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Beekeeping History in New Zealand

The practice of beekeeping has been discussed for centuries worldwide, but today we’d like to share the rich history of beekeeping practices in New Zealand.

Early roots in the 19th Century

It all started with a British woman called Mary Bumby, the sister of a British Missionary who accompanied her brother John when he looked after the Mangungu Mission Station, in colonial days.  Then Isaac Hopkins, “the father of honey”, saw the importance of honey between the bees and the Māoris, and how it was used to trade other food, and so began the first commercial beekeeping trade.  Isaac then decided to bring honeybee hives and the traditional European beekeeping methods to New Zealand around the mid-19th

Originally New Zealand only had two species of bee, neither of which could produce honey.  The introduction of honeybees from Europe allowed them to become the dominating species in honey production and pollination of certain plants in New Zealand. This new method of pollination helped the indigenous plants, particularly white clover which is known to help with gout.

First World War

Many soldiers struggled to find a job they could hold down, after returning from the traumas of World War One. But beekeeping became a popular practice for a lot of returning soldiers, perhaps because of its solitude by functionary & repetitive practices and so the beekeeping industry in New Zealand expanded.  With the introduction of more motorised vehicles making a lot more of New Zealand’s beautiful interior more accessible, beekeeping and the products derived from its practices became more and more affordable.

By the end of the 1920s, there were nearly 100,000 hives in New Zealand. Due to the popularity of honey and the huge demand in the market, the number of hives rose to more than 150,000 within 30 years – quite an achievement for a small country of only 1.9 million people.

How many beehives are there in New Zealand now?

In 2019, it was estimated that there are approximately 925,000 registered hives, although recent figures in May 2022 from Apiculture New Zealand, says there are 760,751 registered beehives in the country, with 10,325 registered beekeepers.  These beekeepers produced 20,500 tonnes of honey in 2021 much of which was exported to other countries, worldwide. 

What types of honey are produced in New Zealand?

New Zealand is well known for its unique Manuka Honey packed full of antioxidants & antibacterial properties, but New Zealand also produces Clover, Kāmahi, Kānuka, Pōhutukawa, Rātā, Rewarewa, Tāwari, Honeydew and Thyme Honey.  Most of these plants are unique to New Zealand, and have natural properties that are widely known by the indigenous Maori population.  This rich mix of nectar and honey results in a wide range of specialist honey’s being exported. 

Where is honey farmed in New Zealand and when is it harvested?

Honey is produced in both the North and South Islands, mainly in forested areas or on small holdings or farms.  Most farms and beekeepers are more like cottage-industries and beekeeping practices, are passed down through generations of farmers & beekeepers.

Being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are different to the UK and our northern hemisphere seasons.  Spring and Summer in New Zealand start from mid-September and end mid-March.  Most honey is harvested towards the end of the summer, in February and March, to make sure the honey can be extracted from the hive without artificially heating the honey which destroys it.  It then takes between 2 – 4 months to process, filter, pack and test honey ready for sale.

For more detailed information on New Zealand’s Apiculture industry, why not read more on their ApiCulture Government website:  https://apinz.org.nz/

We hope you’ve found this blog interesting!  Wishing you continued good health 😊

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