What More Can I Do?

 

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Rosemary

I started to grow neonic-free bee-loved plants to nourish the bees. Because there were few of them, perhaps because the city council sprayed nasty chemicals on the public zigzag outside my gate. The chemicals made me ill, so what were they doing to the bees?

So a lost two years ago I arranged with the city council that I’d care for a big area of the zigzag closest to our place, in return for No Spraying. And I planted lavender and rosemary, alyssum, phacelia, cornflowers, thyme. Nearby, the fruit trees, herbs and bushes flowered in my organic garden as they always did.

This New Zealand summer, the dandelions, calendula, parsley and borage kept right on flourishing and self-seeding in my garden and on the zigzag and I encouraged clover wherever it appeared. Would more bees flourish?

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Autumn: mature lavender above nearby borage, parsley, calendula and silver beet (chard) seedlings, near a primitive shelter for my turmeric plants, growing well in this warmer time

The answer, sadly, is No. At the end of this long hot New Zealand summer there were few bees, in my garden or on the zigzag. After my parsley plantation finished flowering, every so often I saw a bumble bee or honey bee on a rosemary or lavender bush in the garden, or at the edge of the zigzag path on the thyme, growing well. But none on the alyssum, now vigorously self-seeding everywhere and flourishing in spite of little rain. This autumn, still quite warm, I see about one bee a week.

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Alyssum

This is much worse than last year. I don’t know what more I can do.

I also asked ‘Is it possible to maintain a useful garden without water?’ Out on the zigzag, where there’s no tap, I’ve experimented with hugelkultur, raised beds above buried wood, because they’re known to be good for plants and good in drought and flood, both more common than they used to be because of climate change.

And I’ve planted vegetables and small fruits among the the zigzag’s bee-loved flowers and  native plants and trees: ngaio, harakeke (flax), ti kouka (cabbage trees) and grasses.

I’ve found that in some parts of the zigzag and on some of the hugelkultur some plants flourish: tomatoes among the harakeke, bordoloi beans on a hugelkultur (but not the more common scarlet runner beans) hardy silver beet in some places but not others. On one problematic hugelkultur not even the borage and calendula bloomed strongly. There, and elsewhere in the home garden I’ve added more mulches; and  Environmental Fertiliser products. Will let you know how they go!

The best news is, that like friends throughout New Zealand I have a huge quince crop, the best for decades, another result of the dry weather, I believe.

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One of the quince pickings

This year I’ll continue to experiment, maintaining the bee-loved focus while working hard to produce more vegetables. We’re aware of water security here because of the earthquake risk and it’s time to consider future drought risk and food security, too. (I hear passersby on the zigzag discussing these possibilities as they admire – and critique – the trees and plants.)

This week because it’s rained recently I’ll start to clear the noxious weeds, transplant some self-seeded land cress and bury the freesia bulbs I’ve been given, for their scent in the spring.

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Self-sown land cress below some thyme and above the thyme, flourishing hollyhock plants, galangal and calendula, dock and dandelion

I’d love your stories and advice, if you’re engaged in similar projects. And in the meantime, off to the kitchen for the quince paste-making.

 

 

Honey from the Cameron Family Farms

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Greytown , in the Wairarapa, is about an hour away by train. I visited for a treat, with two film-loving and feminist mates.

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Greytown is old and beautiful, with amazing shops. I loved Emporos & Just William, where there were ceramic and other kitchen things, children’s books and toys and (yes!)  restored garden tools.

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We visited Rachel Priestley’s La Pancetta, an Italian wine bar, deli and restaurant, where I stocked up on some of her deli meats and her olive oil (lots of olive groves in the Wairarapa).

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In another shop I lusted after leather armchairs from Italy. Later,  I bought a New Zealand version of a French walnut opener.

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James Cameron (former husband of  Kathryn Bigelow and director of Avatar etc) and his family have settled in the Wairarapa and run the Cameron Family Farms. We had lunch at their Food Forest Organics cafe and shop, which has accommodation attached if you want to spend the night.

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We ate lunch outside, round the back.

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It was lovely. And the gardens were dry. Like mine. And many of the plantings were the same.

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Not a lot of bees.

