Save the Bees

We all want to Save the Bees and by doing so help to save the planet, after all bees are the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Their demise would be the warning that we’ve gone too far. You’ve no doubt seen Einstein’s quote – “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.” But being a brilliant physicist doesn’t make him an expert on apocalyticism and there is absolutely no proof that he said it.

When we think of Save the Bees, we naturally think of the honey bee rather than the over 20,000 other species of bees. There are only 6 species of honey bee worldwide, one of which was introduced to New Zealand, the Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). We have two races or sub-species - Carnolian and Linguistica here in Aotearoa. I’m often approached by people who want to become beekeepers in order to Save the Bees, they soon learn that it isn’t as simple as that. I like to point out that saving the bees by becoming a beekeeper is like saving endangered birds by becoming a chicken farmer. It is true that there are many pests and diseases that will harm honey bees and we lose many colonies every year, this is an issue with all livestock and their management. We do rely on honey bees to pollinate a lot of our food, but they aren’t the only pollinator. Bumble bees were introduced about 1885 for pollination, originally for clover but now they are essential for greenhouse crops and some orchard fruits. Plants are also pollinated by other bees, wasps, butterflies, birds and even moths. New Zealand has 28 native species of bees, 27 of which are not found anywhere else (Australia has over 1,500 species of native bee!). They are ground dwellers, they’re much smaller than a honey bee and don’t usually sting.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t care about our environment or not actively try to preserve our flora and fauna but we should be aware of priorities. I’m passionate about beekeeping and honey bees and through that I have a much better understanding of insect life and plants in NZ. My garden has several beehives and rather than out competing other insects, there are an abundance of bumble bees, native bees, butterflies and other wildlife. This is by creating a friendly environment for them.

Anyone with a garden can do some quite simple steps to help foster a habitat where life can flourish. A neatly manicured lawn is beautiful to see and great for the kids to play on but is like a desert for wildlife. Next month I’ll suggest tips for making your garden more bee friendly.

Ken Brown

Beekeeper & President of Auckland Beekeepers’ Club


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