The rise and rise of beekeeping
In a tranquil wooded glen surrounded by blossom trees and fields of daffodils, a remake of ET appears to be happening.
Around 70 people are dressed head to toe in white suits, heads covered in white and mesh, gloves on hands. The white suits bring a uniformity to the ages and backgrounds of the individuals, but they’re all gathered for a common purpose - and it’s very much terrestrial.
The Christchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers Club meets once a month in the little slice of paradise just outside the city limits. What was not long ago a club of 40 members has swelled to more than 200 in recent years, with over half of that number brand new to beekeeping. The morning meeting is for the ‘new-bees’ and around a third are thinking of getting a hive, another third have had a hive for around a year or so, and the rest are longer-term members helping, instructing or making tea and preparing the BBQ. The afternoon session is for the ‘older bees’ - experienced members who get together to share knowledge, ideas and materials.
Committee member Helen English sums up the atmosphere beautifully.
‘‘It’s like spending the day with your favourite uncles,’’ she says, and she’s exactly right. Grizzled older men with experienced lines and silver stubble calmly lift the tops off the hives as eager learners gather around. Bare hands handle smokers and tools like natural extensions of themselves; bees crawl and buzz and soon there’s a small cloud of busyness zipping above the small crowd.
The ‘newbees’ gather around the club’s eight hives - four at the upper apiary, four below, separated by mere metres and a hedge. Children, parents, grandparents, professionals, lifestylers, the curious and the committed - all lean in and watch in awe as the lids come off and the inner workings are displayed.
Everyone is calm, interested and quiet. Perfect beekeepers.
Instructors hand around wooden frames chunky with intricate wax mesh. They point out eggs, larvae, the queen. Worker bees flit around, landing on heads, hands, shoulders. There’s no twitching or panic. Just a shared wonder for these docile, gentle workers which go about their days, despite the peering eyes and poking fingers, and produce slabs of golden goodness.
Members of the Christchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers Club check out the goodies in the hive
A queen on display