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But there were some wonderful honey products in the shop. Vegan lip balm, even! (I know some people don’t view bee products as vegan. I’m not sure I do either, but I’m not a vegan so what do I know?)

I loved these little bee soaps.

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And as for the honey… It’s ages since I’ve seen honey comb on sale.

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I bought some premium manuka honey. All gone now. It was delicious. Full of nutrients. A meal in itself. But I think they need a round jar, because it was impossible to reach the honey in the corners.

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I’m in Clover & Bees are in the Parsley

O wow. Someone gave me a bee chalet, for solitary leaf cutter bees. Here it is: the next best thing to a honey bee tree hive, for me.

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There it is, now, up on the grapevine wall, near the pear tree, the harakeke/flax in flower, the rosemary, forget-me-nots.

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The dormant leaf cutters are inside the little hole and they will settle in the tiny cardboard tubes in the diagram  when they hatch. I hope. And I hope they love all the nearby parsley flowers, too like the bumbles and an occasional honey bee (very few around this summer).  They love the flowering fennel, too. I wonder what a parsley/ fennel honey tastes like? Is it super-healthy?

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honey bee in parsley flowers

There are bumbles out on the zigzag,too. In among the thyme. And more parsley flowers.

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thyme with parsley stalks and flowers

And then there’s the clover.

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bumble in clover

I didn’t have much clover in the past and I used to pull it out. Even though I knew about clover honey, it’s a weed, in a lawn, I thought. But suddenly there’s a whole lot more and I’ve learned that clover is pollinated by bumble bees, so maybe it’s a sign that the bumble bee numbers are increasing. Clover also also fixes nitrogen, which is good for the soil, on the zigzag especially. So I’m letting it flourish.

If you’d like any parsley seeds, I’ll be posting them out and delivering them in a couple of weeks. Just let me know.

Waiheke Island Honey Co: A Joy!

Waiheke Island at dawn, from Waiheke Honey Co
Waiheke Island at dawn, from Waiheke Honey Co

You may have read about Waiheke Island, half an hour by boat from central Auckland, in Aotearoa New Zealand.  It’s fifth on Lonely Planet‘s current list of Top Ten destinations and fourth on Conde Nast Traveller’s list of the Best Islands in the World.

Late last year I was blessed.  I needed to be in Auckland for a little while and a generous artist friend lent me her beautiful, simple studio/home on Waiheke. And I got to visit Richard at Waiheke Island Honey Co. My first apiary visit ever.  Here he is.

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Richard

I loved hearing and watching how much Richard loves and cares for his ‘girls’, as naturally as possible. He even names each queen – then he puts her her name on the lids of the jars of the honey he collects from her hive. From what I saw and heard, every product he makes receives the same imaginative loving care, from beginning to end. (My chef sons love the elegant-and-sturdy Waiheke Honey Co. aprons.)

If you’re in Waiheke, Richard has a honey shack for roadside sales. (His experience is that passersby are pretty honest.)

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I’m sad that shortly after I visited the photos I took were lost in the Cloud, with the rest of my iPad’s info. But I do have this picture of some pohutukawa honey I brought home for a friend – along with active manuka, multiflora and clover honeys for others (I ate the active manuka when I needed a boost, but gave the friend the empty  jar, ‘her’ jar, with ‘Queen Amanda’ on); lip balm for a mate in the sub-Sahara where sometimes it’s very hot and dry and sometimes cold dry winds blow; those classy aprons.  And a lovely memory of a special morning. I learned so much.

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Pohutukawa honey, on a pohutukawa stump among a group of pohutukawa close to home.
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the pohutukawa

This summer, Richard’s posted some pictures that feel affirming of what I do, here in the city.

He too scatters parsley seed and then lets the parsley go to seed.

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Then he gives away the seeds.

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For Christmas, he grew ‘the girls’ a special roadside meadow, beside the honey shack.

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I recognise flowers that also flourish here, 600km south.

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marigold, calendula, cornflower, phacelia, borage (etc!)

(My phacelia didn’t grow this year. Not sure why not.)

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phacelia with bee

A big thank you to Richard and Sheena (it’s very much a family business!) for their warm welcome.

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Waiheke Island  Honey Co’s website (that’s the island on the label!), where you can’t yet order their products but can contact them.

And here it is on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+.

