Ecology:

For all the travel, hustle and industrious toil typical of the average worker honey bee, its life's achievement amounts to just 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. Not content with the marvel of visiting four million flowers per kilogram produced of that miraculous substance, bees can also be taught to remember colours, shapes, letters and numbers and can communicate the distance and direction of the nearest food source to their hive mates. These winged geniuses are also responsible for the pollination of around a third of all food on our plates.

The National Beekeepers Association (NBA), which fronted the month of bee-related brouhaha, is working with the Ministry for Primary Industries to establish a nationwide bee health survey to fill in the gaps around the health of our hives.

Bees have been buzzing in and out of the spotlight following the recent controversy on pesticides containing neonicotinoids, a chemical that affects the nervous system. Studies show that neonicotinoids affect both honey and bumble bees by lowering their immunity, reducing the number of queens and causing bees to become disorientated while foraging for honey and failing to return to the hive.

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Our poor bees have a hard time. The lack of bee-friendly habitat and food source; the insidious Varroa mite; rampant pesticide use and a number of diseases (some of which can be introduced by importing honey into New Zealand) are impinging on the health of bees. In Northland, Waikato and in Auckland, the Varroa mite has already developed a resistance to some of the miticides used within the hives.

According to NBA CEO, Daniel Paul: "We need to do all we can to help protect our bees to stop the situation getting worse."

To donate to fund bee-related research, or for more information on Bee Aware Month and bee-friendly plants, head to nba.org.nz/bee-aware-month .

AUCKLAND BUZZING
Last week Bees Alive, the new bee advocacy group based in Auckland released Auckland Buzzing, an e-resource which celebrates bee culture in Auckland.

The first edition puts the varroa mite under the microscope, interviews the Mayoral beekeeper and looks at why bees love companion planting. The booklet is part of Bees Alive's mandate to educate and raise awareness.

Last weekend, the group teamed with Ngati Whatua o Orakei, holding a community education event (including honey tasting) raising awareness about the importance of bees. Bee Alive is also looking to create interest among large landowners to protect our precious bees as well as connecting apiculturalists (bee keepers) with interested Aucklanders that want backyard hives. Visit trendsideas.com/aucklandbuzzing

BEE KIND - How to bring back the bees
PROVIDE WATER
Yes, bees need water - last summer's drought affected hives and honey yields significantly. Resurrect your old bird (and bee) bath. Bees use water to cool hives down and water down their honey for their bee babies.

GET GARDENING
Fill your backyard and neighbourhood with bee-friendly plants. Make sure there is something flowering in all seasons so the honeybees don't go hungry. Check out treesforbeesnz.org/garden for ideas.

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EAT LOCALLY MADE HONEY
Imported honey can be the source of bee diseases not yet in New Zealand.

DON'T DESTROY SWARMS
Swarming bees are a natural occurrence, and bees are least likely to sting when swarming. Call the NBA and a grateful beekeeper will likely collect bees to establish a new hive.

STAY AWAY FROM SPRAYS
Many contain chemicals like neonicotinoids that can impact on bee health. If you must use them, use bee-friendly sprays and read the instructions carefully or spray in the evenings once the bees have gone to bed.
Alternatively you could try this organic, all-purpose insect spray thanks to Ecostore.

Chop, grind, or liquefy a garlic bulb and a small onion.
Add 1 tsp of cayenne pepper and mix all ingredients with 1 litre of water.
Let the liquid steep for about an hour before straining through a clean piece of cheesecloth or fine muslin.
Add 1 tbsp of Ecostore dishwashing liquid to the strained liquid and mix well.
Pour into a clean, labelled spray bottle.
Spray your plants thoroughly, including leaf undersides.
Mixture can be stored for up to a week in the fridge.

Businesses behind bees
Three bee-loving companies have joined with the NBA to support Bee Aware Month.
De Winkel - the gourmet yoghurt gurus are giving away more than 110,000 bee-friendly seed packs and creating a community garden in New Lynn in September.
Ecostore - are offering prizes to those who pledge to support bees. Plant wildflowers, donate or agree to stop using pesticides and be in to win at ecostore.co.nz
Palmers garden store - head to their website for all the tips and tricks you need to create a beautiful wildflower meadow which will keep both bees and aesthetes happy.

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