Onewhero Beekeepers Keep Busy During Swarm Season
John Burns, a Onewhero beekeeper, doesn’t run from swarms of bees – he embraces them. During this time of year Burns carries a protective bee suit, pair of secateurs, and brush in his car just in case he comes across a swarm of bees. Since bees have become precious and prices of Manuka honey are growing, commercial beekeepers are purchasing all available bees. Since beginning beekeeping five years ago, Burns has noticed the demand for honey, and honey bees, is on the rise.
“It’s an expensive hobby if you don’t make any money out of it,” said Burns in an article posted on Stuff.co.nz. It can cost a beekeeper more than $350 for their first set of bees, and even more in additional equipment to get started. According to Burns, bee hobbyists most often ask their friends for bees or they have to pay market price. In order to avoid the perceived hassle, Burns collects bee from swarms. Burns explained that bees will usually swarm when the hive becomes too full.
Bees will create a new queen and, just before she hatches, will take the old queen and leave. “The virgin queens, they’re strong, and being a bit smaller are a lot more agile and can easily out-fight an old queen,” Burns said. Swarms of bees can be found within three kilometers of their original hive and land somewhere and begin to clump together. “They’re just looking for something about 40 liters of capacity. So the inside of a wall, a bucket, plastic rubbish bins, trees, or modern fences with cavities,” Burns said.
The majority of the calls Burns receives are from council referrals and from individuals who want the swarms to be safely removed. “Most people realize the importance of the bees so they don’t just try and kill them.” When asked about the dangers of removing a swarm, Burns explained the bees are relatively calm since they are not defending a hive and are much more intimidating than they look. When the bees leave their hive, they take stores of food with them and keep it in their stomachs.
“Normally when someone rings to say they have a swarm the only thing I’m interested in knowing is how long its been there, how big it is, and how high off the ground it is,” Burns said. One of the main concerns of Burns and other beekeepers is the decline in honey bee populations. Burns believes the varroa mite has hurt the chances of the honey bees’ survival in their natural habitats. In addition to the mites, wasps are also a natural predator of the honey bee – “Entire hives can be lost to wasps,” he said.