One morning last week I went out into the garden early to see how the Dragon Fruit buds were going. The day before I’d had to go to Brisbane for the whole day and didn’t get into the garden at all. I’ve been expecting any day to see some flowers from about 10 advanced buds.
There were four flowers that had opened during the night – and another five that must have flowered the night before and were now limp and closed. That’s on top of the two fruit which are developing from a flowering a few weeks ago.
Early morning flower, with some of the previous night’s flowers in the background.
It had been raining quite a bit the night before and for a couple of days before that, but I was still a bit surprised not to see any of our native bees around the flowers. Normally they would each have had a cloud of bees busily pollinating. No problem to hand pollinate them, making sure to cross pollinate between plants because it’s said to increase the fruit size.
There were still a few buds which looked to be close to flowering, and when I checked the next morning one more had opened.
A third night’s flowering.
This time there was the expected swarm of native bees busy pollinating.
So that’s ten flowers in three nights, and there are still probably another six buds developing.
Some of the buds that are still developing
Not bad for just three plants on a less than ideal trellis set up. It looks like being a good year for Dragon Fruit, considering that this is only early January and we had fruit up until April last year.
Native bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) on a Radish flower. Note the full pollen sacks on its hind legs. These radishes have taken ages to actually get to the flowering stage (with bulbs now the size of small pumpkins) but with the help of these bees we look like getting plenty of seeds.
I was out in the vege garden early yesterday morning and suddenly realised that I was seeing far more bees than I had for a long time. It was early enough that the native bees greatly outnumbered the European honeybees. Our social native bees get up much earlier than the foreigners. I think it was Tim Heard (“Mr Native Bees” in this part of the world) who first put me onto this at one of his one-day workshops. Whoever it was told the story of the researcher who was looking into the pollination of the vast Macadamia nut orchards in northern New South Wales and discovered that by the time the European honeybees had got out of their (expensively rented) hives, the Macadamia flowers had already been pollinated by local native bees.
The bees I was watching yesterday were Tetragonula* carbonaria, one of more than 2,000 species of native bees in Australia, and one of only ten social species among the Australian native bees. We also regularly get Blue-banded Bees (Amegilla cingulata) in our garden (a solitary species), and I’m sure there must be many more that I haven’t noticed yet.
There were a lot of flowers for them to choose from because I’m letting a lot of things go to seed, like Loose-leaf Lettuce, Radish, Amaranth, Ceylon Spinach (can you stop it from going to seed?), and a whole range of Asian Brassicas.
Working hard in the jungle world of a Spring Onion flower (the bee’s colours may be a little off – I was pushing the image to its limits in early morning light and using a hand-held camera)
You can find useful links to information about Australian native bees here. If you are interested in the reasons for the recent change of the name of the Trigona genus (to which our small native bees used to belong) to Tetragonula there’s an account here, with links to even more information.