The rise and rise of bee­keep­ing

The Tribune (NZ) - - PLAN BEE - PLAN BEE

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.

ENYA BEYNON

Mem­bers of the Christchurch Hob­by­ist Bee­keep­ers Club check out the good­ies in the hive

ENYA BEYNON

A queen on dis­play

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