Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pure Sunshine . .

Tall, beautiful sunflowers growing in the walled vegetable garden here at the Hamilton Gardens. The sunlight was shining through the leaves and petals, it is such a gorgeous sight.

A burst of sunshine - cheerful faces, always a hit with the children who come into the garden. We do loose the occasional bloom and veges, but it is not to bad really, considering the number of visitors.

The pollen looks like golden droplets, the petals like velvet - such perfection . .
Look at all those yummy seeds - we leave the flower heads on for as long as possible for the birds, but with this garden being part of the actual Gardens and a public place, it cannot look to untidy !! Many people visit every day - we sell the produce once a week for a very low price, it is popular with the students and older folk who make the trip down especially to buy seasonal veges.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Complete circle ..

Bumblebees originally shipped to New Zealand to help farmers produce better clover crops are soon to be re-exported to their native Britain, where the species has died out.
The short-haired bumblebee, (Bombus subterraneus) was one of four species exported from Britain to New Zealand between 1885 and 1906 to pollinate clover crops.
It was last seen in the UK in 1988, but populations have survived in New Zealand, though it is the rarest bumblebee in this country and found only at a few inland sites in the South Island.
In a recent survey of 1984 bumblebees in Canterbury and Otago, only 38 were from the short-haired species.
As many as 100 of the bees will initially be collected in New Zealand and a captive breeding plan has been created in England, with the aim of eventually releasing them at Dungeness, Kent, where they were last seen.
The bees, known scientifically as Bombus subterraneus, will be flown to the UK in cool boxes so they will hibernate during the journey, the BBC reported.
The re-population scheme's project officer, Nikki Gammans, said the bumblebee was a "keystone species" which was key to pollinating around 80 per cent of important crops in Britain.
"By creating the right habitat for these bumblebees, we are recreating wildflower habitat that has been lost, which will be good for butterflies, water voles and nesting birds."
Conservation group Natural England's acting chairman, Poul Christensen, said: "Bumblebees are suffering unprecedented international declines and drastic action is required to aid their recovery.
"Bumblebees play a key role in maintaining food supplies -- we rely on their ability to pollinate crops and we have to do all we can to provide suitable habitat and to sustain the diversity of bee species.
"This international rescue mission has two aims -- to restore habitat in England, thereby giving existing bees a boost; and to bring the short-haired bumblebee home where it can be protected."
Researchers at Canterbury University and Lincoln University have been developing a DNA test for the species as part of a project to better understand why its is not thriving.
New Zealand has 28 native and 13 introduced species of bee.
NZ Herald 2009
The short-haired bumble bee is a very fussy eater by all accounts, it must have fresh, high protein pollen collected every day ! The queen bumble bees are to be flown to Britain in plastic hair rollers (?) blocked at each end with corks, at 5C, at this temp the queen will go into hibernation.
This bumble bee was last seen in the UK in 1998 and declared extinct in 2000, 3 out of the UK`s 27 species have become extinct over the last 70 yrs and 6 more are on the endangered list. Loss of habitat is the main reason for the loss of this insect, along with the over-use of pesticides etc.
We seem to see alot of bumblebees around these days, it is the more common variety, Bombus terrestris, which is found through-out the country.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My dreams are getting closer ..

This morning I drove out to an organic dairy and beef farm situated in the beautiful Waitetuna Valley, half way to Raglan on the west coast. Max and Madeline, the owners had read the article about me and the bees in the local newspaper recently, and had emailed to ask if I would be interested in coming out to meet them as they are very interested in having hives on the farm. The valley is very picturesque, with farms that stretch high up into the steep hills on either side, a small river that runs down from the west side of Mt Pirongia the length of the valley and runs out into a finger of Raglan harbour.
M and M milk just over 100 cows, run wiltshire sheep ( these sheep don`t need shearing as they de-fleece naturally), and some cattle on their 600 acres of mainly steep hill sides and some river flats. The farm is certified organic with no sprays or artifical fertilisers used. The paddocks and stock all look very healthy with the stock being able to eat all the good herbs (weeds as some would call them) such as plantain, chikory, dock, and many others. Fresh, raw milk is sold at the dairy that is part of the milking shed, which is in high demand as all milk has to be pasturised in NZ, raw milk is only allowed to be sold at 5 litres per person a day and not advertised - the dairy board seems to think it is bad for people ??

There are a number of wetland areas that have been fenced off and planted back with native plants and trees like Swamp Cypress, Liquidambers and other exotics that provide duck food and autumn colour, plus all those root systems soak up any run-off from the land. Many birds are returning to the farm with a recent sighting of a pair of NZ falcon, really rare now as the introduced Australasian falcon has pushed them out of their natural habitat.
Anyway .... getting back to my dreams, Both M and M are very keen to have a number of hives, we will start with 2 TBH`s as they are really keen on the natural principles as I am - they will be my first customers !!!! ekkkk - I`m terrified, I am really going to do this, it feel so right, I know it will take a while to get things sorted, but the more I think about and talk about these ideas of consulting, putting hives on and caring for them for people, the more I feel in my being that it is the right way for me - I want to go TBH as much as possible so now I have to get cracking and get my friend to make some.

I have driven past this sign a thousand times over the years on my way to Raglan, today it was a sharpe left turn and into this pretty valley. The old settlers would have used part of the road or track, I think it was an old Maori walking track also, over the ranges down to the Waikato plains below.

