Two Levin brothers had a buzz about them on World Bee Day today.
After starting with a few bees in the backyard two years ago, McKenzie and Regan Stewart were now producing quality honey for market under their Tararua Honey label.
It's still a weekend hobby, but they have expanded the operation in a short time from four initial backyard hives borrowed from a workmate to 70 hives at five prime rural spots.
McKenzie said they were sold on the idea after talking with a workmate who had experience in the industry.
"We were just fascinated to get one to see what they were like," he said.
"It's been a huge learning process and you are always learning."
They enjoy asking questions of more experienced beekeepers and were told by an 80-year-old beekeeper with decades in the game that he was still learning.
The brothers remember tasting the first drops of honey from their hive - "it was pretty exciting" - and they both enjoy a spot of honey on toast each morning.
Regan said they now stocked Garden of York, Benniks, and had taken on a new customer last week, Green Bean, supplying online orders to Wellington.
"The original goal was to support local and supply businesses locally," he said.
The sideline business had now grown to the extent they were kept busy on weekends and after work, and were considering taking on a seasonal employee one day.
The brothers harvested 2.5 tonnes of honey last year, of which 1.7 tonnes was manuka honey.
They have become comfortable around bees and were fond of them, and didn't bother wearing protective clothing. Getting stung no longer caused any great alarm for the brothers, who said the best thing to do was to pick out the barb straight away.
"You try to avoid it and you do feel a prick, but you pick it out and carry on. If you leave it in, that's when it can hurt and swell," they said.
But, forever the entrepreneurs, they recommended the best thing to relieve the pain of a bee sting was to apply honey.
"Put honey on it straight away. It stops the swelling," they said.
Getting stung around the eyes or under a finger nail hurt most. But the worst thing you could do when getting stung around a hive was panic or emit fear as it could lead to more stings.
They said they were enjoying beekeeping as a hobby and after importing more hives from the South Island, it was beginning to pay its way.
"We are keeping our perspective though and conscious of not trying to get too big, too soon. You have to crawl before you can walk," they said.
The youngest of four brothers, they were happy to keep working for the family fencing business and keep making honey on the side. For now.
Meanwhile, World Bee Day on May 20 was established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the critical importance of bees, and other pollinators to the planet.
Bee populations were on the slide worldwide, impacted by disease, pests, climate change and intensive agricultural practices, but in New Zealand the honey bee population continues to grow.
Recent international research, based on data from the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation, found that New Zealand rated seventh in the world for bee population growth over a decade.
Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos said growth in the industry had meant it was developing as a bonified career with applications for apprenticeships growing each year.
Honey bee populations in New Zealand now depend on human help for survival due to the arrival of the Varroa mite in 2000, she said.
"Without regular treatment and monitoring, our bees would be in serious trouble," she said.
Beekeepers also actively monitor and treat for other bee pests and diseases like American Foulbrood (AFB), as well as ensuring bees get adequate nutrition and are safe and warm in their hives.
"They may be the world's smallest livestock, but bees still need a lot of care ... which is why beekeepers are so busy," she said.
The majority of beekeepers understand their commitment is to the environment, as much as bees.
"Beekeepers know that for their bees to be healthy, they must live in a healthy environment and that is why we've seen such strong commitment from our industry to sustainable practices and important research done by organisations like Trees for Bees New Zealand."
Trees for Bees New Zealand Research Trust is a non-profit organisation that promotes smart planting for healthy bees particularly on farmland. It researches the best plants for bees and has overseen the planting of 70,000 bee-friendly plants across New Zealand.
New Zealanders could support honey bees and beekeepers this World Bee Day by planting bee-friendly plants in their gardens, especially those that bloom in autumn and early spring when bees often struggle to find food.
People needed to be careful with pesticides, she said.
"If people use pesticides, they need to spray when bees are not active; in early morning or late evening and never when flowers are in bloom."
The sweetest way to support bees is to buy New Zealand honey.
"We have many wonderful, unique types of honey that honey-lovers are only just discovering like rātā, kāmahi, South Island honeydew and rewarewa," she said.
"I encourage people to check their local stores or find a local beekeeper and discover what their regional honey tastes like, as it varies so much across New Zealand."
- Worker bees produce about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime.
- Bees have been producing honey for at least 150 million years.
- On one flight from the hive to collect honey, a honey bee will visit between 50 and 100 flowers.
- Honey bees must visit 4 million flowers to produce 1kg of honey.
- Bees use their antennae to smell. They can detect nectar up to 2km away.
- A honey bees flies at about 24km/h.
- The honey bee beats its wings about 11,400 times per minute, producing the distinctive buzzing sound.
- There were 924,973 registered beehives in New Zealand last year.