Armed with bee-friendly practices and a passion for biodiversity, Julie and Gary Richards are sowing the seeds of a greener future

When Gary and Julie Richards established Down2Earth Gardening, a business dedicated to growing and saving Australian seeds, including bees as part of the business model was a no-brainer.

“Our bees are used predominantly for pollination in the garden to improve our yield.”

Passionate about sustainability and biodiversity, when the avid gardeners moved to Australia from the United Kingdom 19 years ago, they noticed an issue with sourcing Australian grown seeds for their garden.

So, seven years ago, when Gary and Julie bought a 1000sqm plot in Cardup, 50km south-east of Perth, it made sense to them to start their own seed business.

“I’m passionate about having seeds that are acclimatised and grown here in Australia,” Julie says.

Gary explains the more generations a plant’s seeds are grown and saved in the same area, the healthier and more locally adapted it will be.

“An Australian seed contains a reservoir of microbial population suited to the locality – a seed from California or India doesn’t,” Gary says.

Not only that, Gary points out imported seeds are often sprayed with chemicals and are generally sourced from just a few global companies, contributing to shrinking worldwide seed diversity.

Gary and Julie’s approach to gardening is simple: “No pesticides, no herbicides, pollinator-friendly gardening,” Julie says.

With 15 European beehives, Gary has also created spaces on his property for native bees. “We’ve started to generate an environment where our native bees can have somewhere to live. Now the European bee and the native bee can come together in the garden because we create that environment.”

The increased yield stemming from Gary and Julie’s bee-friendly gardening practices is having a positive flow-on effect to their neighbours too.

“They’re getting better production in their gardens from flowers and fruit trees as a result of us doing bee-friendly gardening,” Julie says.

Julie and Gary sell their seeds and seedlings online and through markets and festivals, while the bees themselves have also proved a drawcard for business.

“The beehives are used by Gary to do workshops here at the gardens,” Julie explains. “We do a lot of bee-friendly workshops – we call them Bee Adventures – so people who are thinking about getting into beehives come and spend time with Gary and the bees and have a bit of fun.”

Building confidence in pollinator-friendly practices

Gary and Julie joined the Bee Friendly Farming program to share their knowledge about the importance of pollinator-friendly gardening.

“It gives us a bit of kudos for what we’re doing – because we’re really proud of what we’re doing here and what we’ve achieved – but it’s also given us another string to our bow when we’re doing workshops and when we’re doing markets and festivals,” Julie says.

Gary says they want to help people understand what bee friendly gardening involves and give people confidence to apply it in their own garden regardless of the size.

“We want to see more food and pollination-friendly gardens in the urban setting,” he says.

“You can actually do it in a relatively small space, you can even do it on a balcony.”

The pair say the Bee Friendly Farming program also helps satisfy their own thirst for lifelong learning. 

Gary says he loves accessing the educational webinars provided by the Wheen Bee Foundation to continually strengthen his knowledge of best practice beekeeping.

“I didn’t know that 70 per cent of our native bees actually burrow underground,” he says. “I’m learning more and more about native bee health.”

A pollinator’s paradise

Along with not using any chemicals in their garden, Gary and Julie have adopted a range of simple actions to help make their property attractive to pollinators.

“We plant as much diversity as we can,” Julie says. “Every time I’m planting a vegetable, I’m planting a flower of some sort.”

Gary explains this provides a variety of nectars for the bees to forage and supports a balanced diet.

They also avoid disturbing the soil too much.

“There’s lots of empirical evidence that suggests you’re better off just using the no-dig approach,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot about soil biology, and it’s evident that the more you mess with the soil and lose carbon, you’re going to effect the biodiversity of your garden, and that’s going to affect yield.”

They have installed four ponds on the property to provide pollinators with plenty of water sources.

“Here in Perth you can have really warm, dry days and they need drinking facilities,” Julie says.

But for truly happy buzzing bees? Gary and Julie insist they love singing.
“Gary’s got a habit of singing Kate Bush to the bees,” Julie says.

Gary says they like the key of C.   

“Their favourite song is Running up that hill.”

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