Like looking after sheep: a Bee Day peek into the beehive

At June 2019, there were 924, 973 registered beehives in New Zealand | Doug Logan

May 20 marked World Bee Day, established by the United Nations (UN) to raise awareness of the critical importance of bees and other pollinators to the health of our planet and its people. 

While in many countries, bee populations are in decline - impacted by disease, pests, climate change and intensive agricultural practices - the New Zealand honey bee population is healthy and continuing to grow. There were close to 100,000 beehives in New Zealand in June last year, and New Zealand is ranked seventh in the world for bee population growth over a decade.

“It’s been encouraging to see the growth in our industry supported by an ongoing interest in beekeeping as a career, with apprenticeship applications continuing to grow year on year,” said Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos. 

“Having a professional apprenticeship scheme supporting up and coming beekeepers is critical to the long-term future of our industry and in ensuring a consistent best practice approach to bee health.”

The Wānaka Sun caught up with long-time beekeeper Steve Wootton, of Taylor Pass Honey. The company has been operating in Wānaka for the last five years, keeping over 3,000 hives during the season, but Wootton’s family have always lived here. Taylor Pass has two local girls apprenticing with them, one of whom (Jessica Curtis) received the Apiculture New Zealand Ron Mossop Youth Scholarship last year.

Wootton said that the founding pillars of the company were their relationships with landowners - by housing their hives on local stations, such as the Wānaka Lavender Farm, they produce pastoral honey that can be fully traced back to individual farms, providing landowners with a unique local product - and putting the bees first in everything they do.

Since the arrival of the varroa mite in New Zealand in 2000, honey bee populations have depended on human help for survival.

“Without regular treatment and monitoring, our bees would be in serious trouble,” said Kos. Beekeepers have to actively monitor and treat bee pests and diseases, as well as ensuring bees get adequate nutrition and are safe and warm in their hives. 

“Keeping beehives is like looking after livestock,” agreed Wootton. “It’s a lot of responsibility.” 

Taylor Pass Honey works hard to ensure that they position their hives in areas where the bees will be well fed at different times of the year, in line with the Trees for Bees New Zealand Research Trust initiative. This non-profit organisation promotes smart planting for healthy bees, particularly on farmland.  It researches the best plants for bees and, to date, has overseen the planting of 70,000 bee-friendly plants across New Zealand.

There are many ways that New Zealanders can support honey bees and beekeepers this World Bee Day said Kos. She encouraged people to plant bee-friendly plants in their gardens, especially those that bloom in autumn and early spring, when bees often struggle to find food.  

Kos added that the best way to support bees was to buy New Zealand honey. “I encourage people to check their local stores or find a local beekeeper and discover what their regional honey tastes like, as it varies so much across New Zealand,” said Kos.

Read edition 975 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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