All photographs from the Waiheke Honey Co. Facebook page, except one, as indicated.

And here’s where I stayed– totally perfect if you’re a nature lover who likes to be comfortable, want to be close to beaches and cafe and a good library and within walking distance of the ferry (there are also buses and taxis). More than totally perfect if you want to settle in to paint, draw, write.

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More Spring

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quince blossom above Oriental Bay

I went away. And iCloud lost all my photos, including some of an amazing beekeeper on Waiheke Island and his honeys.

And the weather’s been awful. And I’ve been busy with other work. But spring continued anyway.

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a tui in our apple blossom

The bees are back and I’m gardening when I can.

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blue borage, forget-me-not, poppies & calendula

In one part of the garden, all those open-pollinated seeds from last year grew, flowered and went to seed. Those seeds became a stunning early spring show of poppies, calendula, alyssum, borage (white and blue), night scented stock.

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night scented stock, beginning cornflowers,white borage, alyssum

And, of course, the lavender is still there.

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Out on the zigzag, new seeds have sprouted and the hollyhocks are growing.

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the growing hollyhocks, other flower seedlings, flowering geranium, some shepherd’s purse and in the background a kaka beak (just finished flowering)

This year, around the hugelkultur, I’m experimenting again, as I work with the seasonal arcs of the sun, very different than on the other side of the zigzag.

I’ve emulated the neighbours and tried pumpkins, some seedlings for me, some for them. Bees love those big yellow blossoms.

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The tin cans and other (homemade) metal circles are to deter slugs and snails, which don’t like sharp things. Also cats and birds.

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pumpkin seedlings on the hugelkultur

The wire netting helped with some new seedlings. But the birds got under this wire netting and pulled at my Biogro pots, even though the pots were buried. That killed a bean plant or two, alas. The birds scratched out almost all the coriander, too.

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climbing beans and the remains of the biogro pots the birds destroyed

And this morning, I’ll plant the very last of the pumpkins and some coriander someone gave me.

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Off up the path I go, past the bees already busy in the blossom. Into the spring(ish) day.

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After breakfast.

Spring Is Coming!

It’s been so cold. But people have been planting on the zigzag: fruit trees and natives. This is my contribution, a Royal Rosa apricot from Waimea Nurseries. I planted it at the edge of one of our hugelkulturs, also known as swales, mounds of rotting wood.

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If you look carefully, you will see borage, calendula, lavender

The Royal Rosa is ‘a very early, freestone selection with firm tasty gold flesh, yellow skin with a red blush. A disease hardy, low chill selection recommended for home gardens throughout New Zealand.’ And its fruit will look like this.

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And of course the Royal Rosa will flower, for the bees. I chose an early ripening one to suit the arc of the hillside’s summer sun.

A little further up the hill are some feijoas and three plums, from the Wellington City Council’s Community Fruit Tree programme, planted by our lovely neighbour. Here are two of the plums.

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And yesterday the sun shone and I saw a bumble bee on a calendula. So I worried about the next burst of the council’s Roundup spraying, because Roundup harms bees, as reported here.

I also read  another new report, about how Roundup harms people (see Bibliography page for more research about this)–

Many neurological diseases, including autism, depression, dementia, anxiety disorder and Parkinson’s disease, are associated with abnormal sleep patterns, which are directly linked to pineal gland dysfunction. The pineal gland is highly susceptible to environmental toxicants. Two pervasive substances in modern industrialized nations are aluminum and glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup®. In this paper, we show how these two toxicants work synergistically to induce neurological damage.

But then I read, in the council’s response to submissions to its latest Suburban Reserves Management Plan that–

We have just finalised beekeeping guidelines for public land and consider ourselves a bee friendly city.

As fruit trees, vegetable and bee-loved plants proliferate, especially on public reserves like our zigzag,  if the council is committed to being a bee-friendly city, it will have to stop using Roundup and other poisons. Whew and Yay.

In the meantime, in an exciting initiative that supports pollinators, at Bee Gap,  a New Zealand-based  programme to raise awareness and assist gardeners to encourage and add pollinators to their gardens. They’re keen to encourage native bees, bumble bees and leaf cutter bees and have some products for us to use at home.

