Little winged wonders vital to economy
Central Otago beekeepers are giving nature and bees a hand.
In the spring, beekeepers like Michael Vercoe of Alexandra are kept even busier than usual, putting hives out in Central Otago orchards to pollinate fruit blossom.
Since the varroa mite invaded the country in 2001, New Zealand’s wild bee population has been all but wiped out, along with close to half of our managed colonies.
Believed to have originated in Asia, varroa mites are carriers for a virus that is particularly damaging to bees during their development. Infected bees will often have visibly deformed wings. Mite monitoring and knowing the hive are key factors in control.
‘‘Without us, New Zealand bees would die out,’’ Vercoe said.
A beekeeper’s job is to optimise what bees naturally do. Vercoe has about 2000 hives on the go at orchards around Central Otago. In big orchards, he puts out five hives per hectare, for about 10 days, placing them in a warm, dry sunny position away from overhead sprinklers.
It’s tricky this time of year with frost fighting when the trees get wet, because bees aren’t interested in pollinating dripping blossom, he said.
Both beekeepers and
Blossom beckons bees from Alexandra beekeeper Michael Vercoe’s hives at a Central Otago orchard. orchardists also have to bear in mind that they need to position and encourage bees to pollinate the fruit blossoms first, before nearby willow trees start to bloom. Bees go after willows for the pollen, an early source of protein in the spring.
So timing is crucial. Apricot trees get pollinated first, followed by plums and cherries. Getting this right is why Vercoe says beekeeping is not a lifestyle; it’s a vocation.
‘‘It’s a type of farming that has no borders except the distance the bees can fly (about 2 kilometres) from the hive.’’
Bees are good for orchards, but the irony is orchards are not good for bees because of sprays.
Psst, hey bees: Bee man: Alexandra beekeeper Michael Vercoe tending his hives at a Central Otago orchard.