The woman raising awareness about the plight of bees


With the launch of New Zealand’s first National Honey Week, an Auckland woman says city dwellers can do their bit to safeguard a vital species.

Kim Kneijber’s beehives are a little-known honeytrap in the heart of the city. The hobbyist beekeeper tends two hives tucked away on the front balcony beneath the Auckland Town Hall clock. From there the honey bees venture out up to 5km across the inner suburbs, swooping through Victoria Park for a pollen pitstop.

The hives, situated near the ports of Auckland, are “like a canary in a mine,” she says. “It’s been a huge learning curve to see how the bees survive in a central city environment.”

Kneijber monitors the hives for diseases and keeps tabs on their population. She has been doing this for several years now and says despite the growing threat to bee populations world-wide, the buzzing inhabitants of Auckland’s CBD are doing nicely – for now. Numbers in her hives range from around 10,000, up to a peak of around 50,000 in summer.

The council supports the initiative, which was begun by another bee enthusiast, Maureen Maxwell.

Kneijber says having hives at the Town Hall has helped educate councillors and looks like it could lead to more bee-friendly policies. The mayor is presented with an annual harvest, usually around 50 jars of honey, used as gifts for civic visitors.

Encouraging the responsible keeping of hives and the planting of bee-friendly gardens are two ways to help. The Beekeepers‘ Association of New Zealand is campaigning to raise awareness about the plight of bees, with its chief executive officer, Daniel Paul, pointing out that a third of all the foods we eat are pollinated by bees, so their loss would change our staple diet.

Already this century hive numbers in New Zealand have halved, with the spread of the varroa mite. The implications of further colony collapse are huge, says Paul, with honey exports earning $100 million and the value of pollinated crops to this country having been put around $5 billion.

Internationally, the situation is even more grim due to other diseases, bees’ growing resistance to treatments and problems caused by pesticides and seed coatings.

Kneijber has been doing her bit to bolster the bees for around a decade. “I had a bee-friendly garden and the swarms came,” she says. One stayed in her Birkenhead birdhouse, so she sought advice on how to manage it and then ended up taking over the hives of an elderly apiarist in the area.

Suburban beekeeping is on the rise, but the key to success is knowing how to manage the process and ensuring neighbours know there is nothing to be scared of.

“Swarms are healthy, they show the bees are replacing an old queen. They leave with full tummies so it’s the least likely time they will sting.” Anyone with an unwanted swarm should contact the council about its collection, she says, rather than calling in pest controllers as you would for wasps.

The simplest thing householders can do to encourage bees is to have gardens that are good sources of pollen and nectar. “I had things like pussy willow, gum and bottle brush,” says Kneijber. Cottage and wildflower gardens are particularly attractive to bees, as are flowering fruit trees and herbs with their small flowers, plus certain vegetables and the likes of strawberries and cucumbers.

Clean water sources are also vital. “These are going to support your bees and your community,” Kneijber says. “If you don’t have bees in your neighbourhood, you are not going to get plums and apples and beans [growing].”

Kneijber is passionate about championing the cause and educating others interested in keeping bees. “It doesn’t earn me a living,” she says, so she works in retail locally at The Embroiderer. Her trips to the Town Hall and Ponsonby, to tend the hives regularly, fit around her other work. She loves seeing a healthy bee go about its business.”You never know, it might be my beehive that saves the world.”

By Janetta Mackay   New Zealand Herald newspaper

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