Herb News


Gardening Articles for week ending  14th October 2006
Written by Wally Richards.

Recently a reader from Marlborough emailed me about the lack of honey bees in his garden and more particularly on his fruit trees. Here is the readers email: ?Hello Wally,
Here in Marlborough (and Nelson) a government funded programme is in force to eradicate the viroa mite from beehives. I gather feral hives have been killed off. This probably explains why we have no bees whatsoever in our garden now. They are normally here in droves at this time on all the blossoms. What becomes of our raspberries, apples, kiwifruit, strawberries et al when there are no bees to transfer pollen for fruiting ? Can we do it manually by using air pumps ? Will nature take care of itself anyway, doing the job using wind ? Be very interested in your answer. Everyone will be interested to know the answer to no bees. Many thanks in anticipation.?
      The Varroa (Correct spelling) mite has certainly caused major concerns to both bee keepers and gardeners since it appeared in New Zealand and was first found in April 2000. By April 2002 was widely spread through the upper North Island. By 2003 the mites had reached the Manawatu and I lost a bee hive myself about that time. From then onwards, I have treated my couple of hives; spring and autumn to control the mite. Earlier this year the mite was found in the upper South Island.
     Knowing bees as I do, it is very likely that the spread will continue south and every district will be affected in New Zealand.
The unanswered question in all this was how did it originally get into New Zealand?
Australia and the Pacific Islands are free of the mite.
There would have been a chance of containing the mite spread when first discovered in Northland back in 2002. Lack of action at that time allowed the Varroa to spread.
     The Asiatic bee mite (Varroa jacobsoni) was discovered in Florida (USA) 1987 and from there spread through out both America and Canada indicating that it is a hard pest to stop spreading once it gets a foot hold.
Once the mite got to the Wellington region it was only a matter of time before it jumped across the Cook Strait.
      Infected bees could easily be blown across, fly across, or jump a ride on any transport heading over the strait. Bees are held to their colony by the pheromone of the queen bee. But this is limited; when a colony swarm?s, part of the colony follows the old queen bee leaving the colony and part stays to attend to the new queen that hatches out and takes control of the colony. Likewise when worker bees are out foraging they can be attracted to other colonies, domestic or feral. This spreads the mites progressively till every colony is infected and dies. Our honey bees which are originally from Europe, have no natural resistance to the Asian Varroa mite and without man?s intervention all honey bees would succumb to the mite overtime, then the mites would be no more, having lost their hosts. Two possibilities could happen, one is that some honey bees could become mite resistant or if all honey bees ceased to be then the mite may find an alternative host. Both of these are possibilities in Nature.
Even without the advent of the Varroa mite larger city?s gardens were doomed to be without the honey bee for one simple reason; lack of people keeping bees in the city as a hobby.
Once there were many hobby bee keepers that would have a couple of hives on their section for both pollination and a source of free honey.
Surplus honey would be given or sold to friends and neighbours. All went well but our old bee keepers do not live forever and at sometime they would give up their hobby. Some younger people have taken up the cause but another handicap was put into place by the NZFSA as any honey sold has to be processed in a health approved packaging house with twice yearly inspections costing the hobbyist?s  $50.00 a hour for the Inspectors time.
     The costs to the big Apiarist firms are just added to the price you pay for the honey and in fact they encourage the regulations as it wipes out competition from small apiaries who cannot afford the overheads! Gone are the days of really free enterprise.
Even so I still recommend that gardeners that are keen should take up bee keeping as a hobby and gain both pollination and free honey. Just don't get caught selling it. There are bee keepers clubs for hobbyists which one should join to learn the ins and outs of the practise. Another alternative is if you can find a smaller apiarist company that will set one or two hives up in your section and allow them to service the hives for the charge of a few jars of honey each year, go for it. Trouble is that there is likely to be few apiarists willing to do so.
Every year about November /December a hive of bees will swarm unless it is controlled, to prevent it happening by killing off the new queen cells. The bees that leave the hive with the old queen will settle nearby on a branch of a tree or similar and send out bees to find a new suitable home.
These swarms which once were common at those times of the year are seldom seen in built up areas these days. The swarms, if not caught by a bee keeper become feral bees living in a hollow tree, the side of a building or similar. With the Varroa mite they are likely to die within a year or two.
This brings us back to the problem of pollination in the home garden.
Honey bees were not in New Zealand prior to their introduction in 1839 yet all our native plants were pollinated prior to this by our own native bees, wasps and other native insects. In fact the honey bee is not such a great pollinator as many people think. Because of this four types of bumble bees from England were released in New Zealand back in 1885 and 1906 to pollinate red clover. Bumble bees do more pollination in the home garden than honey bees do. The problem is that bumble bees establish their colonies a little later in the season and can miss the earlier spring pollination time.
This then brings us back to dependence on the native bees, wasps and other insects seeking the nectar of the fruiting flowers. Those gardeners that consistently spray chemical insecticides to control pest insects on their roses and other plants also kill these secondary pollinators and end up with few fruit on their trees. Once again a good reason to use only products like Key Pyrethrum, Neem Tree Oil and Neem Tree Granules for pest insect control which should only be applied just on dusk. (This is the best time as pollination has finished for the day)
      Last spring when my special kiwifruit vine, ?Cocktail Kiwi? came into flower I noticed an absence of bees working the flowers. My two hives were on the other side of the house and the bees were off foraging elsewhere. I felt like catching a couple and rubbing their noses in the flowers so they could go back and tell their mates where the vine was. I opted for a simpler, no sting method, and dissolved some honey in hot water and sprayed that over the vine. A little later I checked the vine to see the results and found no honey bees but a few bumble bees and a few native bees/wasps doing the job.
Maybe gardeners can use this same approach to advantage. Mix honey, about a tablespoon into 1 litre of hot water and spray over the fruiting plants. Honey will attract a number of insects and that should help with pollination. Actually ants can be a help in the pollination also as any movement inside the flower can distribute pollen.
      Sunny mild days with a little breeze can move pollen. Still sunny days and shaking the branches can move pollen.
I have been told that a tuning fork, struck and moved near flowers on a sunny day causes sufficient vibration to move pollen.
Maybe we don't need the honey bees after all but having a bee hive not too far away may increase the number of fruit set on your fruiting plants. If you are interested in obtaining a hive and further information look up Bee Keeping Supplies in the Yellow Pages.


