“To bee or not to bee?” – is hobby beekeeping for you?

With the call to care for one of our greatest pollinators, the question many concerned citizens are currently asking themselves is “should I learn the art of beekeeping and keep a hive in my own backyard?”

There’s no doubt that beekeeping is on the rise. Fifteen years ago, there were 300,000 hives in New Zealand. Now there are in excess of 700,000. Part of the reason for this increase is the worldwide interest in manuka honey, valued for its reputed medicinal properties. But the bee’s current prominence is also because there are now no wild colonies in New Zealand (the varroa mite having put paid to hives that are unmanaged). That means garden pollinators are in hot demand.

But does that signal the need to have a hive of your own? Unless you harbour a deep desire to be a beekeeper, you may want to think twice about it. Equipment is costly. Whether you have one hive or several, your basic outlay for a protective suit and gloves, hive tool and smoker, will set you back $250. Then you’ll need the hive, honey boxes, waxed frames, and varroa treatment which, for just one hive, comes in at around $400-$600. And still we’re not finished. Unless you’re qualified to inspect your own hive for the various diseases which can attack bees (in which case you’ll need to attend a series of classes and sit a test) you’ll want to find someone who is, and employ them to undertake the inspection for you.

If cost isn’t putting you off, don’t forget to factor in your time. A hive needs to be inspected every 10 days-two weeks between spring and autumn. Taking the honey from the hive (if the season is good and you actually get some) is hard physical work, and in winter, if the weather is rough, you’ll need to be out and about feeding your girls a sugar and water solution to help them through the chilly months.

Surprisingly, there are would-be beekeepers who will be undeterred by all this news, in which case, go for it! However, if you still want bees but without the hassle, considering hosting a hive. Several beekeepers now offer a service where they bring a hive to your backyard, manage it for a fee (usually around $400 a year), and furnish you with several kilos of honey produced by your very own bees.

If either choice is beyond your means (or someone in your home has a bee allergy) there’s still plenty you can do to encourage the golden pollinators into your garden. Most importantly, biff the insecticides. Where bees are concerned, they’re killers. Next, get planting. What bees crave are high nectar flowers, and the internet abounds with suggestions for creating bee-friendly gardens

Whatever you do, whether it’s managing or hosting a hive, or simply creating a welcoming environment for one of our greatest pollinators, the bees with thank you for it.