And on their Facebook page,  the first contemporary image I’ve seen of bees in trees in New Zealand–

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Bees in a tree, New Zealand

The woman who posted it said it’s near New Plymouth–

This natural beehive in a 60ft tree is massive. I had driven past this so many times and didn’t even know it was there. A work mate pointed it out to me. I’m 5′ and could probably fit inside it.

And note, these bees are utterly thriving. It can be done. And this year I hope to have some bees in a tree myself. As well as many flowers for them.

A Bit of Honey & Tea in China

by Danuta Snyder

I met Canadian Danuta Snyder in China, where we studied qi gong together. Danuta is my friend for ever. And I’m thrilled that she sent me this story. Many thanks, Danuta. And to Coomi and Jonah!

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Almost every evening during my stay in Kunming, my daughter-in-law Coomi (it’s so much fun to be able to call her my daughter-in-law now) served us a proper Chinese tea.  Coming from a family that values tea, she already had an understanding of it that exceeds a Westerner’s, but now she has taken courses as well and is a tea master.  As an accomplished fashion designer and photographer, she is accustomed to focusing her intelligence and considering style.   A naturally elegant woman, she makes the lovely ritual even more graceful.

A colleague from Coomi’s tea class knew of a place in Jin Dian (Golden Temple) outside Kunming that provides a rustic tea setting.  A group of us drove there for the experience.  The cars went up a narrow alleyway (is there any other kind of alley?).  There were stairs taking us further up a hill.  A casual garden area with outdoor seating neighboured an old building.

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This is when I thought of you, Marian! There were bees buzzing around and flying in and out of holes in the plaster wall!

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An extension of the building had shelves with stacked boxes that served as hives as well.

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There were flowering trees on the property, and I assume the bees feasted on them.  There wasn’t an opportunity to ask for beekeeping details.  I was told the bees are just a hobby.

The place seemed to be a relatively new business enterprise.  Eventually they plan to have a few rooms that will serve as an inn.  The establishment has stations that are fully supplied, but Coomi chose to bringher own bowl and pot.  She also selected from the fine teas she had at home.

We settled in one of rooms with a low table for tea.

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A gentleman host greeted our table.  As Coomi translated his words, he made warm eye contact with each and every one of us saying something to the effect that we meet on a heart level and that even though we do not speak the same language we understand the good will between us.  Indeed, his eyes were saying the exact translation.   Coomi mentioned that at times a Buddhist holy man is here and enhances the place with his presence.  He is known to repeat Buddhist chants to himself (merit is gained with repetitions) in between interactions with guests.

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Coomi regretted that she forgot to bring candies to suck on.  A person who drinks a lot of tea without a bit of food can become “tea drunk”.  We must have drunk for close to three hours.  I did feel a bit light-headed, but it could have been that  I was also getting very hungry for dinner.  The cups are tiny and only70% filled.  This honours the guest by making ensuring the hot tea doesn’t accidentally burn him.  (On the other hand Coomi told me that cups of bai jiu (liquor) are filled to the brim as a sign of respect for the guest.)  Because of the cup size and the pauses between brewing, the tea is consumed at a leisurely pace.    I loved watching Coomi rinse the pot (inside and out), especially when the outer pot gets a gentlewaterfall of hot water from time to time to warm it before receiving a new brewing.

I asked Coomi what type of tea she served.  It’s not easy to answer!  One needs to know the exact region it originated from.  The good Pu erh teas are from specific mountains and villages.  In addition some teas should be aged.  The two teas we had were from Bingdao and Jingmai and came from trees that were at least one hundred years old.  At one point Coomi asked us what part of our tongue or mouth tasted the tea.  I hadn’t given it any thought before.  That particular type of tea’s taste goes toward the back of the mouth.  (She graciously reassured those who had answered “the front” that there is no correct answer.) After a few hours of tea drinking we went to a room downstairs for a satisfying meal.  The downstairs courtyard had a statue of a very happy Buddha.

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We all felt pretty happy ourselves by then.