     It is now 23 years since I wrote my first weekly gardening article back in 1983. Back then it was pen to paper, long hand with numerous re-writes before the editor received the copy. Once computers started to become available, I spent $15,000 on a Armstrad IBM compatible computer and a HP scanner/printer. This made life easier in some ways but a learning curve to ensure that the PC worked correctly.
     Later on when the very popular garden writer, Nick Scott retired, I took over his syndicated column of newspapers which meant weekly publication in several papers, nation wide. 
During the following years more papers were added to the list and in some areas of the country I was replaced with local writers. Now days I am published in up to 30 odd papers either regularly or occasionally each week. Regular publications have brought a following of gardeners who prefer my more natural methods of gardening. Many gardeners over the last few years have asked if I had written a book.
The answer had always been no.
So this last winter having reached 60 years of age, I decided it was time, and that there would be a book by spring 2006. Once committed it was many winter days and nights with the heater and the computer, typing out information from years of experience.
    I could have just taken the past article files off the computer and put them together in a reasonable order and  published. Instead I felt that many would have these articles in scrap books already so much of the book was written fresh, devoting much more material to main areas of gardening such as Roses, Lawns, Tomatoes, Weeds, Vegetables etc. than could be placed in a 1000 word article.
The book has resulted in 340 pages of information, A5 size with soft cover. There are very few diagrams or pictures, just information.
The book is divided into 5 sections which include some past articles brought up to date plus information on natural products, soil health, plant health and our own health.
Not finding a publishing house that was interested in a first book from myself, it was decided to print and distribute the book as well as write it.
Thus Wally’s Down To Earth Gardening Guide is now available from some garden centres or by mail order from 0800 466464 or on the web at www.gardenews.co.nz
Some book shops may stock the book later on as well, but in the meantime if you are interested ask at your garden centre and if not available, use the above contact details.
A book review is likely soon from the Gardening Editor or Editor of a number of the papers that publish my articles each week. The book’s recommended retail is $27.95.
I have endeavored to make the book a good read as well as supplying lots of helpful advice.

Problems ring me at 0800 466 464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
wallyjr@gardenews.co.nz Email
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz

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