"How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour
And gather honey all the day
from every opening flower!"
- Isaac Watts, Divine Songs for Children (1720)

Some of our beeswax
Buzzy Bee, the cute wooden representation of the honey bee, who clicked and clacked his way behind many New Zealand youngsters through the 50s and 60s is back again with a vengeance.

Buzzy Bees are turning up everywhere, featuring in literature, product promotions and pictured in the hands of Michael Jackson, Charles and Diana and their chiuldren and the Chinese. Even the Australians are now enjoying the little fella who's become synonymous with Kiwi culture over the past four decades.

The Ramsey brothers came up with a colourful yellow and red wooden toy which started the fashion back in the 1940s. Today the Buzzy Bee Toy Company in Warkworth owns the licensing rights, and likes to see its product promoted through widespread use of the image. But owner, Keith Lawson is cautious about how Buzzy Bee is used. He oughtn't be associated with "any hanky panky" he's said on occasion, even refusing  to allow one women's magazine publishing rights because of other content in that issue. "Buzzy Bee represents our clean green image," and for the purposes of Buzz Words - rhythm 'n verse with Kiwi attitude - there couldn't have been a more appropriate icon. We believe Buzzy Bee represents Kiwi entrepreneurialism and creativity.

It's estimated honey bees have bought several billion dollars to the bottom line of our agricultural economy through their efforts to pollinate, and provide exports industries with bee by-products. Honey bees only live to six weeks but during that time fly up to 800km never sleeping the entire time. For what? To create the equivalent of half a teaspoon of honey. The first hive of honey bees was imported into New Zealand from England to Hokianga in 1839, with others introduced in 1840 and 1842. In 1879 Italian bees were imported from the United States. Now New Zealand exports hives of bees, and queen bees, as a healthy export industry. In fact New Zealand has one of the healthiest, most disease free honey bees in the world. We even export bee semen.

Honey is widely valued for its food value in New Zealand. White clover is an important source of honey which has a light colour and mild flavour. Honey from Manuka is the most expensive at $9000 a tonne. Honey from Rata, Rewarewa, pohutukawa is sought after but a lot cheaper .Honey by-products such as bees wax, pollen, health products such as vitamins and skin moisturisers are also sought after internationally. New Zealand exports thousands of tonnes of honey annually.

Bee keepers provide hives for orchardists, croppers and market gardeners.There's also a strong market in queen bees, largely because our bee species are acclaimed as the healthiest on the planet. Bumble bees are increasingly sought after to help pollinate kiwifruit and other cash crops..

Bees are considered to be among the most intelligent insects. They tell each other where to find the best flowers by doing a little dance, they navigate using the position of the sun - or on cloudy days use polarised light waves. They have a highly efficient division of labour, food gathering, storage and child rearing. They live in complex, socially structured colonies with 10s of thousands of workers, and hundreds of male drones. The drones main role is to fertilise virgin queen bees. The queen's role is to lay up to 2000 eggs a day during the summer season. The drones develop from unfertilised eggs and the workers from fertile eggs. The workers build the wax cells in the hive where the larvae are reared. They also collect pollen and nectar, attend to the basic chores of the hive and defend it.

The queen may leave the hive during spring or summer and set up a new hive with the workers who follow her. The result is a swarm. The queen will be replaced in the old hive by a young queen who may then destroy the other potential queens while they're still in the pupae stage.

Bumble bees were first introduced in 1873 from England but didn't become established. The first successful importation was to Christchurch in 1885 from where bumble bees gradually spread. Bumble bees are good at pollinating crops such as lucerne and red clover. There are four species of bumble bees here: Bombus hortorum, Bombus, Bombus ruderatus and Bombus terrestris which are widely spread and Bombus subterraneus which is confined to the South Island. All live in relative primitive colonies which break up ion winter with only the hibernating queens surviving the season. The bumble is easier natured than most honey bees and its sting is not left in the wound of a victim. - Various sources: Sunday Star Times, New Zealand Encyclopedia, The Internet etc

The Official Statement about Bees in New Zealand

As an integral part of the New Zealand agricultural industry, bees are an especially valuable resource. Providing honey and other by-products for export, New Zealand's almost 300,000 bee hives also pollinate the many other flowering plants upon which much of our rural sector depends, directly or indirectly. New Zealand beekeepers currently produce a total saleable crop of around 8,000 tonnes of honey each year. This is primarily from clover, although honey derived from native plants such as rewarewa, tawari and ling heather, is also produced.

In 1995, 5,409 bee keepers were members of the National Beekeepers Association, which is run entirely from a levy on every hive in New Zealand ($1.61 per hive in1995).

New Zealand enjoys many advantages as an environment for bee keeping. It is relatively free of bee pests, and the main species has no natural predators. There are no aggressive Africanised honey bees in New Zealand and the German wasp has no significant effect on bee populations.

While bee requirements and hive numbers have suffered a slight downturn in recent years - perhaps owing to a decrease in pastoral land use - the future looks bright for honey production.

In the next few years hive numbers, and hence production figures may increase as many recently planted apple trees come to maturity. This highlights the bond between bees and the pastoral industry - especially orchards and export crops. Export by-products of the bee industry include pollen, beeswax and package bees (package queen bees are sold to Canada and Korea) and contribute to total export earnings of approximately $35 million annually.

This summary was prepared with the assistance of the National Beekeepers Association.


Wordman's Home page // Buzz Words contents