- Chris Northcott
Auckland Flooding Soaks Hives and Club HQ
CLUB CATCH UP BROUGHT TO YOU BY HIVE WORLD NZ
Auckland Beekeeping Club President Steve Leslie took a break from attending hives on a rare cloudless morning to talk to Chris Northcott about how their club and members’ hives were caught up in the recent, January 27, Auckland floods and where to from here.
Even before cyclone Gabrielle, the severe rainfall and subsequent flooding and landslips over Auckland Anniversary weekend caused damage without precedent to many homes and businesses across the region, as well as the loss of several lives. Auckland apiarists were not without losses too. At the end of an unusually wet summer with modest honey harvests the rising water levels topped off a poor season with colonies either drowned or washed away. Club president Steve Leslie reported that most members, being hobbyist with only one or two garden hives, had variable experiences. The worst was one member on the outskirts of Auckland who lost her fourteen hives when the nearby stream rose by over two meters, burst its banks, and swept them away.
The club apiary in Central Auckland also suffered losses. Readers of Apiarist's Advocate may remember that the club was recently forced to relocate from their apiary site at the Mt Albert Unitech campus. A new location was found nearby in Sandringham at an old bowling green in Gribblehurst Park. In its central location surrounded by trees, it was an ideal spot – so it would seem. Leslie explains that the whole area was once a floodplain. The street address is in fact on “Cabbage Tree Swamp Drive”, which says something about the geography of the area before it was developed many decades ago.
In the past flooding on the club grounds had only ever been an inch or so in depth. On the Friday night of the January 27 flooding, the water level rose to around waist deep. As reported by a club member who lives locally, the water was only around two inches deep when he left an event at the next door building at 9pm. However, when he returned at 11pm to check on the apiary it was apparent that their hives would not likely survive the extraordinary rainfall. The water would not recede until the following day.
Six hives had been present at the club grounds, all placed on stands raising them 30 centimeters above the ground level. Some had been knocked over by picnic tables that had floated across on the floodwaters from the nearby community hub building. Of the two hive stacks that had been left standing, many of the workers had moved up into the supers, but the queens and drones were trapped beneath the queen excluders and subsequently drowned. The capped brood in the lower boxes were likewise drowned, while the younger and uncapped brood were washed away. An additional colony in a bench hive managed to survive by having most of the bees cram into the roof space.
The following day, members and even some helpful neighbours gathered to clean up the mess around the apiary. Hiveware was reassembled, dead bees were cleared from waterlogged hives, live bees were transferred to bolster weaker colonies, and plans were made for replacing drowned queens and for nucs to restart hives. The onsite shipping container and its stored contents were dried out – fortunately most of their stored gear fared well due to excellent shelving that was in place.
The club extraction day that had been set for February 11 unsurprisingly did not go ahead. Honey, being highly water absorbent took in a lot of floodwater and so whatever honey wasn’t washed away would have been contaminated by whatever pollutants were present. In any case, the surviving bees would need what little honey was left. In place of the planned extraction day, members checked the hives – two weeks since the cleanup and recovery – and discussed what needed to be done to recover a drowned hive.
Club members were given the following advice for any flooded hives: take out every frame and shake out all the water, don’t expect capped brood to have survived, and don’t try to keep any honey for extraction – leave it for the colony. A well-strapped hive with enough boxes should be able to save most of the bees (unless of course it is knocked over).
When asked what their plans were going forward, Leslie conceded that “it’s a difficult one”. All the hives were already raised a foot above ground level. This was flooding at a scale not seen before – like everyone else, the club wonders if this was a one off, or whether it will be repeated. The Auckland Beekeepers Club is not keen to move again – their recent shift cost a lot of effort and expense. The plan, for now, is to wait and see whether the current location remains viable for them. Having higher and flood-proof stands is a possibility, but these make working on the hives increasingly difficult when they are six or seven stacked boxes tall!
“We are still thinking our way through this one”, Leslie concluded.
Ahead of cyclone Gabrielle (still several days away at the time of the interview), Leslie was unsure how the incoming storm would affect the surviving hives. The picnic tables which had floated across from nearby and knocked over hives were temporarily commandeered for new hive stands and strapped down to keep them in place in any high winds. No doubt this will prevent the tables from floating away in any further flooding! (Leslie later reported that the hives came through the cyclone unscathed).
In the June edition of Apiarist’s Advocate, Leslie had reported that the move to the new club site had been “so far so good”. Eight months on, keeping hives at the new location has proven unexpectedly disastrous. Like many other homes and businesses around Auckland (and beyond, given Cyclone Gabrielle’s impact) the Auckland Beekeeper’s Club has to decide whether to move or to adapt to any potential future flooding.