Help is available for the star performer of sustainable farming – the honeybee.
Like all top performers, nutrition is vital. Bees require good sources of pollen and nectar to be able to stay happy and healthy throughout the year.
The hard-working insects punch well above their weight, proving vital for plant life and a crucial part of our ecosystem. Increasing bee pests and diseases are proving a challenge for the beekeeping industry and farmers.
A new handbook offering practical guidance on how to plant strategically to feed bees is now available free to New Zealand farmers.
The New Zealand Trees for Bees Research Trust has compiled knowledge gained from 10 years of field and laboratory research to make the booklet.
One of the lead researchers for the handbook is Dr Angus McPherson. The farm planting adviser and trustee said the handbook was intended as a useful tool to help farmers support bees through their choice of plants used on the farm.
"The beauty of our approach is that farmers don't need to set aside land specially for this planting,'' he said.
"We show farmers how to incorporate a low-maintenance bee forage planting plan into planting they're already establishing to increase production and improve their farmland."
The Handbook for Planting Trees for Bees on Farms was printed with the assistance of the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Hawke's Bay Apiary Education Trust, Silver Fern Farms, Kintail Honey and The New Zealand Merino Company.
The handbook covers planting suggestions for 10 types of plantations: riparian protection; land stabilisation; shelterbelts; paddock shade and shelter; native bush biodiversity; roads, avenues, and laneways; amenity; edible plantations; apiaries and beekeeper yards; and mānuka plantations.
Each plantation type is described with examples, illustrations, advice and plant lists.
"We aim to help build more-resilient and sustainable farms by taking the best possible care of our star performer – the honeybee," says Dr McPherson.
"Bees all around the world are facing a number of threats, including pests, disease and pesticides. The best weapon against these threats is to provide our bees with a steady supply of forage to help them stay healthy and strong.
"That includes ensuring a wide range of flowering plants in spring and autumn when bees are most at risk of pollen and nectar shortages."
Dr McPherson said the handbook's principles and guidelines could be adapted to any type of farm or land use.
"The same principles can also be applied when deciding what to plant in public parks, on lifestyle blocks and in home gardens."
A Northland fact sheet is also available with bee-friendly plant lists specific to the region.
Northland Regional Council land programme manager Ruben Wylie said the council had several initiatives that could support landowners to incorporate bee forage plants in their farm plantings.
"Each winter, we offer heavily subsidised poplar and willow trees from our own nursery that help stabilise erosion-prone land while also providing shelter, shade, timber, fodder and carbon sequestration benefits.
"Willows are known to be a major source of pollen and nectar for bees. Poplars are also important for bees because they produce a sort of resin used by bees to make their hives,'' he said.
The Northland Regional Council also has a grant scheme intended to support landowners to plant forests on their erodible land.
"This grant can be used to fence off and plant hillsides with native trees that are beneficial to bees, including manuka and kanuka.''
Wylie said the NRC land management advisers can provide professional advice on erosion control planting, including assistance with grant funding applications.
"Any landowners who are keen on improving the health of bee populations and our important soil resources should get in touch with our land management team to find out more," he said.
MPI director of investment programmes Steve Penno said it was proud to support the important research compiled in the booklet.
"Honeybee health is crucial because bees are the foundation of agricultural production in the New Zealand economy.
"Planting essential bee forage as part of farm management will ensure a viable and sustainable future for our bees, beekeepers, and farmers."
Since 2011, Trees for Bees has planted more than 75,000 bee forage plants in 32 demonstration farms throughout New Zealand.
The Handbook for Planting Trees for Bees on Farms is available as a free PDF on the Trees for Bees website at treesforbeesnz.org/handbook. Limited softcover print copies are also available and can be ordered through the website.