I don't think I've seen a more spellbound audience than the one on Sunday that stood in the drizzle and heat for nearly two hours, listening to Bob the Bee Man.
Tèarman Garden is Bob Luttrell's research facility and working museum where every pathway in the garden is edged with current and past prototypes of his bee box design. As well as his own boxes there are ones he has collected, from Australia and overseas. Bob's passion for his small charges is evident and he is generous with his knowledge and experience, describing bee behaviour and how his increasing understanding of this has altered his own box design. As well as timber, he has tried building boxes from aerated concrete and lightweight concrete and even boxes made from styrofoam.
A few of the bee boxes. The different species have different preferences and requirements. Bob has experimented with many different shapes, sizes and materials.
According to Bob, the common techniques used when dividing stingless native bee colonies and harvesting their honey is messy and results in many bee deaths. His goal is to nurture the bees and do them no harm and this thinking has been behind the evolving design of his hives. After the main part of the talk under the shadecloth sail, we moved to a hive that was opened for us so we could see how his design works, cleanly splitting the box layers with no spilled honey.
Bob is also trying various designs to try to convince native bees to produce their honey in a separate box layer like a European honeybee. His goal is to design a box that is good for the bees and simple for anyone to manage. He would like to see bee boxes mass produced, possibly injection moulded in plastic and sold in nurseries and garden centres so more people would keep bees in their gardens. Definitely a man with a mission!
As well as the talk by Bob there were two plant sellers at Tèarman, one with plants for bees and the other with plants for butterflies. Amongst the bee plants I found an edible that I had only just read about the week before. Oxalis regnellii 'Triangularis' (tagged as Oxalis triangularis) is edible in all its parts, leaf, flower and tuber. The beautiful burgundy foliage contains a fair dose of oxalic acid so it is not recommended to make a meal of it too often. The tubers are supposed to be similar to Oca, but in this Brazilian native get to be only 5 cm or less. Decorative and edible, score!
You would think I'd have taken photos of the plants, but nope I was too enthralled by the bees! I will add a photo of the lovely Oxalis...if it doesn't drown in all this rain :-(
Bob also mentioned in his talk another edible, one growing in his garden. Blue Tougue, Melastoma affine is a smallish shrub with purple flowers and edible fruit. I had it in a previous garden but haven't seen another one since. The fruit is sweet, if a bit bland but it stains the tongue dramatically (hence the common name) which made it a hit with any child I introduced to it. I asked the bee plant seller if she had any and she told me that while she had none there that it springs up all over her paddock. She is going to pot up a young one and bring it up to Toowoomba in May when she and her plants will be in town for Garden Fest.
While we were there, I also picked up a lime green 1 litre Decor water bottle, thinking it belonged to my friend who had her hands full with plant purchases. It wasn't until we got back to my house that she told me she thought it was mine! I've stolen someone's bottle :-( If it was yours or you know of someone at Tèarman on Sunday morning who lost theirs, please let me know so I can return it!
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