Gradually various family and friends departed until the last two days of my visit only Jonah and I were left in Kunming.  (His wife left for Lijiang to be with Canadian friends.  He joined her there around the same time that I left for Hong Kong.)  Seeing the bees on the tea house property reminded me of something the professor who taught a course on China Now told us – if we had a chance, don’t miss the opportunity to taste delicious Chinese honey.  I asked Jonah where we could go to get some.  He knew just the shop I was hoping for!  It was a small place with many barrels of honey.  The barrels were labelled with place of origin (all from Yunnan province) and the type of flower nectar.  Some honeys werelight, others dark.  Some were thick, others runny.  Prices ranged from about $7 to $18 Canadian per litre (I believe).

Reasoning that the most expensive must be the most delicious, I bought the $18 honey.   The vendor ladled some of that honey into plain plastic jars – one for me and one for you.  (The jars were smaller than litre size, perhaps holding 700g, but the price was what I thought the litre price was.  I didn’t question the price since it might have been I didn’t understand things in the first place.  I would have liked to take a photo of the place as well, but it didn’t feel right to do so.  Will the meek truly inherit the earth?)  This honey happened to be very light in colour and quite runny.  (It actually looks like a thick urine sample in the unlabelled plastic jar).  I know all honey is sweet, but this one is intensely so.  It tastes perfumed (if perfume tasted good).  These bees feasted on some type of cherry blossom, and the resultant honey is high in iron and other minerals.  It is reputed to be good for the skin.  It only occurred to me now to take a photo comparing it to a Nova Scotia honey.

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As you can see, it is much lighter in colour.  I just smelled the two jars and they smell quite differently as well.  I would term the Yunnan honey as more flowery and the Nova Scotia one as earthier.  (By the way, the Nova Scotia beekeeper’s profile is here.  The photo also reveals how much Yunnan honey I’ve consumed in barely three weeks.

I left Kunming and your jar with my son to await your address confirmation.  Once in Hong Kong you emailed me that New Zealand would not allow the honey to enter the country.  I hastily researched Canadian rules on importing honey.  It did not look promising.  I started to drink honey in my hotel room,but one can only drink so much.  Finally I decided to openly declare it and see what would happen.  It passed!  I don’t think it was supposed to though.  I marked the form to indicate I was bringing foodstuff into Canada.  The inspector asked, “What kind of food?”  I answered, “Honey.”  He asked, “Was it commercially bought?”  An image of the bulk bin style of the shop and its unlabelled plastic jars came to mind, so I phrased my reply with caution, “Well, I bought it in a store.”  Happily the inspector didn’t ask to see the jar.

Every morning since returning home I breakfast on oatmeal with a teaspoon of honey.  Every day I dip brazil nuts into jar to satisfy my sweet tooth and avoid consuming a baked sugar laden pastry. When the honey jar is empty I will be sad because it is such a perfect reminder/remainder of a magical visit to China.

Niue’s Bee Sanctuary

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Bee sanctuaries interest me more and more, from the 600-year-old hive in a Rosslyn Chapel pinnacle that I wrote about the other day, to the tiny one I’m working to establish in the middle of a city, to Kangaroo Island, a bee sanctuary since 1885 and on Colonsay, a little island off Scotland. So I was excited to hear about another one, on the South Pacific island of Niue, 100 square miles, population 1400 – not too big, not too small. This time, it’s  a sanctuary with an  economic purpose.

The only beekeeper on Niue, Andy Cory, owns and oversees 1000 hives of Italian bees (Apis mellifera  ligustica) brought to Niue many years ago. Thanks to Niue’s relative isolation, its ideal size and its limited ports and tourism, the bees have effectively lived in a sanctuary ever since, in a tropical paradise for bees.

And now Andy wants to formalise his apiary’s status as a Pacific bee sanctuary, so it is internationally recognised. And he needs our help with his crowdfunding campaign, where he provides some lovely details about his beekeeping life on Niue. Like this, which highlights how he doesn’t need to feed his bees supplemental sugar-

Andy nearly lost all the bees in 2004 [in a cyclone]…the French navy …brought him sugar to feed as a supplement until native vegetation recovered. Consequently, to mitigate against the risk of losing all the bees in the aftermath of future cyclones, we now have a sufficient store of organic sugar on Island.

This is what Andy wants to do, with help from Richard Duncan who is organising the crowdfunding, as he further develops healthy and protected stock to draw from in the future-

Phase 1: strengthen and grow the current apiculture operation on Niue and develop export markets in order  to generate revenue, build partnerships and learning. And provide a solid foundation and financial resources sufficient to underwrite the creation and sustain the operation of a Global Bee Sanctuary.

