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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Wellington’s Community Beekeeper


From long-time treasurer of the Wellington Beekeepers Association (WBA), to hives in some of our capital city’s most renown venues and even his own beekeeping equipment business, John Burnet’s enterprises have a truly local flavour and benefit not just fellow Wellington beekeepers, but the community at large.

John Burnet is looking forward to getting his spare rooms back … and the garage … and his weekends.

The recent sale of his small beekeeping equipment supply business, Capital Beekeeping Supplies, to Hive World NZ will – he hopes – free up some space in his life. For the past seven years Burnet has juggled the business with, initially, employment as a banker, his long-time role as treasurer of WBA, community conservation work and his semi-commercial beekeeping enterprise, Bee Fresh Farms.

John Burnet’s semi-commercial beekeeping business Bee Fresh Farms is well intertwined with the Wellington community, right down to local primary school students providing the artwork for these Botanical Gardens hives.

“What started as bulk ordering of varroa treatments and hiveware through my role as treasurer of the club became Capital Beekeeping Supplies. I began importing some honey extraction equipment and beesuits, and it got out of hand,” Burnet says.

Soon equipment was filling up not just the garage where his wife’s car once resided, but any spare rooms in the house.

“I was devoting a lot of time and effort, ‘16 hours a day, seven days a week’, was my philosophy. If beekeepers wanted to collect gear on the way home from work, or any reasonable hour of the day, or on the weekends, then I was there,” Burnet says.

Now some of that time will go to the continuing management of his 24 Bee Fresh Farms hives, spread across about a half-dozen locations around the capital, from Wellington’s Botanic Gardens, to the garden of Old St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, and soon an inner-city hotel will join the list.

The honey from these hives is sold through a range of local retail outlets and markets, such as the Botanical Gardens and Cathedral gift shops. Both locals and tourists alike lap it up, the beekeeper says.

“In the last two or three years we've realised people want to buy local. They want to support local beekeepers. They are not necessarily driven by flavour of the honey, but like buying honey that comes from an area that they're familiar with.”

Although there have been a few instances of minor vandalism to the hives in the Botanic Gardens, the local community are largely supportive of hives in the apiaries not far from the city’s downtown business and political hubs.

John Burnet: Wellington Beekeepers Association treasurer, semi-commercial beekeeper and mentor, and, until recently, a beekeeping equipment supplier.

“For the most part, I get nothing but compliments. People liked the idea of walking in the Botanic Gardens and seeing bees all around them and seeing the hives,” Burnet explains.

The staff in the gardens certainly see the value in having hives onsite.

“They wanted somebody there not so much for the honey, but more for the pollination and the education benefits. They wanted to get through to the public about the importance of bees in the environment and that fitted with me and my ideas perfectly.”

That’s because the commercial-banker-turned-beekeeper is an avid conservationist, volunteering time to Friends of Tawa Bush Reserves, a community conservation group based in his home suburb in Wellington’s north.

The group seeks funding and lobbies for planting and propagation of native species, as well as pest trapping. It’s all in an attempt to restore native biodiversity to a suburb with as many as 11 reserves, the biggest being 36 hectares.

“I'm trying desperately to get more bee friendly plants and trees planted around our suburb of Tawa in particular, which is our little basin. The aim of the game is to try and get as much planted in those reserves that's going to benefit birds and bees, and predominantly native.”

The community work doesn’t stop there though, with Burnet also a beekeeping mentor for Papa Taiao Earthcare, which provides training in areas of environmentalism to non-academic young people. Courses include tree planting, fencing, trapping and, of course, beekeeping. It’s a new challenge for Burnet, but he says he is glad to find another outlet for his beekeeping skills.

Then there is his long involvement with the WBA, where he has held the treasurer’s position for several years. Burnet says it’s “a good strong club with really good leadership”. With around 300 members that assessment is hard to argue with. They offer monthly meetings, a comprehensive regular newsletter, slick webpage, as well as a regularly updated Facebook page.

While the treasurer may no longer be ordering quite as much beekeeping equipment now as he was a few months ago when his equipment supply business was in full swing, he maintains his loyal involvement in the club and the community with his strategically placed 24 hives.

“It's ideal when people can see the hives when they're walking through the Cathedral grounds or the Botanic Gardens and places like that,” Burnet says, adding “having the public alongside the bees, that's actually the way it should be”.



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