Green­life mat­ters

The im­por­tance of bees

Go Gardening - - Editorial -

In a sub­ur­ban Have­lock North street, a gar­den is abuzz with the sound of bees for­ag­ing for nec­tar. More and more bee­hives are now mak­ing their homes in our res­i­den­tial gar­dens and that’s good news for the threat­ened pol­li­na­tors, whose sur­vival hangs in the bal­ance.

Mak­ing her con­tri­bu­tion to the sur­vival of the bee pop­u­la­tion is Land­scape Ar­chi­tect and En­vi­ron­men­tal Plan­ner Janet Luke. Her ur­ban gar­den is both func­tional and beau­ti­ful. Spread over a quar­ter-acre, it fea­tures veg­etable plots, fruit trees, roam­ing chick­ens and two bee­hives.

Through her busi­ness Green Ur­ban Liv­ing, Janet is pas­sion­ate about the plight of the hum­ble bee, ed­u­cat­ing people on how they can help the sur­vival of na­ture’s ‘spark plugs’.

“Bees are in­cred­i­ble. A third of all the food we eat is pol­li­nated by them,” says Janet. “Bees are cru­cial to New Zealand’s pri­mary sec­tor, re­spon­si­ble for pol­li­nat­ing five bil­lion dol­lars’ worth of crops ev­ery year. Un­for­tu­nately, with mono crop­ping, the in­creas­ing use of pes­ti­cides and the in­va­sion of the var­roa mite, the bee pop­u­la­tion is at se­ri­ous risk of be­com­ing ex­tinct. But we can play a part in the sur­vival of these amaz­ing crea­tures.”

In New Zealand, as across the globe, bee­keep­ing is in­creas­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in ur­ban ar­eas.

“Ur­ban bees do so much bet­ter than ru­ral bees be­cause of the re­duced ex­po­sure to agri­cul­tural sprays and pes­ti­cides and the var­ied source of pollen and nec­tar, of­ten pro­duc­ing up to three times the amount of honey. The honey bee Apis Mel­lif­era is such a good pollinator – it goes to the same source and takes the nec­tar un­til it fin­ishes,” ex­plains Janet.

Mak­ing honey is a tir­ing job for a bee, which only lives for around 40 days. On any given day a bee can make up to 25 flights in a ra­dius of five kilo­me­tres from its hive, col­lect­ing nec­tar from more than 1,000 blos­soms – all for half a tea­spoon of honey.

Janet has one of her hives sit­ting on the bal­cony just out­side her din­ing room. Her pre­ferred style of hive is a Top Bar hive, a century old de­sign where bees build their own comb in rib­bons, hang­ing like cur­tains. There are other ad­van­tages as she ex­plains.

“Top Bar hives re­quire no heavy lift­ing un­like the com­mon box ones, mak­ing them eas­ier to man­age for women and the el­derly, and the chil­dren can view the bees at work through a view­ing win­dow. It’s ed­u­ca­tional as well as func­tional.”

Ac­cord­ing to Janet, there’s a lot to learn if you want to have an ur­ban bee­hive, but there are nu­mer­ous re­sources avail­able through­out the coun­try.

“Hives can be rented or pur­chased, but all must be reg­is­tered through AsureQual­ity. There are a few ba­sic things to be aware of such as your neigh­bours and keep­ing the hive away from wash­ing lines. The hives also need to be treated for var­roa mites and other ex­otic dis­eases. Cour­ses are avail­able through Bee­keeper Clubs or just talk­ing to a bee­keeper will point you in the right di­rec­tion. It’s in­cred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing to know you are help­ing on a lo­cal and global scale by keep­ing hum­ble bees.”

Janet ad­vises leav­ing honey in the hive over the win­ter for the bees to feed on when they’re not work­ing, and tak­ing the ex­cess for eat­ing. “It’s out­stand­ing and with­out preser­va­tives or treat­ment, it’s very good for you,” she says.

Plant­ing an at­trac­tive haven for bees is straight­for­ward, and in­volves many of our com­mon gar­den flow­ers, veg­etable plants and fruit trees. Avoid plant­ing species that have dou­ble flow­ers or masses of petals, and opt for sin­gle-flow­ered plants and cul­ti­vars that are eas­ier for bees to visit.

“Nec­tar-rich flow­ers such as Laven­der, Ver­bena, Alyssum and Bee Balm are great. I also let my lawns grow (much to my hus­band’s de­spair!) as clover is a won­der­ful at­trac­tor of bees. The main thing to re­mem­ber is to plant old-fash­ioned plants, not hy­brids, as they are much more ef­fec­tive,” says Janet.

Host­ing a bee­hive in your gar­den might seem like a small step, but for the bees, it’s a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to their sur­vival.

Right: Janet col­lect­ing honey from her Top Bar bee hive Above: A bee feed­ing on a fennel flower

Janet with her Top Bar hive.

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