Apiculture: the new bee’s knees

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Victoria (Vic) Guile showcasing a frame from her Ashburton hive.

What started as a helping hand to an elderly neighbour has now turned into a passionate hobby for 27-year-old Victoria Guile.

Roughly five years ago Vic made her first introduction to beekeeping by helping her neighbour with his hives.

Since then, she has continued to develop her apiculture knowledge and now understands the need to sustain bee populations within New Zealand.

Bees contribute to New Zealand’s ecosystem through pollination; assisting agriculture and horticulture repopulation by carrying pollen between plants.

This in turn provides better crop yields, which not only generates more revenue, but also helps to combat air pollution.

Ashburton itself has four apiculture businesses, and recent years have seen an increase in managed beehives across the country.

In March 2022, there were more than 830,000 registered hives throughout New Zealand, and over 10,500 registered keepers.

But Vic warns that, while gratifying, beekeeping is not all sunshine and honey. “You definitely need to either enrol in a course or have a mentor,” she said, when asked what advice she would give to anyone wanting to get into beekeeping.

“You need to be able to do disease checks and be part of an AFB [American Foulbrood] recognition programme to be a responsible or to be a registered beekeeper.”

Legally, beekeepers must register themselves and their hives with The Management Agency to help track and reduce the existence of New Zealand’s two biggest apiculture biosecurity threats: American Foulbrood, and Varroa. Both of these hive-debilitating threats require rapid detection and response.

Practices such as isolating equipment to only one colony and conducting brood inspections help to reduce the occurrence of disease.

But don’t let that deter you. Beekeeping is a rewarding and environmentally beneficial hobby when done properly, and allows people to reconstruct their ideas around a commonly under appreciated species.

“Bees are important, we should look after them,” Vic stated. “People think they’re scary because everybody classes them the same, you know? Like bees, wasps, bumblebees. But bees aren’t aggressive. The species we use in New Zealand for honey was actually bred for its temperament.”

However, if doning a white beekeeping suit isn’t your buzz, you can still contribute to the sustainability of both native and commercial species by planting bee-friendly flora in your gardens and conserving the use of pesticides.

Pollen-producing flowers or shrubs, and fruit trees or vines that produce nectar are fantastic food sources for bees.

For more information, check out Apiculture New Zealand’s website www.apinz.org.nz, or contact one of Ashburton’s very own apiculture businesses.

-By Indi Roberts