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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

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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.

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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.

#Bee-Loved Flowers (& Tomatoes!) in Almost-Winter

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After a cold night, it’s warm here now. I still harvest tomatoes, mostly Gardeners Delights from King’s Seeds, like someone down the road who shared the plants (thank you for this handful image, on Twitter in exactly the right week).

This morning in the garden I can’t see a single pollinator, but it’s a thrill to see the rapid spread of alyssum. It seems to be more highly scented at the moment, too.

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alyssum! & look at those healthy calendula leaves & flowers!

A single anise hyssop is flourishing now it’s no longer competing with tomato neighbours. It looks as though it may flower soon. Nearby, one of the Italian parsley plant patches, there for passersby.

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centre top, anise hyssop, plus nasturtium at left, some alyssum and (in front) that Italian parsley patch

The late-planted thyme’s flowering well in places.

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The dandelions are going from strength to strength now I’ve embraced them.

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In the back garden there’s a herb forest alongside the fruit trees. Some bergamot is still flowering (and seeding) among more parsley, borage, alyssum, lavender, vietnamese mint, the very last of the basil fino verde and anise basil. And those tomatoes.

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see the little mauve bergamot flowers?

On the front doorstep, some baby hollyhocks to flower next summer.

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And across the water, in Nelson, some travelling plants, in my mate’s garden near her flowering rosemary, New Zealand fern and late hydrangea.

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The borage shouldering out – as always. The calendula and alyssum going for it across the side. The parsley doing its best. The basil and coriander are probably over.

Bee-Loved Plant Products To Attract Swarms

Cameroon (photo Eric)
Cameroon (photo Eric Tourneret)

‘Adamawa, a paradise of bees’, renowned bee photographer Eric Tourneret calls this place in Cameroon. And then he introduced me to the idea that beekeepers can use bee-loved plants and flowers to attract swarms.

In Adamawa, a  beekeeper fastens into a tree a traditional cylindrical hive, made of the veins from raffia leaves, after having coated the sides with beeswax prepared in an infusion of citronella to attract a wild swarm of bees.  Here’s a citronella plant. With that ‘citron’ in the name I imagine it smells lemony. I don’t know if it’s ever grown in New Zealand but will check.

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And then, through Facebook, I met Melissa Blodgett Vanek, who also uses bee-loved plant products to attract swarms (and has a lovely blog). Melissa studies at the College of the Melissae, the Center for Sacred Beekeeping, in Ashland Oregon, one of six United States bee cities. What a great idea bee cities are.

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I saw a video of Melissa’s goats, with two hives in the background, and asked her about the hives. She responded–

These two are baited boxes waiting for spring to finally take hold and swarm season to start! …I am working here on the bee-centric gardening as well and have my eyes open to find possible log hives in my woods. Lemongrass oil has worked for me in terms of baiting. Thyme and lemon balm are favorites of my bees.

lemon balm from Melissa's blog
lemon balm from Melissa’s post on ‘The medicine of melissa [officinalis]’, the  plant named after honey bees

And then Melissa added a bonus, not knowing yet that I don’t have bees, partly because I live in an area where the city council uses Roundup regularly–

To keep mites at bay, have you tried putting stinging nettles in the hive?

Have any of you tried this?

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dear bees – choose this hive, wrote Jonathan Powell

And then Jonathan Powell, of beeswing.net,  set up this log hive ‘with new roof made from biodynamic rye, hand cut by my good friend Brock’. This is what he wrote

This is set-up as a ‘bait hive’,  which I hope a passing swarm will find irresistible. The key to a good bait hive is a couple of drops of lemon grass oil just inside the entrance (topped up every few weeks).

And he added–

…and most importantly, old starter comb 8cm x 8cm squares pinned the ceiling with oak pegs. There is nothing better in beekeeping than to have the experts, the bees, choose your hive and settle in. You know that when they do that over 80% of the scout bees have voted that your hive is the best.

So, citronella in Cameroon, lemongrass oil in the United States and in England. I know I can grow lemongrass. On the hunt for citronella now. And any more suggestions are, as always, very welcome.

PS Jonathan’s lemongrass oil worked!

Thank You, Bee-Lovers on Social Media!

I saw a pale honey bee on the lavender. Then another. Thin. Then a bumble. And then something new, on the calendula. So I tweeted. And loved this conversation that followed, with someone who was new to me–

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And more or less at the same time, this conversation on Instagram– which I’ve just joined – with someone else I’d never heard of before.

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And as I enjoyed these interchanges I thought of the NZ Beekeepers Forum, which I joined a while back. And asked there. And trusted a contributor’s precise response.

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I feel very grateful to the apps and forums available online and to the people who use them. This was so useful.

I have another eristalis tenax in the garden today. And because it’s a beneficial pollinator I welcome it.

A Woman Beekeeper From the 1930s

Wild swarm in New Zealand photo: Te Ara
Wild swarm in New Zealand tree (photo: Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

It’s cold. It’s wet. So I’m reading instead of gardening. At the moment, the complete works of Robin Hyde (1906-1939), an extraordinary and prolific New Zealand writer. Her work enchants me, all of it.

In Journalese (1934), a light-hearted survey of her experiences as a journalist – I think she’d have delighted in social media – she documents a bee experience that wouldn’t happen now. Couldn’t. The ancient Ford? Maybe. But Italian Blacks? German Browns? Wild bees? I don’t think so.

