Little Sprouts Blog: The bee's knees

Date posted: 29 January 2016

Welcome to the first Little Sprouts Kitchen Garden Blog of 2016! While our Visiting Program sessions took a break over the festive season, by no means did action in the Garden stop. Horticultural Curator Pip has been busy making sure the Garden copes with the summer heat and it's looking positively a-maz-ing. Our huge pumpkins, "Moon and Stars" watermelon and eggplants are all popular with visitors right now.

Construction of Stage 2 of the Garden has begun and when finished it'll include a hand-washing and drink station, tables with seating, raised garden beds, the completion of water pumps and a new planting plan – but more on that in a future blog!

Let’s take it back to late spring now, where we made a very exciting observation in the Kitchen Garden – the arrival of native blue-banded bees! We have been spotting them (Amegilla cingulata) mainly around the Sacred Basil and Borage flowers.

Here are few facts about this wonderful bee:

  • The males have five complete iridescent blue bands or white stripes on a glossy black abdomen, and females have four.
  • They have large bulging eyes, multiple lenses and a long “tongue” that enables them to extract nectar from trumpet-shaped flowers like the abelia.
  • Blue-banded bees are one of a number of Australian native bees that can perform a special type of pollination called buzz pollination (where they grab hold of a flower and shake it like crazy to wobble the flower and free the pollen). This makes them ideal pollinators of crops such as tomatoes, kiwi fruit, eggplants and chillies. The honey bee, Apis mellifera, cannot buzz-pollinate.
  • Researchers from Australia and overseas (including from RMIT University, University of Adelaide and Harvard University) have revealed the blue-banded bees’ unique headbanging technique (up to 350 times a second!) causes vibrations that release pollen into the air similar to the motion of a salt and pepper, helping pollinate the flower. See it in action in this amazing slow motion video filmed at Adelaide Botanic Garden by Callin Switzer from Harvard.

Don’t forget bookings for the Little Sprouts Kitchen Garden Visiting Program are now open. The general public are welcome to visit the Garden when sessions aren’t being held.

Image credit: By Vengolis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons