9 Things you Might not Know about Beekeepers
We are very proud to be beekeepers and — as you’ve probably worked out by now — we go to great lengths to care for our bees. We have to admit though, our profession can seem a bit comical at times, and many people are not exactly sure what we do. There are quite a few myths relating to beekeepers. Our team decided it would be fun to make a list of some of the quirkier aspects of our job.
1. Bee suits are white for a very good reason
If you’ve ever wondered why beekeepers’ suits are always white, it’s not just because they are cooler in summer. The bees also react strongly to dark colours and are more likely to become defensive. This is because their natural predators tend to be darker in colour. Although white suits might show the dirt, it is preferable to being chased by bees!
2. Beekeeping is one of the oldest professions in the world.
Historical records show that beekeeping goes back at least as far as 1500 BC in Ancient Egypt. In Greek mythology, Apollo is credited as being the first beekeeper. Ancient cultures all around the world have had a special regard for bees.
3. Kiwis make fantastic beekeepers
Beekeeping continues to be a growing industry in New Zealand.
- In 2021 there were 9585 beekeepers.
- Edmund Hilary was a beekeeper by profession.
- A plucky woman named Mary Bumby was our first beekeeper. Mary insisted on bringing her bees when she immigrated to New Zealand from Britain in 1839.
- Our beekeepers are often sought after and easily find work in the Northern Hemisphere season when our beekeeping months are quieter.
4. Not all beekeepers sell honey
Some beekeepers don’t sell honey at all, they just provide a pollination service to farmers. This is how Murray’s father, Merv, started out.
With one-third of the human diet dependent on insect-pollinated plants, honeybee pollination is an important part of our ecosystems.
Over the years we’ve built close relationships with local orchardists in Nelson. At the beginning of every season, around October, some of our bees go on a working holiday to help pollinate fruit trees and berries.
5. Bees love coffee … but they hate bananas
Bees are attracted to the smell of coffee — it’s something they have in common with our small team of beekeepers. Our guys can sniff out a coffee shop from 50 kilometres away! Coffee stops are an essential part of our journeys out to visit the hives, and we’re all keen regulars at the local cafe.
When it comes to bananas, those are definitely out when you’re working near the bees. The whiff of bananas stirs up the hives because they smell a lot like the alarm pheromone given off by guard bees.
6. Beekeepers do get stung
Okay. We admit this one isn’t as fun as the others. Unfortunately, it’s true. If you’re a beekeeper, getting stung is an inevitable part of the job. Cold days are the worst, because that’s when the bees get most grumpy.
Thankfully, experienced beekeepers don’t get stung nearly as much. Almost through intuition, they can sense the bees’ mood before they get near the hive. It’s partly to do with ‘reading the humm’ — together with years of finely-tuned observations. Murray will often work with his hood down and his gloves off and Merv hardly ever bothered with a suit in his day. There’s something incredibly calm about the way Merv moved and how the bees reacted to him, it was almost as if he could ‘speak bee.’
7. Smoke doesn’t really make bees sleepy.
Many people think that smoke makes bees sleepy. It actually tricks them into eating honey, because they think the hive might be in danger from fire. The energy from the honey gives the bees energy in the event of having to find a new home.
But full tummies do make the bees relaxed — just like us humans. The smoke’s most important effect is to mask the alarm pheromones. Wendell got a bee stuck in his hair once and Murray had to “smoke” his hair to stop the bee getting aggressive.
8. Beekeepers don’t need to go to the gym.
Beekeeping is more physically demanding than going to the gym every day. It’s not just the long treks into the wilderness to check on hives. There’s lots of weight lifting too. A full honey box weighs up to 25 kilos, so care has to be taken when carrying and loading onto the truck when the terrain is rough.
Since we don’t use sprays, all of our weed clearing must be done by hand. If you want great abs, just try wielding a scrub cutter all day. And for buff arms? Spend a few hours scraping bee propolis off some frames — that stuff sets as hard as cement.
And the workout doesn’t stop when you get home either. The sticky resin is a nightmare to scrub off your suit, as well!
9. Beekeepers are strange, nocturnal creatures.
To avoid upsetting the bees, and to ensure they are all tucked up inside, hives must always be moved at night. That means beekeepers do quite a lot of creeping about in the dark, quietly moving their bees as if it’s some sort of secret mission.
Thankfully there is an upside to this nocturnal existence — we get to experience the best sunrises in the world. It’s just one of the little things that make our job so worthwhile.
When you think about it, beekeeping does have its comical side. But there are so many little things about working with bees that make every day a pleasure. We never get tired of these astonishing little creatures, nor the incredible places we get to work. True, we sometimes get funny looks in the cafe on the way home, and getting stung is never much fun. But those are a small price to pay for the privilege of working with bees. After all, it’s the little things that count.