The past few years as a Colonies Reporter, from time to time a query comes from a reader. I was pleasantly surprised last month to receive an e-mail from Wellington hobbyist, Donnah, questioning my comment in the April journal, in which I predicted an increase in wind- pollinated crops in my area, and how was this relevant to honey bees.
Wind-pollinated plants have very poor-quality pollen. This pollen is dry and brittle and designed to be windborne. Barley, wheat, oats, maize, cone-bearing trees, and most grasses come in this category, although some wind-pollinated plants do attract honey bees because the pollen is very sticky; e.g., maize, oak.
I note the ApiNZ Science and Research Focus Group concerns regarding the bee ‘dead zones’ associated with intensive cropping (especially maize cropping) around Gisborne, in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and Waikato (see https://apinz.org.nz/wp-content/ uploads/2019/01/Call-for-information-on-clothianidin-imidacloprid- and-thiamethoxam-ApiNZ.pdf ). Maize is another crop that is certainly on the rise in Mid Canterbury, and we certainly don’t want to witness this phenomenon.
Pinus radiata pollen is totally useless for bees, and if a grain were to show up on honey analysis, my assumption would be that this was windblown in the hive entrance, although the honey bee will gather propolis from Pinus radiata. Unfortunately, it looks like in many parts of the country, we are going to see good farm land turned into forestry—more monoculture. In the Mackenzie Basin during early spring, I have seen honey bees absolutely smother the cone-bearing flowers of macrocarpa, and this is probably because that time of the year in that area there is no other bee forage available. Macrocarpa is also a source of propolis forage.
So, if you are trying to run an apiary in Mid Canterbury surrounded by dairy and grains or peas and pine trees, you are most likely to have a pollen deficit, never mind not much nectar sources available, and a weak colony. In Canterbury, the plains are very flat, and on dairy farms paddock trees and shelterbelts get ripped out so the irrigators can travel up fields. Irrigators are used intensely, and all the growth of clover and dandelion goes into the roots and leaves, with next to no flowers (i.e., basically a large green desert for bees).
The same scenario happens in non-dairying, if clover is grown as a crop or if it underruns pasture, and constant rain is present. If you travel to Rotorua/Waitomo (as I did one conference), the dairying is on hilly country (not suitable for the massive irrigators we have here in Canterbury), interspersed with native bush, and on the hilly roadsides there is lots of barberry, heather, gorse and broom, to name a few floral sources.
And yes, I feel very sorry for the large cattle beasts in sweltering Mid Canterbury heat without shelter. Nor is there shelter for beehives, let alone shelter for flying honey bees.
The last two summers and early autumn have been incredibly dry and hot in Mid Canterbury, and high temperatures are conducive to high grain yield. So, no doubt with climate change, we will see more grains grown in this area.
... And now the Mid Canterbury report: On current hive inspections there appears to be very little robbing, bees are happy and queens have not yet shut down. Hives are a bit lean and really need feeding. Local beekeepers have their beady eyes out for AFB, and we live in hope that this exhibition lessens. The weather up until now has been very mild: 23°C on 28 April, followed by a high of 8°C on 29 April with the home fires burning. Looking forward to reading the report in the July journal about the Beekeepers’ Day Out, Sunday 12 May at Lincoln University.
- Maggie James, Canterbury Hub Committee