My brother found a water meter box out the front of his house and told me to come and look at the bugs in it. After a bit of research I discovered they were in fact Australian native stingless bees. That's right. A tiny, non-stinging, hardworking honey-making insect. These small bees sometimes make their home in water meters out the front of people's homes. This often ends in them being sprayed with fly spray because people don't know what they are. If they aren't sprayed, bees in water meters often die due to the summer heat.
These small bees are extremely important here in Australia because they are very efficient pollinators. Increasing crop production over 100% in some cases. They also are responsible for pollenating the flowers that european bees can't fit into such as the macadamia tree.
When I learned what they were, I thought "wow, what if I could make a home for them and keep 'em?"
Currently bees worldwide are facing many disturbing problems. The use of nano insecticides and the parasitic varroa mite are affecting the bees way of life. The effect of nano insecticides on a bee cause confusion and the bee is unable to find her way back home. She then starves to death and dies alone. With the worker bees dying, it leaves the hive no choice but to send the nurse bees to do the job of the workers prematurely. While the nurse bees are out, the hive is more susceptible to disease and parasites, compounding the problem. For us, this would mean all flowering plants would not produce fruit. Basically, no bees = no food.
I've always been interested in insects right from a young age. They encompass many amazing things into one package. They are small, different, beautiful and often carry their own specially engineered body parts.
This is the story of those bees and the hive I made them.
Step 1: Hive Design
There has been a bit of research into hive design for Australian native bees. This instructable is merely an overview on how to make a hive, plans may vary based on your geographic location.
The hive I am making is based on a tried and tested design. The specifications are what many people have discovered to be more or less the ideal living space for these small bees. As most of these hives come from trees they can live in a fairly small place. In northern Australia the hive designs change a bit.
I drew some quick pictures of what the hive basically looks like without a honey collection area (honey super). Pretty simple hey. The one I made in the video has a honey super.
I believe if the bee problems persist we may see native bees exported to other countries.
If you are interested in making an Australian native bee hive you can go here: There is a full set of plans.
Step 2: Cutting the Sides
I made my box as one and then cut it into pieces to ensure equal squareness of the boxes. I used a dropsaw or compound mitre saw at work to cut the mitres to make each side to measure. I then used a router to rebate the sides at the top and base so I could slide my top and base pieces in.
Note: When using a circular saw, always set it to its minimum depth. This ensures clean cuts and easy control.
Step 3: Fixing Sides
Here I used a trick my father taught me that his father taught him (don't ask who taught him). You simply glue the sides up and wrap a string around the whole lot. You then slide blocks of timber in and move them back and forth till your mitres are correct. When it's right you can leave it to dry or fix it together like I did.
I used stainless decking screws to fix it together. This will prevent rust and future dry rot in the timber.
Step 4: Splitting the Boxes
I then cut the box two times by marking a line around the whole thing and circular sawing it. Finish corners with a hand saw. Remember to keep the depth of the circular saw at its minimum. Finish all sharp edges by taking off the arris.
Step 5: Plate for Honey Super
One species of Australian native bees make their brood with a central spiral. They build this spiral upwards until they hit something. This plate stops them and renders the top part of the hive only useful for storing honey. In future it makes extracting the honey easier.
I used an alloy composite plate here. It has alloy both sides and plastic in the middle. It's very cool stuff.
Measure the plate and cut it to size with the circular saw. Drop it in and use some pan head screws to hold it in the right position.
(Spiral Comb Image courtesy of abc.net)
Step 6: Cut the Lid.
I cut the lid to size next and used an electric planer to angle the cuts. This will help in making an almost air tight fit. Fill the rebate with glue before pushing the top in. For the base, cut a piece to size and put it in. Fix both top and base with screws through the sides.
Step 7: Entrance Hole and Painting
Next use a 13mm or half inch spade bit to make an entrance hole. Place a block of timber inside the box to run the drill into to prevent the exit point from splitting. You can also add a couple of small holes in the base. These will allow honey to escape while transferring the hive. If you don't your bees may drown.
Following along from here, paint the entire exterior of the hive with a waterbased non-toxic, light-coloured paint.
Step 8: Make Roof
Though this design does not really need a roof, I chose to make one to keep the heat off.
I used some square canadian cedar to make two small trusses and joined them with straight members. I then used some thin cedar as panels to clad the roof with. I also fitted two blocks on top of the hive to act as holding blocks so the roof cannot be swept off with wind.
Step 9: Move the Hive
Next, use a sharp knife to run around the edges of the existing hive and cut it out. Once free, lift the entire hive and place it inside your new box. Place the box on or next to where the old hive was positioned. Use a tension strap to hold the hive closed until the bees seal all the cracks up with resin. Use some of the entrance wax from the old hive and place it around their new entrance. This will help them find their way in.
Interesting fact: The wax on the entrance has antibacterial properties. It's pretty much a door mat for them to wipe their feet before coming in.
If you have any questions on making your own hive or on native bees in general, feel free to private message. I will help where I can.
My hope for the future of bees is that it becomes a normal thing for a household to keep bees. They truly are a gift to those who love and care for these small creatures.
Step 10: Updated Video!
A lot has changed since I made my first native bee hive. Here is an updated version of the hive I use now. Enjoy!