Story: Beekeeping

It was Mary Bumby who packed a couple of beehives in her luggage and sailed with them from England to New Zealand. Originally introduced to pollinate English plants, bees settled in well to produce honey and a range of other health-giving products.

Story by Allan Gillingham
Main image: Bees on honeycomb

Story summary

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Bees are valued in New Zealand because they make honey, which is sold locally and exported, and they pollinate crops.

Native bees

New Zealand has 28 species of native bee. They pollinate plants, but do not make enough honey for commercial use.

Introduced bees

In the early days of European settlement, bees were needed to pollinate introduced plants, especially white clover, which had been sown on new pastures. Honeybees were first brought from England in 1839, and bumblebees in 1885.


Commercial beekeeping began in 1878, when the Langstroth hive began to be used in New Zealand. The hive is made up of stacks of boxes that slide out like trays. In these trays, bees build their honeycombs and deposit honey.

After the world wars a number of returned servicemen took up beekeeping and the industry thrived. The demand for honey and other bee products has continued to grow. Today, hives are mostly run by large companies rather than individuals.


Bees in New Zealand have fewer diseases than those overseas, but American foulbrood disease and the varroa mite are problems that are closely managed to minimise their effects.

The beehive

A honeybee colony or beehive may have up to 60,000 members, made up of:

  • the queen, who lays eggs
  • drones, who are males, mate with the queen, and have no stinger
  • workers, who are females, feed the larvae, drones and queen, build and clean honeycombs, gather and store food, and guard the hive.


Honey is eaten and also used in cosmetic creams. Propolis and royal jelly are supposed to help boost the immune system. Beeswax is an ingredient in candles, cosmetics and furniture polish.

How to cite this page:

Allan Gillingham, 'Beekeeping', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Allan Gillingham, published 24 November 2008