingless bee info mentioned briefly how to make homes for other types of native bees, including making nests from bamboo with holes drilled into it, which I filed into my dodgy memory and left there. And that was that.
Until two days ago, when I happened to be driving through a suburb with hard rubbish construction and stopped to investigate a bright blue 1-1/2 seater chaise longue. As you do. The couch was a bust. But nearby were several long bamboo poles with holes drilled into them. I don’t know what it had originally been meant to be. But I looked at them and thought “Beehives!”. And brought them home. The plan was to stick them in the ground as an interesting vertical feature and see what happened.
Last night I went back and refound what info I could on building native bee habitat. Unfortunately, my poles aren’t really that suitable – they’re probably too wide in diameter, with holes too large (needing to be more like 4-9 mm wide instead of 40mm). And they’re vertical when bees prefer horizontal. And it turns out that many of my local native bees aren’t sticknesters anyway, they’re sand burrowers so if I want to build bee nesting habitat I should clear some of the ground and leave it clear. This is Sandgroper country, after all. I could do an interesting construction with mud bricks, rammed earth and similar too, and that might be fun to do when I get the chance. The best information I found on building bee walls and habitat for the Australian native bees was this sheet – Bee Walls, Habitat and Nesting Blocks. I also found a lot of really beautiful artistic stuff done in the USA for their own native bees which is giving me some inspiration. There are rainshadowed sections of zone 3 and zone 4 where I could easily put in an artistic bee wall of some sort, tailored for our own bees. And then see what happened.