This is the view from the top of the deviation looking back towards Mt Pirongia with the Waitetuna valley over the lower hills to the right. Mt Pirongia can be seen from most parts of the Waikato, it is a range of extinct volcanoes that once spread over the valley. I lived on the southern side of Pirongia as a teenager, after moving there from the King Country further south. It was isolated, we lived at the end of a metal road, right on the bushline - I would give anything to live there now, at that age all I wanted to do was go to town !!

This pretty little jenny (female donkey) watched me drink my coffee at the Herb Shop Cafe on the way back into Hamilton this afternoon. This great cafe is at Whatawhata, a small settlement on the Waipa river flats just after the city side of the deviation - nearly home. It is always a welcome stop, browse around all the wonderful herbs Linda sells and buy my free range eggs.
Well, that has been my day so far - I am on a high right now, with a million things going around in my head - best I relax with a nice glass of red and chill out !

Monday, January 11, 2010

Natural Comb . .

My swarm in the TopBar hive is amazing !!! In just 2 weeks they have built at least 4 combs that I can see, acouple of them just about down to the floor of the hive. I haven`t gone all the way into the first comb to check for eggs but it must be happening as there is quite alot of nectar and pollen stashed away. Isn`t it the most beautiful creation of nature ?
Like the other swarm, I haven`t had to wear a veil or use my smoker when I have opened the hive, I only take 2 or 3 bars out at a time and the bees just don`t seem to mind - there is no mad buzzing around. I am going to get another TB hive built for next year and I think it will be the way to go for me - so much easier on both the bees and moi !!

Looking into the hive as much as I can without taking out more bars - you can see 2 longer combs behind the smaller one in the front. The bees just carried on with their business

The chap who built the hive called in yesterday with his family, he will build another hive for me and is willing to build for other interested TB beeks. It was so cool to beable to show them what the bees were doing, his young children didn`t seem at all worried about the few bees that were flying around and eve his wife, who is very afraid of bee, came up for a closer look - go these gentle bees !!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bush Hives . .

These hives were quite a way off the road leading into the Awakino gorge on the main road from New Plymouth to Hamilton. It is steep bush land, not great soil but would have been covered in broadleaf podocarp forest when the first Europeans came here in the early 1800`s, with most of it logged, small patches of unreachable land left. There was only small scrubby manuka and some taller trees which I presume were totara and other native and exotic plants.

The hives are surrounded by an electric fence, probably to keep stock out. The hives are all painted soft pastal colours, very typical of NZ commercial hives dotted all over the countryside. I didn`t fancy walking across the paddock to get closer, there were some dodgey looking cattle wandering around.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Days Away in Taranaki..

Mt Taranaki, the iconic symbol of this region of the North Island, about 3 hours south of my home region, Waikato, can be seen from all most every corner of the region - a tall volcanic cone reaching up to the clouds set amongst very fertile dairy farming land and a stones throw away from the roaring Tasman ocean. She is usually covered in snow most of the year, has wonderful walking tracks, a world famous Rhodendron garden, Pukeiti, (google it) on her slopes and views to die for from the top.
I am staying with friends who live in the city of New Plymouth, the only city in the area, lots of small towns around. NP is sited on the west coast of the North Island, not as big as Hamilton ( my home), but older, with lots of character and one-way streets - which makes for interesting driving !! I really like it here, in fact, I could live here. The climate is cooler then home which really suits me as I hate the heat !
The light shining through this Strelitzia or Bird of Paradise makes the flower glow - I couldn`t resist this photo. With the soil being volcanic, everything grows here. Where I live it is pretty good also, but it does not get as humid here so there is less disease. The further south you go in NZ, the better plants like roses, rhodos, camellias and other cool climate plants grow . Ali`s hostas are magnificant, with hardly a blemish or snail bit on them - I feel so much more energised with the cool days.

Part of the port area in NP with the open ocean out beyond the man-made barrier of stone. It is a deep sea port with tankers coming in all the time. Oil has also been found off the coast and alot of people from here work on the rigs. It doesn`t look it, but the waves were 5 metres high that day, crashing up and over the barrier in the distance ! When the first settlers from Britain came here in around 1830`s there was no harbour and they had to basically surf in to the beach on small boats, the sailing ships having to anchor quite away out. The west coast of both NZ `s main islands is wild and woolly, so much more interesting then the east side - I prefer being here .

These seagulls were drinking from a fresh water stream that runs through the city and out into the ocean. There are many rivers and streams that run down off the mountain, through bush and farm land and out to sea. NP city has a number that they look after really well with planting of native plants, nothing nasty running into them, walkways along the edges and generally encourage people to use them - they all come out into the sea at some point.
The early town planners of NP had the great sense to leave pockets of native bush all through the city, hence there are lots of native birds here. Compared to home it is stunning, with Keraru, native pigeon, Tui, kingfisher, bellbirds and others all abundant and hanging out in backyards - I am very envious ..

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Exciting Year Ahead . .

Happy New Year all my blogger friends - I think 2010 is going to be an interesting year for this strange middle-aged lady.

Today my first blog entry was published on a NZ website called Happyzine, check out the link below. Charlotte, the editor, came across my bee blog and asked me to contribute to the site with fortnightly blog entries - wow, so many wonderful things have come from keeping bees, I really believe it is my mission to go down the road of educating people about the importance of these tiny insects in our lives, more importantly, to care for them, provide food and habitat and to stop destroying their natural world. Roll on more teaching and speaking to groups, my first year without any children at home to nuture, will be full of interesting and challenging adventures !!