The Wairarapa Hobby Beekeepers Club is a great place to learn more about what’s involved. PHOTO/TERESA DIXON
September is Bee Aware month so rural reporter GIANINA SCHWANECKE decided to tackle her fear of insects and learn more about the black and yellow bugs that have the garden abuzz.
Wairarapa Hobby Beekeepers Club member Todd Clarke first got into beekeeping 14 years ago while living in Britain.
“I was watching TV late one night and saw an episode about beekeeping in London.
“By the end of the week, I had a book and had joined a bee club.”
He has 17 hives of his own these days, well short of what commercial operators manage and he is happy being a hobbyist and helping others learn more about apiculture.
“I do a bit of queen rearing and help people get into the club.
“The beekeeping club produces a nuclear hive which is just a small one and a startup one for our members.
“That gets them started.
“We mentor people and help get them started.”
One of the trends to emerge on social media during the covid-19 pandemic has been an interest in ‘cottagecore’, a return to traditional skills and crafts such as foraging, baking, pottery, knitting, and beekeeping.
Even before this renaissance of such hobbies had a name, Clarke said he’d noticed an increase in interest.
“There’s definitely a lot more people that seem to be interested in it.
“It’s something that people really get into.”
“It’s a year-round activity which keeps you busy – you’re never bored.
It’s definitely a lot of work, but as a hobby doesn’t take up too much time.
“In the wintertime, it’s more of a maintenance thing with your woodware, painting, and construction.
“This time of year though, it’s more about the bees.”
It’s also an incredibly important hobby with a lot of benefits for those who might know nothing about it.
“It’s good for the environment and pollination, whether that be for pasture, fruit and veggie, or just for flowers.”
Clarke told me, a well-known entomophobe [a person with fear of insects], that there’s nothing to fear – comforting words from someone who’s been in the game so long.
“It’s not terrifying, bees are actually really good.”
One thing we could both agree on, however, was our loathing of wasps.
“Wasps can be quite a menace to bees. They can actually knock a hive off.”
It’s just one of several threats facing bees today, he said.
Most are related to diseases or parasites such as the varroa mite – an external parasite which feeds on the bee’s body.
“Without beekeepers now, there probably wouldn’t be any bees out in the wild because the varroa mite would have wiped them out.
“It’s something we really have to contend with.”
American foulbrood is another one which hit Wairarapa hard last year, with 275 hives destroyed to stop the highly infectious disease which is spread through bees robbing honey from infected hives and returning to their own hives.
Thankfully, few hobbyist beekeepers were affected, Clarke said.
Another issue, though many farmers and contractors were more aware of it these days, was the use of sprays and pesticides.
“I know a lot of commercial croppers are very aware of that. I know one guy will look up what’s in the sprays and won’t use anything that’s harmful to bees.
“Contractors and farmers are more aware of it now so we’re very lucky.”
They benefit from bees too, after all.
Clarke said there were lots of things people could do to help, even in town where he’d heard of a few hives being kept.
“Let things flower until the last minute because the bees like that.
“If you’ve got a bit of grass that you don’t need to mow, leave it.
“There’s a lot of beneficial ‘weeds’ such as clover and dandelion that bees benefit from.”
Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos agreed and was encouraging people to get behind the annual Bee Aware Month campaign which aims to educate people about bees and the honey-making process.
“We want to lift awareness of the critical importance of bees to New Zealand’s environment, food chain, and economy, and teach Kiwis some simple actions that everyone can take to improve bee health.
“Buying local honey, especially some of our beautiful native varieties such as rewarewa or kamahi, or other bee products is a great way to back our beekeepers and their bees.”
With regards to spraying, she suggested people choose bee-friendly products or spray when bees are less active.
“Spray only in the early morning and evening when bees are less active; never spray when flowers are in bloom and always read instructions carefully before spraying.”