Our Fact Sheet on Keeping Native Bees
Thank you for your inquiry about Native Bees. As you are obviously interested in the little bees, we have produced this brochure to allow you to suitably prepare for a hive of your own. It is important to note the following interesting points:
1. BACKGROUND OF THE NATIVE BEES.
These bees are called Tetragonula (was Trigona) or AUSTROPLEBEIA.
There are ten named species in Australia. We have described the three main species below.
AUSTROPLEBEIA AUSTRALIS. Found in Southern and Western Queensland. They are very difficult to locate, as their activity is limited to warmer days. They are very timid in character.
Tetragonula (was Trigona) HOCKINGSI. Found in Northern Queensland. These are the most powerful of all. They are very difficult to keep in the cooler regions.
Tetragonula (was Trigona) CARBONARIA. Found in Coastal Queensland and as far south as Bega in NSW. They are relatively common in most locations, being able to adapt to a wide variety of nest trees. These little bees are very active during all seasons and are excellent for crop pollination. This species is available in reasonable quantities.
2. WHY ARE NATIVE BEES SCARCE THESE DAYS?
Native Bees are found in the hollows of dead or damaged trees. There are a number of reasons for their reducing population: -
a. Land owners generally do not leave trees to grow old and die, therefore hollow trees are scarce.
b. Dead trees are considered a danger to livestock breeders and are therefore removed.
c. There is a possibility that poisons used for rural applications are killing out these delicate little insects.
d. Land Developers are using the technique called "Selective Clearing" to improve the sale potential of their allotments. Consequently, we see the trees containing Native Bees dozed into a heap and just burnt.
Unfortunately, the "Greenies" haven't been made aware of these issues. Our philosophy is to attempt to save these Native Bees where possible, develop a system whereby they can be artificially housed and increased, and to promote their use as valuable pollinators.
3. USES AND APPLICATIONS.
a. Some people keep Native Bees as a Novelty item. We would be the first to admit that these little creatures are amazing to watch at work. Much time is consumed simply standing beside their hive observing their activity.
b. Other people may sincerely believe that they are contributing towards the protection of the species.
c. There are people who just like seeing these bees on their garden flowers.
d. People allergic to Honeybee stings may find that keeping Native Bees is less dangerous.
e. Health food people who want to eat "Native foods".
f. Hobby farmers who need Bees to pollinate their small crops.
g. Professional Orchardists who rely on insects to pollinate their fruit and nut trees. Native Bees may be more efficient pollinators than Honeybees on some crops.
The Native Bees are known to successfully pollinate Macadamia (Queensland) Nut trees and most tropical fruit trees. We have no doubt that these little bees will take a look at any flower, if the hive is close enough. I have sold dozens of hives to orchardists and small crop farmers.
4. THE NATIVE BEE BOX DESIGN.
Much of the research for the domestication of Native Bees was undertaken by Tim Heard of Brisbane in the mid 80's. Tim saw the potential of these Bees as useful pollinators, so set about developing a method of utilizing these Bees. The box design allows strong populous hives to be split into two new hives. The success rate is excellent.
We have taken Tim's basic dimensions, and further developed the design to provide an external size of 200 mm wide x 280 mm long and two halves each of which is approximately 95 mm high. We use 45 mm thick Cypress Pine for durability and lightness. Most of the boxes have rebated corners and all are painted white. A bottom board is attached and the lid simply sits on top. The bees will glue the whole thing together with their natural resins. The complete setup resembles a miniature double storey honeybee hive!
To check on your hive's internal progress, simply prise the hive apart and have a look inside. Sometimes the bees may not take too kindly to this, so be quick and efficient. If the hive is very strong and has brood in both halves, you may like to try splitting the hive if you have a new box made up.
5. INSTALLATION OF YOUR HIVE.
Please take care of your hive after delivery. Before doing anything more, please ensure that the package is cool and out of direct sunlight. On arrival at the bee's new location, the following procedure is advisable.