It was in Christchurch, and by accident, that I found out I was bee-immune (i.e., proof against all stings.) The path of duty led to a woman bee farmer, her abode at Rangiora. Would she give me a story about the beauty of bee-farming? She would do more: she whisked me into an ancient Ford, and drove at an astonishing speed in the direction of the farm itself. It was in a haunted orchard. Under the desolate old trees which dropped their blossom unheeded on the grass, Italian Blacks and German Browns, an ever-dancing, ever-moving Gulf Stream of bees, guarded the hive more efficiently than any ghost could do.

Afraid of bees? She treated them with a motherly mixture of severity and contempt. And to my own amazement, I found myself draped in an inadequate sort of bee-veil, but with no gloves or other weapons of defence, brushing bees from great golden combs with a macrocarpa bough. The bees took no notice. Then, unsealing the combs, straining the honey, seeing it come up clear and dark gold….it was all rather delightful, and I still think that to retire and become a bee farmer is a quite dignified outlet for any woman’s energies. I carried home a vasty golden comb. This was awkward. It occupied practically all the shelf space in my tiny flat, and eat as I would, bestow it on my neighbours as I might, I couldn’t keep up with its melting moments. Finally the horrid remains, done up with as much care as an inconvenient corpse, found their way into the dustman’s tender care.

Manuka honey…dark, sweet, gathered by the droning wild bees whose nests are high up in rimu or manuka…is the best of all. You can smell Australia in scented boronia, the little brown-cupped sort that grows wild. You can taste the New Zealand bush in manuka honey. They collect it and use it at Chateau Tongariro, which is an unusually discerning sort of thing for any Government enterprise (pp109-110).

I’m looking out for more on the history of women beekeepers in New Zealand.

Robin Hyde
Robin Hyde

Bee-Loved Plants & Facebook

I love Facebook. I’ve been working on a bibliography for the Lovatt Foundation in Kano, Nigeria, run by New Zealand poet and educator Fiona Lovatt, who’s been based in Kano for several years now. She’s exploring the local traditional bee-keeping practices but has only irregular access to a computer and a busy cell phone, dependent on solar power for charging. So I offered to help locate information.

It was fun tracking down the academic work. And I loved Professor Marla Spivak’s Ted talk Why bees are disappearing. The video version provides the best explanation of bee decline I’ve experienced, simple and compelling–

We’re kind of at a tipping point. We can’t really afford to lose that many more. We need to be really appreciative of all the beekeepers out there.

And of course it was great to hear her ending–

Plant flowers.

But, as I searched, I also really really liked finding beekeepers’ wisdom via Facebook and news of their immediate day-to-day experiences. And images like the one at the top which I think comes from Chile. That’s me in old age, I decided. My Facebook friends and I debated whether the bee-keeper’s trusty steed is a donkey, a mule, or a horse.

Here is this lovely woman again, in among the flowers, her hives on her back.

in among the flowers

From now on in this blog, I’ll refer more often to the Facebook info I find valuable.

The Year’s Last Bees?

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Quinces. Waiting.

It’s autumn here. Native and exotic birds busy among the apple trees.The quinces are good this year and I planned to make quince paste over this long weekend, from my favorite Elizabeth David recipe. Many thanks to the bees for all their pollination help, six months ago.

There are still lots of bee-loved plants in the garden, even on the otherwise empty table where I kept the plants to sell. Just a couple of pots left, with straggly alyssum and basil fino verde plants that I wouldn’t even give away.

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the almost denuded plant table

And occasionally a bee in the lavender.

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Bumble bees a little more often. Also in the lavender. But soon they’ll all be gone, until spring.

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I wanted to make the quince paste. I wanted to prepare the garden for winter. But I’m trying to complete a project. And I’m struggling. Sometimes with interruptions, like the City Council spraying old man’s beard nearby. With Roundup.

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old man’s beard

 

This meant I had to leave, to work in the town library. The plants and the bees didn’t have that choice. Did the wind carry Roundup all over this hillside? I don’t know. Triumph spray; and Conquest for pasting on places where the weed was cut back. Battle-winner names.  I hate them.

I dream of bee colonies in our trees, love everything I read about apicentred tree hives, but I think this is the wrong place for them. Will think more fully about it when I’m up-to-date with everything else. Will that happen soon?

Some Bee-Loved Plants Leave Home

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Gazebos going up on Ghuznee Street. We were down Leeds Street, just past the most distant gazebo pictured.

So Out in the Park became Out in the (Car) Park, as part of a much bigger event, Cuba Dupa.

And our Bee-Loved stall was there, under one of these gazebos, thanks to my qi gong teacher, Fan, who contributed some – very popular – plants of her own. And to Tasha Haines, whose lovely eye and generous heart are always valuable to have around.

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Fan womanning the Bee-Loved stand (Maeve Lonie poster being blown about behind her, Anna Keir bunting in foreground)

We also advertised qi gong and sold some women’s film-related things.

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And Anna Keir’s quirky crafts.

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Anna Keir birds

It was fun. And good to talk with visitors, share the plants and the accompanying handouts.

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Until a Wellington gust lifted the row of gazebos. Twice. The gazebos were dismantled and we went home early.

I was proud of my plants, from heritage seeds, in their biodegradable Fertil pots from France, in their organic compost and growing sturdily: alyssum, two kinds of basil, bergamot, borage, calendula, coriander, parsley. Many flowering or about to flower. All attractive to bees. All going to provide seeds that their owners can use next year.

Now it’s time to prepare the garden for winter.  There are still bumble bees in the lavender. And the anise hyssop is flowering. But daylight saving ends soon.

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anise hyssop with ratty leaves – not sure what caused those.