Native Stingless Bees

How to Keep Native Stingless Bees

Last year for my birthday I received the most wonderful gift of a hive of native stingless bees, Tetragonula carbonaria.  What a joy it’s been to watch these delightful insects moving to and from their shaded hive to forage and pollinate our garden.

Tetragonula carbonaria is the most commonly kept species in Australia and is well-known for its beautiful flat spiral brood comb.  The natural distribution of this bee is sub-tropical from Bundaberg in Queensland to the south coast of New South Wales.  It thrives in urban areas where it’s a good pollinator, produces delicious honey, and is easy to keep and propagate.

Siting our Hive

We live within the natural range of this species but we’re inland from the coast and away from the moderating influence of the ocean, so our climate is less favourable.  We have frosts in winter (with warm days) and very hot summers above 40oC, so we had to plan carefully for the best location. 

Dr Tim Heard recommends a microclimate where humans would feel comfortable 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.  A covered outdoor area with morning winter sun and shade in the afternoon and throughout summer is ideal.  We looked at many options but, in the end, we selected a shaded area near our house under some large rainforest trees.  We must have got this right because they’ve settled in happily and have survived drought and weather extremes.

Our hive in our garden near our house and under the shade of large rainforest trees.

Two Hives from One

The next exciting step will be to split the hive to create a second colony.  This involves separating the two sections of our existing hive and then coupling each half with a new empty half.  Each original half provides a nucleus for each new colony.

This can be done about once every 12 months when temperatures are moderate, foraging activity is strong, and the total weight of the hive is at least 7.5kg.  We’ve had ours for a full year now, but we’re heading into colder winter weather, so we’ve decided to wait until early spring. This will ensure there are adequate food stores, structures and bees inside to optimise the success of both halves thriving.

I love to share learning experiences with others, so we’ve asked Dr Tim Heard to come to our place and teach us how to split our hive at a workshop on 8 September 2019.  There’s no better opportunity than to learn from an expert!

Please join us if you can.  Here’s the link to the workshop details plus booking options.

Sugarbag Honey!

The honey from Tetragonula carbonaria has excellent antimicrobial properties and is delicious.  This tangy, aromatic sugarbag honey can be harvested without harming the colony.  We have a Honey OATH (Orginial Australian Trigona Hive) that has an extra honey box section on top.  This means we can easily extract honey using a pierce, drain and strain approach.  This can be done every 6 months with a yield of about 500 g (or 1 kg per year per hive).  We haven’t done this yet, but I’m looking forward to tasting our own honey after we’ve split the hive and given the two sections time to rebuild.

YouTube Videos by Dr Tim Heard

    • Internal Architecture of the Nest.  Watch Video

    • Splitting (Propagating) an Australian Native Bee Hive.  Watch Video

    • Extracting Honey from an Australian Native Bee Hive.  Watch Video

A few Interesting Terms

    • Meliponiculture – keeping of stingless bees

    • Meliponary – collection of hives

    • Meliponist – a person who keeps stingless bees

    • Colony – a unit of bees cooperating to rear young

    • Nest – the physical structures, building materials and stored food of a bee colony

    • Hive – a colony of bees, their stored food, building materials, and their hive box

    • Hive Box – the artificial structure built by humans to house the bees

    • OATH – Original Australian Trigona Hive

The Australian Native Bee Book

Useful Resources

Here are a few resources I’ve found useful as I’ve been learning.

    • Sugarbag Bees (Dr Tim Heard, Brisbane, QLD).  Website

    • Australian Native Stingless Bees (Russell and Janine Zabel, Lockyer Valley, QLD).  Website

    • Native Bee Hives.  Website

    • The Aussie Bee and Australian Native Bee Research Centre.  Website

    • Design of a Honey OATH Hive.  Website