By Keith Upward
The Blue Banded Bee (Amegilla) is a Native Australian Solitary Bee. They do not run in colonies nor do they produce honey!
There are about 14 variants of Blue Banded Bee in every state of Australia, except Tasmania and parts of the Northern Territory. They are easily recognisable by their blue and black stripes,though the colour shades can vary from iridescent to dull matt.
In their natural environment, Blue Banded Bees nest in soft sandstone cliffs and river banks. Run-of-the-mill ‘Solitary Bee Hotels’ will not attract them. These guys need sand, dirt or clay.
Receptacles such as long-life milk cartons are ideal for making clay bricks. If you can’t find sandy clay, then a soft mortar mix is fine. When mixed, fill the container with clay or mortar tamping down firmly as you go. Before the mix is completely dry, use a pencil or something similar to press in a few holes to a depth of about 75mm to 199mm.
Like many home gardeners, I used to plant my tomatoes every year confident that nature will take care of the pollination process. The European Honeybee, both domestic and feral, many believe, is the main insect responsible for the pollination. Wrong!
While it is true that European Honey Bees pollinate a great proportion of Australia’s edible fruit and vegetables, they are not capable of pollinating common edible plants such as tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, chilies, blueberries, cranberries and kiwifruit. These require what is known as ‘buzz pollination’.
Buzz pollination, or sonication, is a technique used by some of our native solitary bees, such as Australian Solitary Bees and Carpenter Bees, to release pollen which is more or less firmly held by the anthers.
The anthers of buzz-pollinated plant species are typically tubular, with an opening at only one end, and the pollen inside is smooth-grained and firmly attached.. The Blue Banded Bee is one such bee that is able to release pollen using this technique.
European Honeybees are unable to perform buzz pollination. About 9% of the world’s flowers, plus the aforementioned fruits, are primarily pollinated using buzz pollination.
As the warmer months approach, the diminutive Blue Banded Bee will be soon darting around your garden. They are not aggressive and can be approached without fear of being stung.
Plant plenty of native wildflowers and English Lavender around your tomato plants; bee-attracting nectar is produced by Lavender flowers. Tomato flowers don’t produce nectar! Avoid insecticides and leave bare soil around the plants (or nearby in the garden) for bees to nest.
Sit back on a sunny day and enjoy the wonder of the bees and insects working tirelessly for nature and us.