BEES: THE HARDEST WORKERS IN YOUR GARDEN
(AND ON THE PLANET).
28 OCTOBER 2020
Bees are probably the most reliable employees in the world.
They turn up to work every day, rain, hail or shine. Their
overtime hours are through the roof - of the hive. In fact, a lot
of them never leave the office. And no one in the world can
do what they do. They’re what one would call an ‘essential
employee’. But right now bee populations around the world
are under threat. And a lot of people don’t realise just how
important bees are for their garden and the planet. So,
we’re going to dive into what exactly a day in the life looks
like for a working bee in New Zealand and why you should
consider employing a few more bees in your yard.
WHY ARE BEES SO IMPORTANT?
Bees are in charge of the pollination of our plants and crops. Every day they transfer pollen from a male part of a plant to a female part of the same or different plant. This results in fertilisation and the production of seeds. It might not sound like much, but 1/3 of the world’s global food production requires pollination. And it’s estimated that 80-90% of this role is carried out by honey bees. These services are worth several billion dollars a year (and yet bees do all the work for free). Without pollination, many of our ecosystems would be altered or cease to exist. And we wouldn’t be able to enjoy half of the foods that we do. This table highlights just some of the crops that rely on pollination by bees:
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NATIVE BEES AND HONEY BEES?
There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world. But only a fraction of these bees actually produce honey. Check out the difference between a honey bee and a native bee in their bios below.
HONEY BEE BIO.
Background: Honey bees were introduced to New Zealand around 180 years ago. A lady named Mary Bumby, is believed to be the first person to bring them to the country in 1839, when she carried 2 hives ashore at the Mangungu Mission Station in Hokianga. At the time there were only 2 native species of bees in New Zealand and neither of them produced honey.
Living Quarters: Honey bees are extremely social animals. They live and work in a society with thousands of other bees, under the rule of a Queen Bee. These hives are either naturally made from sheets of honeycomb made from beeswax that they’ve produced themselves or man-made by a beekeeper.
Occupation: We all know honey bees produce delicious honey. But did you know one honey bee only produces a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its whole life? That’s why these little fellas work in such big numbers in the hive. In addition to honey, they produce beeswax used for skin care products, candles, propolis and various other things. But their most important job is the pollination of plants. Without honey bees a lot of our plants and crops would struggle to survive
NATIVE BEE BIO.
Background: In New Zealand, we have 28 species of native bees that largely fall into three families: Leioproctus, Lasioglossum and Hylaeus. Out of the 28 species, 27 are endemic, so they’re unique to New Zealand and only 1 is indigenous. Which means it also exists in Australia, but it found its own way there without the aid of humans.
Living Quarters: Unlike the honey bee, Native bees generally don’t like to live in hives. Most of them prefer to live a more solitary life in plant materials, like beetle holes, the stems of plants or in underground nests that they build themselves.
Occupation: Our Native bees don’t produce honey. So they’ve got lot more time on their hands (or wings) to buzz about the garden fertilizing plants. They play a very important role in our ecosystem, as they’re considered the most effective pollinators of native plants. Over the years our native bees have evolved and adapted to suit New Zealand’s unique plants, like mānuka, kānuka and pohutukawa.
Our most hardworking employees are under threat. In some parts of the world entire colonies of honey bees have been dying. Experts believe it’s due to a combination of the following:
Diseases and pests: Honey bees are stalked by all different kinds of mites, viruses and other diseases. Australia is actually the only continent that remains free from the Varroa Destructor mite. These evil little mites are deemed the honey bee’s most dangerous enemy overseas. Unfortunately in New Zealand, Varroa is widely distributed throughout the entire North Island, including many offshore islands in the Hauraki Gulf and South island, as far as Canterbury and the West Coast.
Loss of Habitat: Habitat destruction from logging practices and urban encroachment has led to a loss of nesting sites and pollen resources for our bees.
Climate Change: Bees and plants rely on each other to reproduce. But as the temperatures have been rising as the result of climate change, they’ve started to become ‘out of sync’. This small change could lead to severe consequences.
Agricultural chemicals: Many commonly used agriculture and horticulture products, like insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilisers are highly toxic for bees. Increase in demand: As the world’s population continues to grow, so will the demand for insect-pollinated food. Experts are concerned that honey bees won’t be able to keep up with the demand for pollination services. A decline in commercial beekeeping: Reduced access to resources, low honey prices and increased production costs are causing commercial beekeepers to shut down in all over the world.
WHAT ROLE DOES BEEKEEPING PLAY?
The commercial product of honey in New Zealand began in
the late 1970s, following the introduction of the Langstroth
hive, the boxed-framed beehive model that still exists today.
Fast forward, 50 years and New Zealand is now recognised
as one of the world’s most advanced beekeeping countries.
$5 billion of New Zealand’s economy is attributable to the
pollination of honey bees, domestic honey sales and the
export of beeswax and exported honey bees. Beekeeping
has not only become an essential part of our economy,
but also our agricultural sector. A lot of our crops rely
heavily on pollination. Honey bees also improve the quality
and quantity of crops in general. For our farmers and the
economy as whole, crops are an extremely important source
of revenue. The need for pollinators increases year after
year, but around the world honey bee numbers are on the
decline. That’s why now more than ever, beekeepers have a
very huge role to play in increasing the number of bees.
Well, we know quite a few bees that are available to start work tomorrow. All you have to do is welcome them into your garden, by doing one of the following: Plant Flowers. Whether you’ve got a gigantic backyard, a small patch of grass, or a tiny balcony, you can help save the bees by planting some flowers in your garden. Aim for a mixture of different flowers and try to have something in bloom all year round. They love plants with lots of pollen, like lavender, borage, rosemary, forget-me-not and calendula. They’re also attracted to certain colours, including: yellow, blue-green, blue and ultra-violet flowers.
Buy New Zealand Honey and Bee Products. One of the best (and easiest) things you can do to help our bees is buy locally made honey and bee products. By supporting New Zealand beekeepers, you’re helping the industry at large to stay viable.
Become a Beekeeper
Or if you’re up for a new hobby, why not become a beekeeper? It requires close to no space at all and it’s not as hard as you think. During the active season, you’ll need to do weekly visits and a bit of hands-on work during the harvest. But other than that you can sit back and enjoy the sound of your buzzing bees. You’ll not only get your own source of honey and bee products (which you could sell for a nice profit), you’ll actually boost your entire garden. Seriously, the presence of bees will actually increase the quantity and size of your fruit and flowers.
Donate. There are also a number of great organisations that could do with your help. Check out NZ Bumblebee Conservative Trust. This charity promotes the conservation and long-term future of bumblebees in New Zealand. They’re also a great resource for young kids. Have a look at this video they made.