FOOD AND WINE:  Carmen Pearce-Brown and Todd Brown installing bee hives on the roof of Hotel Realm, Barton. 3rd April 2013. Photo by MELISSA ADAMS of The Canberra Times.

Carmen Pearce-Brown and Todd Brown installing bee hives on the roof of Hotel Realm, Barton. Photo: Melissa Adams

It has been an exceptionally bad year for honey bees in Canberra, according to beekeepers, who are resorting to feeding bees on ordinary sugar to get them through the winter.

Carmen Pearce-Brown installed beehives on the roof of the Hotel Realm last week, as she extends her Canberra Urban Honey Project from suburban backyards to rooftops.

Pearce-Brown was forced to pull hives out of backyards in Hughes and Harrison, where they weren't doing well. Gungahlin, she suspects, is a problem because of the limited planting, but Woden is a mystery, perhaps related to the amount of native planting there.

Honey bees are struggling in Canberra at the moment.

Honey bees are struggling in Canberra at the moment. Photo: iStockphoto

She hopes there is sufficient bee-friendly planting in the established suburbs around the Realm, in Barton, to see them through winter.

Acting president of the Beekeepers Association of the ACT, John Grubb, says this spring and summer has been one of the worst seasons he has experienced for bees. The biggest problem is the lack of flowering among eucalypts, he says.

“The ACT area with the backyards and the flowers provides a base load of nectar, but the real major source of nectar is from the eucalypts and not many if any of the eucalypts have flowered this season,” he says.

Grubb also has hives in backyards – in his own garden in North Lyneham, as well as in Spence, O'Connor and in Ainslie. The Ainslie bees are surviving okay, probably because they're not far from Mount Ainslie, and the hives in his backyard are fine, probably because of the bee-friendly banksias and grevilleas that he grows, he says.

But he has harvested no honey and is feeding sugar to bees in the O'Connor hives, apparently not getting the sustenance he would have expected from the Botanic Gardens on Black Mountain, and to the hives bees in Spence.

“You can't assume that any suburb because it's got plenty of flowers is going to give a sufficient source of nectar to carry the bees through,” he says, tracing the problem to the cold spell in mid-October, which set back the eucalypt budding.

He also has hives in Bywong, Wamboin and Sutton, near Eaglehawk. They too, have suffered, with only two of the seven hives at Sutton doing alright – probably from feeding on the bottlebrush in the centre strip of the Federal Highway north of Canberra. He has bought more than 100 kilograms of sugar to feed the others. But it takes close management, and Grubb, who wants to see a system of regulation for bee hives, is concerned that hives suffer and diseases take hold where beekeepers don't manage their hives carefully. He also doubts some feral bee colonies will survive the winter.

Pearce-Brown, from Honey Delight, installed three hives on the Hotel Realm roof. The Realm will get three kilograms from each harvest, and “a warm, fuzzy feeling from every bee that they're hosting”. Pearce-Brown chooses bees for their quiet temperaments.

Realm food and beverage manager Peter Bell says contrary to the perception of bees from “old cartoons like Daffy Duck where bees used to fly in the shape of an arrow and chase you”, there were no issues at all with having bees on the building.

Bell says the link with Pearce-Brown came during the Human Brochure project, when the hotel sourced local food treats to give the human visitors, including Honey Delight honey. When he heard about Pearce-Brown's Urban Honey project, “perhaps in my naivety, I said we've got plenty of rooftops”, so with the approval of the Doma Group, which owns the hotel, the offer was made.

 

According to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s Bee Friendly guide, some good plants for cool climate gardens are:

Lavender

Lemon balm

Oregano

Peppermint

Grevillea montis-cole

Flowering currants

Raspberry

Blueberry

Portugal laurel

Lemon tree

Apple tree

Large-fruited yellow gum