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  • Writer's pictureMaggie James

Rotorua Honey Bee Club: “Every Club Needs It’s Members, but a Club Without Volunteers is Nothing”

This month, Maggie James chats with the Rotorua Honey Bee Club (RHBC), which has a major emphasis on mentoring, all aspects of bee education, a swarm hotline, and a well organised system to supply honey bee colonies to new members at minimal cost. The hardworking innovative committee keen on community involvement is supported with input from well-known beekeepers.

By Maggie James

“Every club needs it’s members, but a club without volunteers is nothing,” RHBC chair Pauline Spear says.

Established in 2011, and averaging 125 members a year – many of whom make a two-hour round-trip to meetings – the Rotorua based group has a solid foundation of both members and volunteers.

The Rotorua Honey Bee Club nuc box used for display and advertising purposes.

The apiary site, leased off the Rotorua Lakes Council is located at Ngongotaha, holding two hives. These hives are purely for teaching purposes – spring buildup, swarm control, queen production and wintering down. Therefore, honey production is minimal. The apiary is surrounded by many lifestyle blocks, and consequently good relations with neighbours is paramount. Other meetings and workshops are held in the Ngongotaha Hall.

Swarm Collection

In spring swarm collection plays a big part of club activities, and they have developed an inventive method for capturing swarmed colonies.

“We are a high swarm area, and we have a Club swarm line. The Lakes District Council and InfraCore (the local reserves and parks maintenance group), regularly notify our hotline,” Spear explains.

The club hosts a swarm bin workshop where members get to build and keep their swarm bins, in exchange for koha.

The bins are two 20L plastic buckets joined together with a cut out wooden ring. The bucket bases are cut out leaving a rim, then a piece of mesh. A propolis mat works well. The wooden ring is placed between both buckets and screwed to hold in place.

The top bucket has a solid bucket lid. The bottom bucket lid is cut out and replaced with a removable mesh lid, again with a second wood ring screwed on to hold it in place. The mesh divider and mesh bottom provide adequate ventilation for a swarm. To avoid overheating with the volume of bees, the bin must not be left in sunlight with bees in, or whilst waiting for the remainder to go in. This concept is ideal for smaller catches. 

When the swarm is captured in the top compartment, the complete plastic bin is placed, and the unit gently laid on its side. This holds the queen pheromone within the top bucket, with any remaining swarm marching into the open-end bottom bucket. 

The Club’s swarm-bucket design technique in operation. If a new Club member at Rotorua Honey Bee Club is supplied a swarm, they are mentored for at least nine to 12 months by an existing Club member.

This method also gives a very good idea as to whether the queen is captured in the top bucket, as the bees will be fanning in the open end. Once the colony is all in, the mesh lid can go on the bottom bucket. Then keeping the bin level, the swarm is transported to its new site and rehoused as soon as possible. 

 Whenever feasible, the new member to receive the swarm accompanies the senior club member in capture of their swarm.

When the swarm is housed at its new site, an immediate treatment of Bayvarol is installed. The colony has a health and food store check a week later. A committee member then mentors the new beekeeper for the first nine to 12 months.

The new beekeeper must immediately register themselves on the apiary register. A prerequisite for swarm receipt is a newly built hive on hand, with frames of mainly undrawn foundation.

In 2021 the Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) swarm video competition was won by RHBC, and can be viewed on the ApiNZ website.

Honey Competition

Annually in May, the RHBC honey competition takes place. Main honey varietals are urban multifloral and, further out, some members produce their own bush blend. Due to being in a high tutin area, entry perquisite for honey harvested after 31 December is a tutin test.

This competition is judged by club member Fiona O’Brien. Fiona and husband Jeremy have been commercial beekeepers 30 and 45 years respectively; based in the Northern King Country.

Fiona was on the NBA executive briefly, served a few years as editor of The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal, plus a long stint on the Bee Products Standards Council. The couple have previously undertaken AP2 inspecting for the AFB PMP and are active members of the Southern North Island Beekeeping Group.

 “We love being involved with a great bunch of people at the RHBC. They are a very progressive group. We tag along, so to speak,” Fiona O’Brien remarks.

The Rotorua club’s apiary site in Ngongotaha is used for teaching purposes, with some club members making a two hour round trip to attend meetings.

Winners in the Club honey competition are encouraged to enter the National Honey Competition, and on a number of occasions individual members have been successful in winning various categories. Twice RHBC have scooped the Club Honey category.

 “I have enjoyed achieving lots of awards in the New Zealand National Honey Competition over the years, due in most part to the amazing foraging opportunities of my bees. The human had to do a fair bit too!” RHBC member Kim Poynter says.

“I started as a hobbyist, becoming semi-commercial for a few years and have now returned to being a hobbyist and passing the mantle to others to continue the good work of educating and supporting members of the Rotorua Honey Bee Club.”

Poynter was a founding member of RHBC. A member of the Waikato Branch of the National Beekeepers Association (NBA), and in 2014 was seconded onto the NBA Interim Working Group looking at options for unification of the industry. Following this she was a member of the interim ApiNZ board.

At the same time Poynter was appointed to the AFB PMP board, representing non-commercial beekeepers, for five years. The thoroughly busy Poynter was also on the initial ApiNZ conference organising committee for four years.

Getting Out There

The RHBC routinely volunteers at ApiNZ, Rotorua based, conferences – dealing with ticket entries, assisting the honey judges, plus receiving postal and couriered honey entries.

Rotorua Honey Bee Club chair Pauline Spear makes a visit to a local school to educate kids about beekeeping. “The more you are out there, the easier it is for people to approach you with queries or joining the Club.”

Other RHBC community involvement includes talks in schools and working in closely with the L3 apiculture course. Senior club members visit Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, Rotorua branch, speaking with students at the beginning and the end of the course. Educational stands are manned at both the local Palmers Garden Centre during Bee Awareness Month and at the biennial Rotorua Festival of Gardens.

“The more you are out there, the easier it is for people to approach you with queries or joining the club,” Spear says.

“In the North Island, Rotorua is located centrally. Some of our members are from Taupo, Tauranga and Bay of Plenty; making a two hour round trip to meetings. Because of this distance some miss our monthly meeting, and to help cater for this the details of every meeting are included in our monthly electronic newsletter.”

A broad range of club activities can be viewed on the Club Photo tab of the club website, and the RHBC Facebook page.

Alert to AFB

“We have a good relationship with our local AP1, Dwayne Hill. He recently gave a good talk, specifically for our club, and members were reluctant to let him go,” Spear says.

Recently the club were notified of AFB within 2km of the club site and immediately sent an email to all members, encouraging increased vigilance with hive checks. All new members are encouraged to obtain their DECA within the first 1-3 years.

Annually in spring the club runs an “Introduction to Beekeeping” course, consisting of two theory days, followed by a practical session in the hives. Approximately 18 participants are tutored by long term senior Club members.

“We are very big on promoting local support of the club, and an education to get members to do the correct and safe beekeeping procedures,” Spear says.

As with several beekeeping clubs interviewed by this writer, it is refreshing to see not only hobbyist members, but those from different political persuasions in the beekeeping sector combing their skills at grass roots level, ensuring not only succession plans in their club, but innovative and progressive management, with a passion for beekeeping.

Any enquiries regarding this article can be directed to Sharron Pope, Secretary


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