Phase 2: develop the ‘Global Bee Sanctuary’ and begin to export live bee stocks and/or genetic breeding material to other Pacific Island countries, as well as other key food producing countries. This is where the venture shifts to regional and then global in its impact.

Hive numbers will increase to 4000 and local landowners wIll be paid under a hive rental arrangement. According to Richard Duncan, in an interview with Radio New Zealand

People of Niue, they’re custodians of these bees as well and that’s kind of why we’re shifting to this social enterprise model because we want to bring them more into this whole operation and make sure they are benefiting as well. The business grows. They get a return. Therefore they take pride in protecting these bees and being custodians of these bees.

This is a wonderfully ambitious project and I want to support it as well as I can. It would be glorious to have bee sanctuaries all over the world. And even better if they benefit the people who share their environment.

The government of Niue is right behind Andy and has strengthened bio-security measures to ban the import of all bees and bee products. Nosema does exist but, as in parts of Africa, appears to have negligible effect on the health of the thriving bees. There’s been just one case of American foul brood in 8 years. And Andy’s Save the Bee Honey is certified as organic, after passing all the BioGro NZ tests.

But questions and vigilance are necessary. Every time.

For instance, Andy’s bees may struggle to survive in countries he exports too, often because of exposure to disease and pesticides. (Alderney, a European Channel Island, has a similar challenge within a similar project.) How will he be able to help ‘Save The Bee’ in those places?

Andy’s bees may be better able to resist disease than bees who have always lived in another environment. But will they be able to resist the ill-effects of pesticides there? Recent  research shows that ubiquitous glyphosate is probably carcinogenic and that it harms bees. It also shows that when bees forage they are attracted to widely used neonics – neonicotinoids – that will harm them (see the Bibliography tab above for references). Unless those countries’ inherent risks are reduced, it’s likely that pesticide use will compromise the health of any Niuean bees they import, just as nearby glyphosate spraying and flowers grown from neonic-treated seeds and plants may affect the health of the bees I attract to my garden.

And as Monsanto products in particular become outlawed in some places, it’s likely that the organisation is promoting or will promote them more intensively in other markets. Like Niue. Like parts of Africa. So what about glyphosate and neonic use in Niue, which may compromise it as a sanctuary for bees?

Niueans have New Zealand citizenship so Niue has very close relationships with New Zealand, where import and use of neonics is unregulated. It’s also an agricultural nation (taro, organic vanilla and noni, according to one report I found.) A small risk already exists.

I’ve been told, twice, that Niueans do not use pesticides. But they are there. I found a Niuean ground water analysis (2010) that included a list of pesticides imported into Niue. Glyphosate was on that list and was found present in the water at <0.001 mg.L, significantly lower than United States drinking water standards and not considered problematic.

No neonicotinoids I recognised were on the import list perhaps because, as in New Zealand, it is unregulated. Will the Niuean government’s support of ‘Save The Bee’, as well as organic vanilla and noni, extend to outlawing pesticides and investing in alternative agricultural practices, as a world leader? That would make a huge difference.

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BioGro NZ’s practices are also important. It does not yet test for neonics or glysophate, so there’s been no check of their presence in Andy’s honey.

To certify honey as organic, BioGro NZ tests it under the ‘multiresidue suite’ of approximately 200 common pesticides useHd in New Zealand. The organisation told me-

These  suites do not typically cover glyphosate or neonicotinoids… [W]hen we recently requested isolated glyphosate testing for honey, we were advised that this was not yet offered in New Zealand.

It seems that New Zealand laboratories may extend their services to glyphosate and neonic testing soon, which would resolve this issue for the Niuean organic honey, among others.

And another element of BioGro NZ’s process is encouraging because it reduces the risk of pesticide contamination by certifying-

… only operations where we have verifiable landuser statements for land within 3km radius of the hives confirming no prohibited pesticide use.

The ‘prohibited’ pesticides referred to in landuser statements are those listed in BioGro NZ protocols and they DO include glyphosphate and neonicotinoids, though of course bees can forage beyond 3km.

