Listening to honey bees important for their health

FLYING HIGH: Honey bees can pollinate plants and crops up to five km from the hive. Photo: Dylan Burns
FLYING HIGH: Honey bees can pollinate plants and crops up to five km from the hive. Photo: Dylan Burns

Bees are an integral part of our environment so ensuring they are healthy and happy is vital given they pollinate roughly one in every three bites of food we eat.

Hepburn’s Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ratar have been undertaking a sonic investigation of bees under the umbrella of Liquid Architecture’s Why Listen To Plants? sonic series.

The couple have been broadly studying the species for about eight years.

“We were living on a farm in New South Wales at the time and were really keen to get bees but didn’t know much about them. So we invited a natural bee keeper to our farm who taught us the techniques which have become a really valuable part of what we do now,” she said. 

Listening to bees is a part of natural bee keeping due to the fact it involves minimal intervention in the hive.

APIARISTS: Milkwood Permaculture's Nick Ratar and Kirsten Bradley have undertaken a sonic investigation into their bee hives. Photo: Dylan Burns

APIARISTS: Milkwood Permaculture's Nick Ratar and Kirsten Bradley have undertaken a sonic investigation into their bee hives. Photo: Dylan Burns

“You can learn a lot from observing entrance behaviour. Through this observation I’ve learned that every season is different for the bees,” she said. “There are different roles in the hive – foraging bees, nurse bees, cleaner bees and heater bees. Bees change roles throughout their lives – it’s like an apprenticeship.”

There are about 400 species of native bees in Australia, most of which are solitary, but the couple keeps European honeybees, which are social, meaning they live in hives and produce wax and honey.

“They are a really fascinating life form and there is so much to learn about them.”

Mr Ratar said bees were important for the pollination of their crops. 

“They help to keep the fruit trees pollinated and give us lots of different things, not just honey. We use the wax, the sweet water that comes off the washed wax and the tree resin they gather and keep in the hive to make it clean and healthy. The whole hive is a medicine cabinet,” he said. 

Ms Bradley said she was heartened to see the increase in public awareness about the role bees play in the environment:

“There has been a real groundswell of support for the role that honeybees play in our ecologies and an increasing understanding of how we can steward them better by using less pesticides and environmental chemicals,” she said.

IMPORTANT INSECTS: European honey bees produce more honey than Australian honey bees and live better in a Victorian climate. Photo: Dylan Burns

IMPORTANT INSECTS: European honey bees produce more honey than Australian honey bees and live better in a Victorian climate. Photo: Dylan Burns

“It is so easy to assist and protect bees – you don’t have to be a bee keeper.”

She said one thing people could do to assist bees was to buy honey off local beekeepers to support a local bee population.

Their investigation into the health, mood and sociability of the bees will culminate with a free suite of performances by local artists at Hepburn Primary School Hall followed by a honeybee listening event and ensuing discussions around how bees relate to human existence from 1pm on December 16.