More bee friendly species needed
Farmers need to look after bees more by planting bee-friendly trees and shrubs, says a Manawatu bee keeper. Cheltenham commercial bee keeper Jason Prior told 20 people at a Manawatu/Rangitikei Federated Farmers meeting that farmers could improve their properties by creating a better habitat for bees.
‘‘There is better bee food in some areas. But many farming areas are just green deserts with no food for bees.’’
Prior said farming areas that had pasture often had no dandelions, daisies or plantain, which bees liked.
‘‘Twenty years ago, there was a lot of white clover for the bees. Now there isn’t much. Farmers put on nitrogen and it shades the weed species. Often ryegrass only grows.’’
Hay was not being grown on farms and pasture was mainly ryegrass, providing little food for bees, he said.
Prior said white clover supplied good food to bees. Bees foraged for pollen and nectar when temperature reached above 12 degrees, but they were vulnerable to chilling in cold winds.
He said farmers should be encouraged to plant flowering gums, tree lucerne, fruit trees and pittosporum as well as many more bee-friendly species.
‘‘Plant hedges and trees, such as willows, which bees like.’’
They also liked gorse, broom and blackberry which farmers were less keen on.
The bee keeper has almost 1000 hives spread from Manawatu to southern Taranaki.
‘‘Before I started commercial beekeeping six years ago, I worked in an office for 12 years before that. I did telecommunications but I wanted to get into farming. I didn’t have a spare million dollars to buy a farm, so I started bee keeping.’’
Jason and Amanda Prior have Downunder Honey and extract honey and process it at their plant near Cheltenham.
Prior said his smallest farm had six hives and the largest site had about 50. He said the hive sites were a mix of lifestyle blocks and farms.
The best solution for the varroa mite, which has cut hive numbers and hive health, was to breed bee resistance to the killer mite, he said.
But he said that was hard with a queen bee mating with up to 17 drones.
‘‘A guy I know went to Fiji, where they don’t have varroa. He said the hives there looked so healthy.’’
Prior said there had traditionally been a close relationship between bees and the farming community.
‘‘There can be a symbiotic relationship between bees and white clover pollination. A hive is valued at $300 each year because of the pollination of white clover. And clover needs to reseed every six years, otherwise it will die out.’’
He said farms with bees would have significantly more white clover and other pollinators did not do the job.
‘‘Farmers with good bee food will find bee keepers knocking on their door.’’
A hive winters about 30,000 bees and builds up to summer numbers of about 80,000 bees.
During early spring bees were often short of food as hive numbers build.
Prior said farmers at the Federated Farmers meeting were interested in manuka honey.
‘‘People are taking hives around all manuka stands now. They truck them to sites and leave them there. Then they put them out in paddocks, to regenerate numbers.’’
He had several messages for farmers.
‘‘There is a poor rate of hedge renewal when macrocarpa is removed. Large areas of Manawatu are not capable of supporting bees. Approach your local beekeeper and trees for bees has planting guides.’’
A honey bee works on plum blossom. Farmers need to plant more bee friendly tree and shrub species such as fruit trees.