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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Strains of Honey Bees

The main value to New Zealand of the beekeeping industry is not in the honey produced, but in the pollination of many types of the pasture plants essential for stock feed. For example, seeding of white clover, the country's most important pasture plant, depends almost entirely on honey bees, as do brassicas, fruit trees, and many other crops. Because of this essential service there is statutory control over the spraying of crops in bloom with chemicals harmful to bees. Many of these chemicals once caused heavy losses of bees. The Department of Agriculture tests many agricultural chemicals to find those which will control pests and diseases without harming bees. New Zealand has two varieties of indigenous bee, but as both are useless as honey bees the first settlers did not have honey available as food. In March 1839 the first hive bees (Apis mellifica) were landed from England at Hokianga, followed by later introductions in 1840 and 1842. Further introductions from Australia and America, and the increases resulting from natural swarming, soon produced a large and widespread bee population.

The first methods of producing honey for home use were primitive and wasteful, so that semi-commercial production did not begin until the Langstroth hive was introduced in 1878. Much later, motorised transport made the establishment of out–apiaries economic. These improvements led to the establishment of a progressive, full–time, commercial beekeeping industry.

There are many strains of honey bees, all of the species Apis mellifica. Experiments, have shown that the bees best suited to New Zealand are pure strains of Italian bees, which are good workers and do not swarm excessively. The popularity of these strains has encouraged careful breeding to produce improved strains, and queen breeders can now provide adequate stocks. Black or German strains are still common in New Zealand and there are hybrids produced by crosses between the two. Modern honey houses are equipped with electrically driven machinery for extracting, processing, and packing honey. The standard 10–frame Langstroth hive is used almost exclusively.

Honey for the local market is sold by the beekeepers themselves, but all export honey is distributed by the New Zealand Honey Marketing Authority. In 1964 there were 1,827,012 lb of honey exported, at a value of £125,966.

Next Part: Nectar Sources