People bringing their hives out of the manuka and putting them "every which way" closer to town are upsetting established beekeepers, Neil Farrer says.

He keeps a few bees himself, and was speaking for others unwilling to be named.

"We don't want to pull other beekeepers down, because we're all very, very good friends when it comes to beekeeping," another Whanganui beekeeper said.

The move of many hives out of the backblocks and closer to town for the winter has been a sore point, much talked about at bee club meetings.


A new Whanganui District Council by-law says hives should be 40m from property boundaries. Mr Farrer said people were putting them close to fences for easier access.

Having too many hives for an area is bad for everyone. If there is not enough food the bees can starve and die. When that happens, bees from stronger hives will raid their honey, and can carry devastating diseases like American foulbrood back to healthy hives.

If forage is very scarce, bees will harvest food from less preferred plants such as the native tutu. Mr Farrer said that can result in people being poisoned.

"The tutu flower, pollen and nectar are perfectly all right for bees. But passionvine hoppers burrow into the stem and feed on the pith and sap. They exude a droplet of honeydew from their rear end. It's all right for bees but honey made by them is poisonous to any mammal."

Three people who ate comb honey poisoned with the tutu toxin, tutin, became desperately ill in the Coromandel in 2008. There were previous cases in 1991 and 1974, and deaths in the 1890s. These days all honey is tested for tutin before packing.

There is tutu in the Whanganui region, and tutin in honey is a risk with the kind of bee overcrowding on the Whanganui River Rd last summer. It's particularly likely when honey is harvested in January after a long, hot summer.

Bees harvest nectar and pollen for the lucrative manuka honey during the summer flowering season. By winter the flowers have gone and beekeepers bring their hives closer to where they live, to look after them during the winter months. Some will leave them enough honey to eat over winter and not have to do much else. But raw manuka honey is worth as much as $60 a kilo. Beekeepers who take and sell all of it feed their bees on sugar through the winter.

The bees will also forage for their own food on still days with highs of 18-20C. The number of beehives in New Zealand has doubled in the last five years, on the back of the manuka honey gold rush. There are many more hives to come to town and some have been put too close to places where long-established beekeepers have their own permanent hives.

Beekeepers new to the area should be careful and responsible about where they put hives, Mr Farrer said. There may be hives belonging to others nearby, but out of sight.

Farmers asked for permission to have hives on their land should be aware no honey gets made in winter and there will be few flowers to pollinate until spring.