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Where are the bees?


Last year I planted a passionfruit vine and was very excited when scores of flowers appeared. Every day I walked over to my vine and watched to see what changes were occurring, when would the flowers turn into little dark balls of fruit? Well, I was quite angry and disappointed when the flowers rebelled and fell off, one by one, leaving no fruit in their place. Why had this mutiny occurred? I had fertilised, I had watered, I had given them my undivided (well almost) attention. I soon discovered my eggplant flowers were in league with the passionfruit flowers, if we’d had to rely on my garden for survival we’d be dead. After looking into what could be causing my fruiting failures I discovered that these flowers all needed cross-pollination to fruit – my plants had problems in the bedroom and a counselling session was not going to help.

My research into this phenomenon came up with an answer – no bees! I went into the garden and looked everywhere and no bees; I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen one. My yard is not the only place lacking in these furry little pollinators, in America and Europe they are disappearing by the billions and it has been named ‘colony collapse disorder’. There have been a few suggestions for why this is happening such as viruses, natural predators (wasps) and mites to name a few, however nothing has been proven and so there is no solution.

In Australia there are several pests and diseases that pose a threat to our little bees, however we are still free of many other more significant threats which occur overseas, the main one being Varroa mites. These mites are not in Australia yet, however expectations are that it’s inevitable they will be moving in soon. If we can’t control these mites our feral bee population could be decimated which will obviously be a disaster as approximately 65% of our agricultural production relies on these bees. Apiaries around the world are working on this problem, so hopefully one day there will be a Varroa resistant strain of bees – fingers crossed.

In the meantime what can we do to attract bees to our gardens? The first thing would be to grow lots of flowers, however not all flowers are suitable. When bees look for flowers they want nectar which is their energy food, kind of like a quick chocolate hit – and they need pollen which provides a balanced diet of protein and fats, but not all flowers have these. A lot of plants have been hybridized to provide (for instance) more colourful blooms or increased resistance to fungus, however this process makes some flowers sterile and therefore useless to our fuzzy little friends.

When choosing plants, look for heirloom varieties, plant in large clumps and include different colours and shapes to assist in attracting the bee visually and enabling different varieties of bee to easily access the flower as some bees are bigger than others. Don’t use pesticides – self explanatory. Plant where the bees will feel comfortable – a sheltered sunny spot is preferred.

So, what am I going to do? I am looking into beekeeping, there are many associations who will show you how do it and get you started, you also get honey out of it, yum! The other option, which I will be doing if the beekeeping thing doesn’t happen, is to get involved in the sex lives of my plants (risqué I know). I have picked a soft, fluffy paint brush and will be spreading the love this spring; I’ll let you know how it goes, in the interim happy bee spotting.

Dionne Lister was born and raised in Sydney and apart from some minor overseas travel hasn’t moved anywhere else. She met her husband through surfing however has had no time for that lately because of her two young children, kindly bestowed upon her by said husband.
She is sensible and works to earn money, however loves writing in her spare time and wishes, as most creative people do, that she could earn her living from such a past-time. Dionne hopes her articles are informative and entertaining and would love some adoring fan-mail ;-)


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    Peter says:

    Hi Dionne I've noticed the same thing. Not so long ago at this time of year, you had to be careful walking on the grass on bare feet. This year to date, January 4, 2012, I've seen a total of nine bees. A couple of years ago I noticed that the zucchini couldn't get on without a helping hand. This year is much worse. I was expecting five buckets of olives, but I'll be lucky to get a couple of handfuls. Cucumbers, passion fruit, eggplant, none of them producing as they should. Whenever I see a healthy male flower, I pick it, take of the petals, and take it to visit the female flowers, spreading the love. It works ok when there's not too many flowers, but is impractical with olive trees, of course. I might use a blower/vac on the olive tree next spring, to forcefully spread the pollen. That might work. No bees is pretty scary.

    23rd January 2012 . 12 years ago