On balance, after this little bit of research I feel confident that, for now, Niue’s close to a true bee sanctuary for honey-producing bees in the Pacific. And deserves our strong support. It may be one of the few bee-related initiatives that can make a long term difference.

And I wonder what you  think, because I may have missed something essential. Or made an error. Please let me know if so.

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Save the Bee on Facebook

Rosslyn Chapel’s Ancient Bee Sanctuary

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel, founded in 1446, is a mediaeval treasure in stone located at Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland.

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Rosslyn Chapel’s pinnacles during an eclipse

Back in 2010,  when the chapel was being restored, workers found surprises among its pinnacles. When they took the  pinnacles apart for repair, two of them enclosed hollow spaces the size of a gas tank. One of them also had an entrance through a carved stone flower on its exterior. And inside that pinnacle was a deserted bee hive. (The other hollow pinnacle had no stone-flower entrance.)

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I imagine that carved flower facing the camera is the entrance

No-one knows why this sanctuary was purposefully built in a place where the bees and their honey are inaccessible.

One stonemason, Allan Gilmour, said that he had seen bees create hives within soft sandstone. They buried into the sandstone and created honeycombs. This weakened the stone. In the 15th century, hives were usually woven skeps. Did the monks hope that if they provided a haven in the pinnacle the bees would not colonise and weaken other stone in the building?

And did the original builders coat the stone in the pinnacle with a substance to protect it from the bees? Local beekeepers were to investigate.

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The pinnacles had been covered for a while and that may be why the bees left.

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In early 2105, on the Rosslyn Chapel Facebook page, it was reported that the pinnacle is now restored “and since the construction work at the chapel stopped we’ve seen the bees return”.

This image of two medieval bee skeps accompanied the report.

from a medieval manuscript

I’ve never visited the Rosslyn Chapel, but am intrigued by images of its ceiling. It looks almost woven. It’s curved. It reminds me of the medieval bee skeps in the image.

Rosslyn Chapel's ceiling

And because of this, and because of the hive with no entrance, I wonder if the pinnacle hives had other meanings for those ancient monks. Rosslyn Chapel featured in the bestseller The Da Vinci Code (2003) and its film adaptation (2006). It seems a mysterious place and the bee spaces remain part of that mystery.

in the mist

But as I think about bee-centred beekeeping and about bee sanctuaries, I treasure this kind of mystery. Rosslyn Chapel’s hive inspires me.

With warm thanks to Rosslyn Chapel for images and other assistance. 

Celebration & Sadness

‘Our’ bits of the public zigzag get better and better. The man downstairs has built a second hugelkultur and some steps that make it safer to garden. (I’ve had a few near misses, slipping and tumbling.)

Our neighbour has employed a new gardener who will not spray. He’s planted the native grasses you can see in the background, beneath her (spring-flowering) kowhai tree.

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from front: steps, second hugelultur, sorrel patch, cape gooseberries and sundry herbs and then the neighbour’s place
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love that red rake!

Here are the grasses in closeup, in their cosy pea-straw mulch.

closeup of new grass & mulch

Below the first hugelkultur, parsley, thyme, bergamot, galangal and nasturtiums flourish.

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O yay to all of this. I’m very happy that our garden, the neighbour’s garden and other bits of the zigzag are all safer than they were, more welcoming for bees. And for other insects, some of them also pollinators.

But I’m also sad.

I know now that research shows that even organic honey contains glyphosate and that bees are attracted to flowers that contain neonics (obvious really, humans too are attracted to substances that affect their neurons). And when I see no bees around, I think ‘Did Wellington City Council’s glyphosate spray affect them?’.

One still and sunny bee-filled morning, not long ago, the council used the spray on patches of old man’s beard, within 100 metres of where these photos were taken. How many bees were harmed, as they flew past on the way to our flowers?

This is what the dying old man’s beard looks like.

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It could have been removed by hand. It’s tough going but I’ve done it.

And yesterday, on the far side of some dying old man’s beard, I saw lots of bees on winter kowhai.

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And I wondered, was that kowhai bought from a plant shop that sells neonic-treated  trees? Do the bees prefer these blooms to ours because they provide a neonic buzz?

That’s when I began to feel sad. Providing a sanctuary for bees is complicated.

Bees & Bee-Loved Flowers. A Global View From New Zealand.