Native backyard bee keeping

Backyard bee keeping is becoming an accessible and attractive pastime for many Inner Westies.

It’s an interest that has evolved with the increased awareness about a social native species known as the ‘Sugarbag’ bee, or Tetragonula Carbonaria, as an effective pollinator.

Aboriginal people have been interacting with the ‘Sugarbag’ bee for thousands of years, harvesting honey as food and medicine. A tropical species, their natural habitat is within tree hollows, predominantly in Northern Australia. Due to extensive research and efforts to rescue bees from land-clearing sites, ways to domesticate and keep these tiny creatures in hives have been successfully developed.

They are now found in backyards, community gardens and schools across Sydney due to their tolerance for our local climate and our growing understanding of their needs. When I first learnt about these fascinating creatures I was in awe of their adaptable temperament, curious behaviour and social similarities to the honeybee.

What captured me was that they are a ‘stingless’ species and as a welcome addition to my urban backyard, they offered the opportunity to enhance biodiversity and pollination. At just 4mm in size, the bees are suited to a backyard or balcony with surrounding flowering trees and plants, as they travel between 100-500 metres to forage for nectar and pollen.

Introducing the Sugarbag bee to my backyard garden provoked me to learn more about the wide diversity of native bees that visit our garden every day, and how I can actively promote their existence. My experience also spurred me to share my knowledge with others. Seed Harvest Spoon, the environmental education organisation that I have co-founded, delivers workshops to both young and old in the community about the beneficial qualities of bees in pollination, their ecology, behaviour and how to create a bee-friendly garden.

While we may like to think bees actively produce honey for human consumption, they actually create this sweet delight, which is abundant in health properties, for their own food supply and to feed their young. This being said, we are able to harvest a little excess for our own eating pleasure and to promote our health too. The Sugarbag beehive generates around 1kg of harvestable honey per year.

The honey is very high in antimicrobial properties, having a tangy flavour with tinges of citrus and eucalypt depending on nearby forage. The tangy flavour makes it a great accompaniment alongside ice cream and cheese, but honey isn’t the only benefit of maintaining a hive at home.

A native beehive in your garden is a wonderful way to connect young children to their natural world through the amazing learning opportunities these complex creatures initiate. Seed Harvest Spoon will have a stall and deliver workshops at the Leichhardt Footprints EcoFestival, Sunday 24th August, at Whites Creek Valley Park, where you can learn more; we will also take hive purchase orders on the day.

• Words: Michelle Carrick, Seed Harvest Spoon. Email or visit

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