Beekeeping beyond New Zealand
Techniques and practices from around the world
Although the honeybee we know today originated in Europe and North Africa, it’s now common all over the world – and Antarctica is the only place without bees. Bees spread naturally across Europe, Africa, and Asia, and were introduced by humans to America, Australia, and New Zealand. Now, beekeeping and honey production are well-established in almost every country.
Beekeeping is thought to have been introduced to New Zealand by Mary Bumby. When she landed at the Mission Station at Hokianga in 1839, she brought two hives ashore with her. Now, beekeeping is a major industry, with an amazing 972,000 beehives around the country, producing around 20,000 tonnes of honey per year.
Although honeybee colonies work the same way wherever they are, beekeeping and hives are managed in different ways around the world.
·In ancient Egypt – and various other countries – honey was so valuable that it was sometimes used to pay taxes.
·In Ancient Greek and Roman cultures, honey was seen as a symbol of love and fertility and was often used as an offering to the gods.
·As long as it’s not exposed to moisture, honey can last indefinitely. In Egypt, edible 3000-year-old honey was found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
·According to Greek mythology, Apollo was raised by bees on a diet of honey. His son Aristaeus is credited with discovering the art of beekeeping.
·In ancient China, bees were kept in hives made from baskets coated with mud or clay and hung from a stake driven into the side of a house.
·Chinese beekeepers covered the inside of large straw hats with honey and used them to capture swarms of honeybees.
·Up until the 1700s, English beekeepers harvested honey by destroying the hive and killing the bees inside.
·There are around 212,000 beekeepers in the United States. The vast majority – roughly 200,000 – are small-scale hobbyists.
·The honeybee is the official insect of Maine.
·In parts of Africa, beehives are placed around fields to keep elephants from eating crops – the noise of the bees disturbs the elephants and keeps them at a distance.
·In London, urban beekeeping is now so popular that bees outnumber human residents by around 30-1, at least during the summer months.
·In the US, the top honey-producing states are North Dakota, California, and Montana. North Dakota alone produces almost 40,000 tonnes of honey each year.
·Honey and beekeeping are extremely popular in Slovenia, and one out of every 200 people keeps bees. The country was also one of the first to ban neonicotinoids in farming to protect bees.
·The Yiaku tribe, living in the forests of Kenya, keeps bees in hives made of hollow logs attached to living trees.
·Although the honeybee is by far the most commonly kept species of bee, people in Australia, parts of South America, and some countries in Africa keep various species of stingless bee for honey-making purposes. These bees tend to make only small volumes of honey.
·New Zealand has 28 species of native bee. Three types live in social groups, similar to the honey bee, and the rest are solitary. None make honey that is suitable for humans.
·Manuka honey, made using nectar from native manuka trees, is unique to New Zealand and exported all over the world. High in antimicrobial and antibacterial compounds, it’s used for medicinal purposes and prized for its health benefits.