DO NOT OPEN THE HIVE AT THIS STAGE !!!
a. The hive is designed to slip easily onto a steel star picket fence post.
b. The PVC tube may need to be screwed onto the box. Don't worry if you have to lie the box over to get the screws in.
c. The hive must face between North and east to get the morning sun.
d. Locate the star picket so that the hive will be in the shade from 10 a.m. in the summer. Please remember to keep cobwebs out of their flight path.
e. Hammer the star picket into the ground until it is quite firm. (250-300mm.)
f. Smear sump oil onto the upper part of the picket to deter ants and spiders.
g. Simply slide the box onto the picket. If the box is not sitting level, bend the post to suit. The tube may not slide on properly if the top of the picket is damaged from hammering. File or grind burrs to suit.
Open the entrance to your hive, making sure that you have completely removed the
covering. You may see black material in the hole. This is normal and should not be removed. You should now have bees crawling and flying around! In cool weather, do not expect too much activity.
j. At this stage, leave them alone. Do not stand in front of the hive and do not attempt to open the hive up. The bees will take a couple of days to settle down after their ordeal. It is best not to open the hive for at least a month.
6. WHAT YOU SEE INSIDE.
There is no harm in having a look inside the hive every month or so. You may be curious to see inside, so it is important to know what you are looking at. The hive consists of brood and honey / pollen storage cells.
The brood consists of eggs, larvae and the pupae of young bees. The brood is in a spiral shape, starting at the bottom and winding up. As the young bees hatch, their old cocoons are removed and replaced with new cells in readiness for another egg cycle. The old cocoons are carried out of the hive and discarded. The hive consists of three types of native bees; the Queen, the Drone and the Worker.
The mated queen is responsible for all egg production. Some people suggest that unmated queens may also be found in a hive containing a mated queen. We have often seen larger cells in the brood chamber. These are obviously queen cells. As far as we know, the drone has no duty, other then mating with queens. The workers are all female, and carry out all duties.
The storage cells for honey and pollen are quite large and are spherical in shape having a diameter of about 12 mm. The bees simply fill them up and cap them over.
The material used for construction purposes is obtained from trees, which secrete gums etc. The bees also produce their own wax.
Please be careful when closing the hive so that not too many bees get squashed. You may find that some bees will be nipping at you. Don't worry, they will not hurt you, but can get very annoying when they start crawling up your nose and in your ears. Better keep your mouth shut!
7. SPLITTING THE HIVE TO CREATE TWO HIVES.
During a routine inspection, you may find that the hive is quite full of brood, stores and bees. The heavy weight of the hive is a good indication. To split, you obviously need another complete empty box. You can obtain these from us or you may choose to make your own. Please ensure that the timber is durable in the weather. Do not use pine or treated timber! Please make sure that the dimensions are the same so as to maintain standardization. Our lids (tops) are made of thicker timber in order to control the summer temperature. Alternatively, you may like to place perspex on top to see the bee's activity. Make sure that you cover this with a thick insulating material of some type. You will find that the bees cover the perspex with gum, as they do not like any light entering their privacy. You could tape up the sides of the perspex to reduce light entry.
When splitting, do it in fine warm weather above 18 degrees C. Leave the top half of the hive at the old site and shift the bottom half away at least 500 metres (See section on Moving the Bees.) Both halves are joined to the empty halves. It is important that both halves contain brood and stores, as it is necessary for one half to create a new queen from the existing eggs.
Don't be disappointed if you are unsuccessful in your attempt, as a lot of factors may contribute to this failure. You should always have one half surviving anyway.
8. MOVING YOUR HIVES.
At times it may be necessary to change the location of your hive. You cannot move them a short distance, as the fliers will return to the original location. The little bees' homing devise will automatically bring them back to the old home. There are two solutions.
a. Move the hive, say 1 metre, every two days until the new location is reached. If you move them at night, this allows them two full days to adjust.
b. Move the hive at least 500 metres. The fliers generally will not return to the original location, as they will not have foraged so far from their old site in the past. Leave them there permanently, or you may like to shift them back during flowering seasons.
