Bee Aware Month is a month-long campaign in September co-ordinated by Apiculture New Zealand and designed to make Kiwis think about the honey bee and celebrate its vital role to our biodiversity and economy, writes HANNAH AMANTE.

This year's theme was all about shining a spotlight on the benefits bees provide through pollination. About $5 billion of our GDP can be attributed to intensive pollination of horticultural and specialty agricultural crops by bees.

"New Zealanders recognise the importance of the pollination story, especially for its contribution to agriculture and horticulture," says Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos. "During Bee Aware Month we encourage people in both urban and rural spaces to help bees do their job. "

Through the month, Apiculture New Zealand shared profiles of beekeepers who specialise in pollination services for crops.

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BeeBee clubs throughout the country held beginner beekeeping courses in September, which were open to all.

Sixteen councils and community groups participated in the Council Bee-Friendly Garden Challenge. Apiculture New Zealand sent them packets of wildflower seeds from Wild Forage that covered 50 square metres each. From pharmacies to gardening shops, retail outlets throughout New Zealand featured Bee Aware Month displays.

Schools and communities participated with a flurry of their own activities.

The first Bee Aware Month hashtag #beeawarenz17 successfully reached over 27,000 social media users.

Bees and seeds

Brian Leadley runs an arable farm in Canterbury growing a range of crops such as wheat, rye grass and spinach and other vegetables, along with red and white clover. He has had permanent hives sited throughout the farm for 25 years.

Leadley says using pollination services largely depends on good communication and a mutually beneficial relationship, with the beekeepers providing the hives.

"We try to let them know what crops are in rotation and expect hives to be there," he says. "And we need healthy bees so we make sure to provide good conditions on our farm. For example, we try and bring in plants that bring pollen and nectar to feed the bees a wee bit earlier than some of our crops."

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Leadley says best practice in using chemical inputs on his farm involves being careful around timing so they don't pose risk to the hives. "Some chemicals can be residual, so when we get to the flowering stage of crops, we don't use those. As much as [bee loss] would be a huge loss for the beekeeper, it's a huge loss for us as well."

Research organisation The Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) is linked to several projects on bee health and pollination, such as Trees for Bees New Zealand (www.treesforbeesnz.org).

These projects are investigating which bee forage plant species are best for delivering large volumes of protein-rich pollen to keep bee colonies healthy and well fed outside peak crop pollination times and considering the role of a range of plant, insect and microbial species in supporting sustainable farm systems, particularly in relation to soil, water, weed and pest management.

"Pollination is very important for our levy payers, particularly those who grow seed crops like clover, oil seed rape and radish," says Anna Heslop, FAR communications manager. "Successful pollination has a big impact on the amount of seed produced by a crop, and thus on grower incomes.

"Cropping farmers are very aware of the important role that bees play in seed production and there is also a growing understanding of the importance of biodiversity generally," says Heslop. "The vast majority of farmers do a very good job of ensuring that bees on their farms are well fed and safely managed."

Go to www.treesforbees.org.nz.

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