Lit­tle winged won­ders vi­tal to econ­omy

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS -

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.

Pho­tos MARY-JO TO­HILL

Psst, hey bees: Bee man: Alexan­dra bee­keeper Michael Ver­coe tend­ing his hives at a Cen­tral Otago or­chard.

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