Keeping Native Australian Stingless Bees

by Frank Gapinski

There are reported to be over 1600 varieties of bees in Australia, but only 14 species are stingless. Australian stingless bees are a lot smaller and darker looking than your average sized honey bee. There’s one good advantage in being small, and that’s being able to pollinate tiny, delicate, hard to reach blossoms.

That’s where the Australian native, stingless bees come into the picture.

Permaculture practitioner Anne Wensley has been keeping these bees for over 25 years. Whilst we were filming a segment with Anne about her chickens we spotted her bees in a log outside her door. Generations of these bees have inhabited the same log.

Watch the Youtube clip to see Anne show you her native bee hive.

Native bees are scarce in some areas of Australia because of the practice of clearing and burning fallen timber. These bees like to inhabit hollow tree logs. Keeping native bees close to your home is an excellent way to pollinate Australian native plants and to maintain their bio-diversity.

Don’t expect to get the same volume of honey as European bees. A typical commercial honey bee hive will produce anything up to 75 kilos of honey per year. The smaller, native bees will only produce a small amount of honey — less than one kilo of honey per year. The taste will be more diverse than commercial honey. People describe native honey as resin flavoured and more sweet and sour, with a hint of fruit. But the advantages of keeping the little native bees are numerous. They don’t sting. They aid in the pollination of a diversity of eucalypts and exotic plants as well as native fruit and nut trees such as macadamias and mango trees.

They are also a fascinating creature to watch.

They rarely leave their hive if the temperature is less than 18 decrees celsius. Be sure to face their hive at a North-East aspect, preferably in a shaded spot in the garden with as few obstructions to their flight path as possible. Some varieties have problems coping at extreme temperatures. The best climate range for Native bees is around the 18 – 35 degrees celsius mark. The welfare of the hive can be seriously impacted if it sits in over 40 degree temperatures and direct, fierce sunlight.

Expect to see more on bee-keeping in the new Geoff Lawton Urban Permaculture DVD due later in the year.