Local agricultural scientist Sam Redshaw is turning her lifelong passion for the “Sugar Bag” Bee into a unique and sustainable local business stocking hives and colonies for gardens, farms, schools and kindergartens.
Intrigued by her mother’s random purchase years ago at a flea market of John Klumpp’s classic guidebook to keeping stingless bees – known as ‘sugar bag’ bees because they store their honey in wax/resin pots made of propolis – Sam started studying the fascinating creatures as a teenager.
“There’s thousands of types of bees,” Sam said. “And it’s not just bees that pollinate, but other insects like beetles, flies and butterflies –a lot of what I do is making people aware of that.”
Stingless bees are a social bee, they make a tangy kind of honey and they make a lot less of it than the honey bee – about 800g to a kilo a year– “So it’s kind of a delicacy,” Sam said.
With stingless bees, you have to buy a colony yourself, and they’re cavity nesters so they’ll live in hollow logs and sometimes you’ll even see them nesting in the ground or in people’s walls or meter boxes.
Realising there was very little known about Australian native and stingless bees, after completing her degree in Agricultural Science at the University of Queensland, Sam completed a Masters on how to track their migratory patterns in macadamia orchards:
“Because we know so little about the native bees compared to the honey bee there’s very little research it’s all kind of trial and error. I worked towards giving farmers a way to track where their bees were going After spending so much time studying and learning, I thought why not make a difference out of it and share my knowledge,” Sam said.
“There’s been a lot of interest from growers to bring alternate pollinators into crops, and stingless bees have been a really good candidate for macadamias, lychees, avocados and strawberries. The industry is only in its infancy, we’ve just had our first national Native Bee conference, but there’s been a huge interest.”
“Rather than having the scary mentality “If the bees die out, we die out”, just look after your local environment, look after your local pollinators and in turn they’ll look after you,” she said.
A recent Stockland Cares grant has allowed the Gladstone Men’s Shed to purchase a hive of Sam’s bees: “What we’re doing at the Men’s shed, they might start building some beehives themselves and I’ll stock them with bees, so we can do a bit of a collaborative effort,” Sam said.
“One reason why people are drawn to native bees especially for kids of course, is that they are stingless,” Sam said.
“You can have a colony in your backyard and you can watch them as they bring back all of the different colours of pollen on their legs – you can watch a beehive for hours – and you don’t have to be afraid of getting stung.
“I’ve had a few clients who’ve bought a hive off me for the purposes of educating their grandchildren and one of my clients has popped a hive in at the aged-care facility she works at,” Sam said.
“If someone has an interest in gardening, they usually have an interest in propagation, and that’s where the stingless bees come in.”