Is beekeeping still for you?

IS BEEKEEPING STILL FOR YOU?

Rotorua Honey Bee Club


On your beekeeping journey, it’s important to assess at different stages whether this is still the hobby or business for you.  The Rotorua Honey Bee Club outlines some important questions to ask, when considering your beekeeping future.


How did your journey into beekeeping begin?  Were you initially attracted by watching them go about their business, or by the prospect of improved pollination in your garden?   Or were you prompted to get a hive after hearing from the many news articles that the bees were dying out and in need of saving.


For some beekeepers that attraction is long lived, for others it is a passing phase – a moment in time.  Sometimes it is good to reflect on why or how we were introduced to the bees.  Was it the romantic ideal of looking after bees?  Was it the feel-good factor of helping the bees?  Was it because you had space for them on your property or someone gave you a hive?  Was it you fancied some free honey or because you believed that honey was a profitable business to get involved with?


The reality is that both hobbyists and commercials face challenges from beekeeping.  It requires time commitment, vigilant pest management and ongoing maintenance and care of bees to prevent unnecessary deaths and swarming.  It can also be an expensive hobby and/or business.  A critical question to ask is: “Do I still enjoy it?”


You are not alone with some of the challenges you have faced or are facing.  


Sometimes just like any undertaking (hobby or business) we have to make a decision on whether something is long term or just a challenge to learn about and then move on to something else. 


It is important to reflect on what you, as a ‘keeper of bees’ need to do as a minimum, and to honestly ask yourself: “Am I still committed to continuing to do all these things?”


    1. Register as a beekeeper and display your beekeeper registration number.  Keep beehives on a registered apiary (a site where you keep the bee hives).  There is no compromise on this – it is the law.  If you have trouble keeping to the law then beekeeping is not for you!
  • Check or have your bees checked for American Foulbrood – AFB.  You can either educate yourself on this by attending the AFB recognition and training course, passing the test and making application for a DECA or you can pay for someone who is qualified to check your hive every year to complete the Certificate of Inspection form to meet the requirements of the law.  The cost for this service will include driving back and forth and inspection time. You must also complete the Annual Disease Return and if AFB is found, notify the AFB PMA and destroy the bees, beehive and contents within 7 days.

  • All beekeepers have a responsibility to educate themselves on the clinical signs and symptoms of this disease.  See the informative web site www.afb.org.  It is good practice to be looking for AFB every time you work your hive and a minimum of twice a year.


  • Check your beehive(s) for food at critical times of the year.  Bees need a good nutritious diet which they can source from their surrounding unless the weather impacts their flying days, they haven’t been positioned in an ideal bee forage area or there is overcrowding in the area by multiple beekeepers and beehives which then reduces the bees’ forage opportunities.  In these situations, you must provide sugar and or pollen substitutes/supplements until they can begin to access adequate stores.

  • Check for and keep in control pests of the beehive, specifically varroa mite.  What you do or don’t do impacts on the surrounding bees and their beekeepers in the area.  You must assess for varroa mite using a monitoring technique such as the sugar shake or alcohol wash.  You must treat for varroa mite with an approved treatment and reassess for varroa mite to make sure the treatment is working.  Importantly, you must recognise that treatment free beekeeping can only begin if your hive shows no varroa in the regular monitoring program.  If your hives get varroa they will die.  If you do not treat, you have created a source of varroa infestation for all the hives in your area as the drones move from one hive to another.

  • Be aware that chemical applications in New Zealand on the whole are required to be registered for use.  They also have a label that is required to show the correct way to store and use the product.  Overseas chemicals bought into New Zealand must adhere to New Zealand conditions.  If you are buying direct from an overseas supplier via the internet, then this will not meet the required conditions in New Zealand.  This will/may result in the products of the hives including honey being exposed to illegal chemicals.

    1. Upskill by either having a beekeeper mentor, joining a beekeeping club, group or association, or reading beekeeping books and magazines.  Internet research needs to come with a warning “have good knowledge to understand that what you are watching has some good science behind it, or a proven record in industry rather than just another theory or idea”.  If it sounds too good to be true than it probably is!  Be aware that New Zealand has different requirements than other countries and not all countries have the same pests and diseases.

    1. Produce safe food – to barter, sell, trade or exchange.  You must comply with all food safety regulations including the tutin levels in honey to avoid poisoning anyone with tutin toxic honey which is a neurotoxin. 

    If the above is all a challenge for you then it is time to reassess why you have bees.

    To make it even clearer, if you cannot look after your bees, have trouble burning diseased hives and/or simply don’t know why your bees die out every year then beekeeping is not for you!


    What can you do with your hives if you decide to not continue?


    The first and most important step is to assess, or have your hive assessed, for AFB.  You cannot barter, sell, trade or exchange hives that have AFB.  If there is no AFB then the hive can be sold on the open market, whether you choose to list on the internet or through other means.


    If it all gets too much please don’t just let your bees die!  This is how disease spreads and is not fair treatment of your bees.   You could always look at the option of gifting the hive to an existing registered beekeeper, a school with hives or a beekeeping club.  


    Once your hive leaves your possession, then you will need to notify the American Foulbrood Pest Management Agency who you have given or sold the hive to.  If it has just died, and you are not intending to replace then you must still notify them so they can update your records.  If you don’t, you will continue to receive an invoice for your annual levy.  

    Alternatively, you can update your details on Apiweb which is soon to be replaced by the National Bee Health system.  Go to www.afb.org.nz for more information.


    Also, please do not leave empty hive ware in a location that bees may find and access it.  

    Instead burn or dispose of your used hive ware.



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