urban beesWant extra harmony in your garden? Consider adding a beehive. 

That's a suggestion of Matthew Wells who, with his partner Catherine Gordon operates a "hives for hire" business in Picton, Blenheim and Nelson. There was only one protest when they started Urban Bees in 2009 – a letter to the editor questioning the wisdom of putting bees in private gardens.

"But bees have always been in gardens," Catherine laughs.

In the 21st century, though, the pollinating insects many plants depend on are becoming less common.

A public talk, Are Our Bees in Danger? was held in the Marlborough District Library on Tuesday, marking National Bee Week.

Catherine and Matthew were among the 70 to 80 people who attended and heard Blenheim commercial beekeeper Murray Bush outline the worldwide decline in honeybee populations.

Huge numbers of bee colonies have been wiped out in the United States and around Europe in a phenomenon labelled "colony collapse disorder".

No common cause has been identified but accusatory fingers are being pointed at pesticides, parasitic mites, monoculture crops and the stresses on bees when they are transported huge distances to far-away fields at pollination time.

Commercial beekeepers have had to adapt their practices to meet the demands of commercial growers, but less thought is given to urban gardeners.

People interested in hiring a hive from Urban Bees typically have "gorgeous" gardens. Those with fruit trees report increased crops once the bees arrive and neighbouring gardens benefit, too.

Each customer pays an annual fee to cover the costs of hiring the hive and having it routinely inspected for varroa mite and disease. Additional boxes are added during the summer production, then honey is removed, processed and distributed. Care continues during the winter months, ensuring the hives are kept healthy, varroa is controlled and the bees fed additional food.

Matthew's introduction to beekeeping came when he was a boy and his father built a couple of hives.

"I used to sit in the truck 'cause I didn't want to get stung!"

His interest was sparked, though, and after leaving school he did a beekeeping course in Rangiora, and worked for a beekeeper in Golden Bay and for a time in Hawaii.

He and Catherine now live in Picton where they have six hives and breed "gentle-natured" queen bees. They don't usually bother putting on full safety gear when they tend their own and customers' hives.

Ad Feedback "[Bees] are not interested in you, they are just doing their job. They bump into you, apologise, and then they're on their way again," Catherine says.

She and Matthew are both registered to ensure hives are free from American Foul Brood and to commercially distribute the honey they harvest.

Packaged "multi-flora" Urban Bees' honey is divided between their customers, with quantities reflecting the amount of honey their hive(s) produced. Most people can expect a 15-kilogram bucket of honey per hive.

An Urban Trees for Bees brochure can be found online at www.nba.org.nz.

Urban Bees New Zealand

Phone: 021 288 2606 or (03) 573 7600 | Email: info@urbanbees.co.nz

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Neil McLennan
Elaine Bay
French Pass Road
RD3, Rai Valley
Marlborough Sounds
Phone: 03-5765251
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