If you have to spray your crops with insecticides, check to see if it is harmful to bees. Some insecticides do not harm the ordinary bees, but I have no research on the effect of insecticides on native bees. Don't take chances. You have two choices when spraying.
a. Move the bees away and return when safe.
b. Close hive with tissue the night before spraying and cover hive with hessian bag. Remove when safe.
Please remember that your neighbour may be spraying in the vicinity. It is wise to let your neighbours know that you have Native bees.
10. DO'S AND DON'TS.
a. To obtain the maximum advantage of the pollinating qualities of your bees, place them fairly close to your crops. The foraging range is about 500 metres. Please don't expect miracles for pollination of distant fruit trees.
b. You cannot stop the bees from going next door. You can reduce the loss by providing them with flowers to pollinate.
c. Keep the star picket post regularly oiled.
d. Kill spiders, which make a home on the box.
e. Don't let the KIDS shake the post!
f. Cattle will knock the hive off the post.
g. Always face North to East.
h. Cover the hive with a foam box on hot days. When the temperature is greater than 40 o C, serious melt down and hive loss can occur. A neat fitting foam box can be left on the hive all year round.
i. Ensure that the bees can get a drink of water somewhere close by.
j. NOTE: - Native bees will not work below 18 o C or over 35 o C
k. Cold weather is not good for the hive. Make a cover as discussed in "h"
11. INSECT PESTS.
A few varieties of flies can cause loss of distressed or weak hives. Strong hives are not affected! Generally, freshly split hives or hives removed from the log, are mostly affected. It is important to wipe up any spilt honey and seal any gaps and cracks. We generally use sticky tape to temporarily seal all joints in the boxes. Reduce the entrance hole to about 10 mm diameter. After about a week, all this protection can be removed. If you are getting a hive from a log, please phone us for advice.
There are two types of flies, which are very active during the warm months. One resembles a paper wasp. It belongs to the hover fly family. You will see it attempting to lay eggs on the outside of the box. The eggs hatch into maggots, which can completely destroy the hive. The other fly is about a size of a native bee but grey in colour. This is a serious pest as it is small enough to get through the entrance. Do what you have to do, to eliminate this problem. Don't spray them with poisons!
Most hives of Tetragonula (was Trigona) Carbonaria regularly appear to be swarming during the summer months. This is not associated with the establishment of a new hive, which is undertaken by the honeybee. The bees hang around the outside of the hive in large numbers. We do not know why they do it! Some specialists suggest it could be mating flights, but this is not true, as most of the bees are workers. Others suggest that the bees are attempting to invade the hive. This could be true, as we have witnessed many thousands of bees all over the outside of a weak hive. At times you will see many hundreds of bees fighting to their death on the ground near the hive. Please don't panic!!! Don't phone us unless you really believe you have a problem. We know that native bee lovers get really distressed about this activity and wish that they could do something to stop the bees. Try turning the entrance to another direction or using a very fine water mist over the flying bees. Whatever the reason, generally your hive is not affected in any way. Good luck!!!!
13. GUM TREE SEEDS.
The little bees will visit the eucalyptus tree named Cadaga or Cadagi (Eucalyptus Torrelliana) during the flowering season and also when the seedbeds open up. The bees will be seen carrying the seeds back to the hives and depositing them inside the hive and also outside the entrance. The seed has no value, but the resin attached to the seed is used as nest building material and sealing material. The bees bring so many seeds home that the entrance is often clogged right up. We have heard of hives dying out due to this happening. Please clear the entrance when this occurs. The seeds open during January and February.
14. INFORMATION AND FEEDBACK.
Your hive of Native Bees comes to you quite strong and well established. It is important that you look after them, so as to ensure of good pollination of your crops. Please contact us if any problems arise at any time. There is still a lot to learn!
If you find that Native Bees are a worthwhile investment for pollination or what ever reason, please tell your friends or business acquaintances, as we have a sufficient quantity to supply all inquiries. The two species that we have for sale are the Tetragonula (was Trigona) CARBONARIA and AUSTROPLEBEIA AUSTRALIS.
We have some hives of Tetragonula (was Trigona) HOCKINGSI, which we have on display.
luck with your experiences with Native Bees.
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