October B-mail 2016
Air Bee n bee
Bees don’t go on holiday – why do they need a hotel?
Because their habitat and nesting or hive sites are slowly disappearing due to destruction of bushland and the human insistence on clearing up fallen and dead branches – the perfect place for bees to live.
Unlike honeybees ( an introduced species from Europe), most native bees do not live together in a big hive, but live solitary lives and need a suitable home just for one. The female bee mates then builds a nest for just her eggs.
Some native bees are known as “social” bees, and have a queen bee, drones and sterile female worker bees.
They are stingless and usually nest together inside tree hollows in tropical areas.The majority of native bees can sting but are not aggressive and the sting is so small it is not generally very painful. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone so they are perfect backyard bees.
There are over 1,500 species of Australian native bees, ranging in size from 2mm to 24mm and many live in urban areas where there are areas of bushland. If you have native plants in your garden, keep a look out for native bees visiting in flowering season. They are particularly fond of Angophora and Eucalyptus trees, native daisies, grevilleas and native and coastal rosemary.
Solitary bees do not store honey in their nests but social bees make and store honey. Unlike honeybees, they make only enough to keep them all alive during non-flowering seasons so if you see a native bee hive, please don’t steal their honey!
Native bees come in an array of different colours and even have adorable names like the teddy bear bee.
Bees have an undeserved reputation for angry swarms but native bees are usually harmless, will buzz happily around your garden and pollinate your wildflowers. Providing a bee hotel will give them a home and help them produce the next bee generation. Bee hotels are easy and quick to make and you don’t need much room. Ready to make one?
Find out more about Bee hotels and the importance of bees visit http://www.backyardbuddies.net.au/for-bugs
Too many birds, not enough trees – but you can help!
Over the last month, you have likely seen birds foraging on the ground collecting small sticks and bark pieces. They have been very busy preparing a safe place for their eggs and the resulting hatched chicks. In an ideal world, birds would go back year after year to the same area to build their nests and raise their young, but with increasing destruction of old, large trees, it is getting harder for them to find a suitable hollow or branch.
Birds that live near people can struggle to find somewhere to nest. If you have room in your backyard, a nest box might be just the thing to help out your local birds.
If you have ever watched a bird build a nest, you might think they are very particular about the construction, but most birds will happily use a nest box. If you know which birds regularly visit your garden, you can build a box of the right size and material to suit their needs. Each species has their own unique needs, so a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work. For example, big birds need a large entrance hole, but some prefer horizontal boxes, some vertical and some sloping. The closer the box resembles their natural nests, the happier they will be to move in.
Watching the eggs hatch and the babies being fed as they grow can be an enjoyable and interesting experience but it’s important not to get too close or their parents will feel threatened. If you are super keen, you could install a camera to monitor their progress from a safe distance.
Development and clearing has made life increasingly difficult for our native birds and providing suitable habitat, food sources, and places to nest can help keep the next generation of birds from decreasing.
Ready to build a nest box for your backyard bird buddies? Birds in Backyards have some great instructions to get you started http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/Nest-Box-Plans and read general guidelines from Birdlife Australia here http://birdlife.org.au/images/uploads/education_sheets/INFO-Nestboxes-nativebirds.pdf
Organic pest control
It can be a fine line between controlling pests which are damaging your plants, and keeping the garden chemical free and safe for your backyard buddies who are welcome. There are many organic methods of controlling pests which are well worth a try before you resort to harmful pesticides.
Not only do chemical pesticides kill pests, but they can kill anything else that comes into contact with them. If you poison your snails, there is a high chance your lizards and goannas may eat them and be poisoned themselves. Best snail killer? Beer in a shallow dish, or if you have chickens or ducks (or can borrow some), they are very efficient at stripping your garden of slugs and snails.
Many diseases and pests will spread quickly and destroy your plants if you don’t tackle them early on. Natural sprays are very effective and often the old methods are still the best. A simple blast of water from your hose can get the process started, particularly effective in dealing with aphids. There are lots of sprays to try – check out these recipes from Gardening Australia http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s2607562.htm
Bugs can even do the work for you through biological pest control. Green lacewings, ladybirds, parasitic wasps and even spiders are the good guys, so no more sweeping away the cobwebs! Parasites have a particularly gruesome yet efficient method of killing pest insects – they lay eggs on or inside the insect and when the larvae hatch, they eat their host. You can buy them from an insect supplier – release them at the right time of year and match your pest with its predator for the best results.
Maintaining a healthy garden using organic pest control is the best way to make sure native wildlife can continue to safely visit your backyard. Encouraging beneficial insects, birds and animals can help you maintain a healthy balanced garden ecosystem and reduce or eliminate the need for toxic chemicals.
Reptiles in your garden
Although few people are pleased to encounter a snake in their garden, lizards are a whole different story. Across Australia, lizards, skinks, geckos and goannas can be found in suburban gardens and they are for the most part completely harmless and make great garden-mates. Reptiles are excellent adaptors to the environment and can survive extremes of weather year after year and continue breeding in conditions that would defeat other animals.
Some lizards have adapted so well to humans, they will live close to, and even inside, houses. Some species of geckos frequently move along the walls and ceilings, sticking to smooth surfaces with the adhesive hairs on their feet. They can occupy the undergrowth in your garden and like to burrow under leaf litter, mulch, bark and even loose sand. In colder climates, they may even spend the winter there, emerging when the weather heats up to lie in the sun and recharge their batteries. They usually only become active once the temperature is higher than 15 degrees.
There are five families of lizards: goannas, geckos, legless, skinks and dragons. There are over 600 species in Australia, and are found in every state although they mostly prefer warmer temperatures.
Reptiles will eat insects, flowers, fruit and fungi and some will eat any tomatoes and strawberries they can find in your veggie patch. Like all wildlife, it is best not to feed them and they are more than capable of finding their own food.
They are generally not aggressive and will run away if spooked although if they feel cornered, they can give a painful bite. If it breaks the skin, there is the risk of infection – it’s better to admire your scaly visitors from a safe distance.
DID YOU KNOW?
Blue-tongues store water and nutrients in their tails. A Blue-tongue can drop its tail to distract a predator just like the little lizards or skinks we commonly see in the garden. Once the Blue-tongue loses its tail, it needs about a year of good food supply to completely regrow it.