The importance of bees was highlighted by their virtually total absence on Kawau Island, when Kevin and Melissa Wallace, now based at Port Albert, lived there.
Melissa says, “We moved from Auckland city living to island living where suddenly shopping for food and necessities only once a month became a reality. That meant we were heavily reliant on the garden and fruit trees for food, which in turn meant that we were reliant on bees.”
Kevin adds, “I decided to get a hive so our gardens could be pollinated.”
Twelve years later, in 2003 the Wallaces bought their 20 acre lifestyle block at Port Albert.
“I bought a couple of hives,” says Kevin, “and quickly realised I knew less than I thought, so I joined the Whangarei Bee Club (WBC) which then had six members. We met at a different member’s place every month and looked at their beehives and learnt what we could from each other. We all read as much as we could and sought information on the internet. WBC began a newsletter and we started to attract the interest of a few commercial beekeepers. This was incredibly helpful as they shared information and helped to train us at the hobbyist level.”
“86% of all world crop pollination is carried out by bees” he says. “Doom merchants will tell you that in 32 years, if we don’t get it sorted, there will be no bees, and four years after the last bee dies, so will the crops. That bees sting, is totally irrelevant in the face of their current descent into extinction. If they are not nurtured and protected, the world will change forever.”
“The worst and most devastating onslaught facing the bee industry is Colony Collapse Disorder – entire beehive populations deserting the hive and dying. That didn’t exist seven years ago.”
“Two other major problems bee colonies face in NZ are Varroa mite which is manageable, and American Foul Brood (AFB). AFB is a fungal hive disorder which has been in NZ for many years. It is so dangerous to our food production capacity that it is covered by legislation which states that the colony must be destroyed first, using petrol to kill the bees, and the hive burnt and buried.”
“Bee survival is a passion with us and last season, as a club, we studied queen-rearing.”
WBC currently has 200 members and provides a unique open forum for hobbyists and commercial beekeepers. Members include biochemists, vets, and solicitors, and their continuing development of knowledge about bees and beekeeping has made the club a source of opinion and information for government policy-makers.
“We now have women members, 50+ getting into beekeeping; not also-rans, but brilliant beekeepers producing quality honey,” says Kevin. “We’re lucky to also have a few very experienced older beekeepers, 70 years and up, who share their wealth of knowledge. Recently the club built a honey extraction plant certified to EU standard. It’s great to see the delight on people’s faces when they walk away with honey produced from their own hives.”
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