Monday, 21 January 2019 09:55

Common sense needed in honey sector

Written by  Gary Blake, beekeeper and scientist based at Waiomu on the Thames Coast
What about honeys other than manuka? What about honeys other than manuka?

OPINION: It's time all honeys are given the same respect that we are trying to give to manuka. 

Congratulations to John Wright (Rural News Nov 20) for sharing his life experiences and knowledge of the honey industry. (Click here to read 'Honey not a gold rush for all')

The rapid interest in the industry is a classic example of how misinformation can lead many in the wrong direction with a consequent deterioration of our habitat.

I have been a beekeeper and for the past 26 years and have had 25 hives belonging to a commercial beekeeper on our farm at Waiomu, Thames Coast. It has been an excellent opportunity to access the properties of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium).The shrub has been flowering profusely during November, but is ignored by the fabulous apis mellifera (honey bee) but not by some of the other 28 bee species and flies.

My concerns cover eight years and often off the farm. My wish is that we give all honeys the same respect that we are trying to give to manuka. Honey before money.

One or two examples from our farm are the chocolate brown protea honey from the indigenous rewa rewa (knightia excelsa) and our cut flower proteas and the excellent light honey from ragwort senecio jacobea). Honey bees also forage nasturtium with enthusiasm.We should be encouraging foraging opportunities rather than restricting.

The biodiversity of the farm ensures excellent yields and a large foraging area and choice. One of the problems with the expansion of hive numbers is competition for space. Two apiarists on the Thames Coast have not returned for this reason.

The honey bee was introduced by Mary Bumby to Hokianga in 1839 and is an important part of our land based economy. The Greeks were smarter than us. Honey was an important resource and antiseptic. A manuka variety also is indigenous to Malaysia. Maybe some entrepreneurs might try their luck there?

I agree with John. The industry is being dragged along a gold rush route. I have a question or two. In some quarters there is the desire to plant huge hectares with ‘manuka hybrids’ at considerable expense. We are all dealing with leptospermum scoparium, which has evolved over several million years.

Firstly, please explain to me why some potential bee keepers refer to manuka hybrids which they presumably believe attract honey bees, while ours do not? It seems there is secrecy creeping into this ‘gold rush’ industry which has very little to do with the bees.

Secondly, you plant 1000ha in your ‘high’ producing manuka. This supplies nectar for a month, maybe two, for the year. What do you do with your hives for the rest of the year feed: sugar or shift them further compounding the over foraging problems?

Thirdly, what does it do for the bees’ well-being? The honey bee is well able to plan its own foraging strategies and I have a feeling this excessive interference by homo sapiens could lead to the extermination of apis mellifera .

A monoculture approach could create disease problems. It is time we stopped talking about minimal quantities of manuka honey’s inflated returns and informed customers that, as well as clover honey, there is our exotic bush honeys like rewa rewa.

A land owner could do very well to plant rewa rewa and in the Coromandel peninsula conservation park it is a dominant species.

• Gary Blake is a beekeeper and scientist based at Waiomu on the Thames Coast.


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