I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a Native stingless bee class with a few gals from work. We will shortly be getting some native bees at our 2 childcare centres on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and so I thought we should know what we need to know!
We trekked into Sydney to Camperdown Commons and Pocket City Farms – an urban farm built on old bowling greens, where we met native bee enthusiasts Dan and Lucy.
We hear all about how social native bees are. They don’t sting, however they can bite. We get to view some hives of native bees, honey pods and pollen pods and wax from the working hives.These hives are not for commercial enterprise, the honey you harvest is not that much, however it’s liquid gold…….
The bees use tree sap to create their own safety measures like smearing their hives with a sticky resin. This resin helps them survive in the elements of both a hot summer and cool winter in NSW. It also helps them protect their doorway into the hive. These bees are small almost bug like and they actually don’t fly in winter unless it is 19-20 degrees. Lucky for us we do get winter days this warm 🙂
The honey taken from a hive is probably only 50 ml. Great for medicinal purposes and to share with your family but it isn’t for mass production and even if you wanted to buy 50 ml of honey you would probably pay over $100.
Hives get split when the weather is optimal -Spring of course! Throughout spring, hives are split into 2 and then left to “settle”. These bees are really smart and can figure out they need a balance of bees between each box.
Bees take around 50 days to develop and only live for around 100 days, starting off as cleaners, progressing to a nurse or queen carer and they may then become foragers or worker bees. Most of the population is female with limited males born.
A hive is stored in small wooden boxes that you insulate in anything from an old school polystyrene esky to a wooden box thats sits over the top of the small boxes to protect it from the elements – temperature wise. Their honey has a lower sugar content and needs to be kept in the fridge as it has a higher water content but it doesn’t crystalise.
They love being part of a hive and unlike honey bees who are quite anti social, they love protecting their hive and in fact have guard bees who guard the entrance to the honey box. They are just as happy in the bush where they live in tree trunks and are quite popular in indigenous families.
We got to see a few different hives, taste pollen that is a bit like honeycomb with a sweet/sour taste and then we got to extract honey , both manually from a waxy structure the bees had stored honey in and also drained pods when the hive got split, as these little bees love honey but they also get stuck in it and then drown.
Its fair to say, we had a non aggressive split and a slightly aggressive split……. They are native after all and we are trying to take their honey.
Dan explains that these native bees have 3 castes in a colony . The queen lays all the eggs, the drones fertilise the eggs and the sterilised female workers do all the work!
The queens cell is a much larger than the other cells.
These native stingless bees build this amazingly intricate nest, called a brood nest to store food, raise their young and live in the community!
The multi layered hive that we see get split, is a work of art…..it’s incredible! Small voids between each layer allow the bees to move between each layer…..
A great 3 hours quite interesting especially when they split the last hive, and the girls went running as bees stick to your clothes and hair. I got bitten by a bee….. it didn’t hurt that much nor sting! ah the joys of working in a community!
I dare say if and when we split or extract honey from the hives we will be getting, this will be a job for the experts!
We had a quick lunch at the restaurant Cafe Acre here at the Commons before heading home…..
If you want to know more them- you probably should read the good bee book by an expert- The Australian Native bee Book, by Tim Heard
Happy Long weekend,
Mrs W x