WHERE TO START
Prospective beekeepers are strongly advised to seek as much information as possible about bees and work alongside another beekeeper before purchasing any hives.
Read the information on this page to find out what you need to know before becoming a beekeeper in New Zealand.
Beekeeping offers challenges at several levels. For some it is an interesting hobby while for others it is their livelihood either as an employee or as a self-employed business person.
The scale of operations can range from one hive at the bottom of the garden to enterprises running tens of thousands of hives and employing people.
There are many backgrounds and skills which can be transferred to beekeeping. There are also a few things to be aware of like not being allergic to bee stings, having reasonably good eyesight and a reasonable level of fitness.
For hobbyists, the benefits are usually associated with the satisfaction of producing honey; looking after the wellbeing of the bees, resulting in a relaxing and entertaining activity; pollinating gardens and fruit trees and enjoying the social aspect of meeting other beekeepers at local bee clubs or at association regional hub activities.
Commercial operators also get the satisfaction of being involved in a dynamic and rewarding industry. They can also enjoy being a key partner with New Zealand’s horticulture industry by directly contributing to billions of dollars of crops in providing pollination services.
In addition, due to a growing industry, there is a shortage of experienced commercial beekeepers and this has opened doors for new careers and training opportunities. Both permanent and seasonal jobs are available with commercial beekeepers throughout New Zealand.
New Zealand honey and honey bee-related products are internationally recognised for their premium quality, with strong international demand for New Zealand honey. While a number of factors contribute to that reputation, the absence of antibiotics that are commonly given to bees overseas to keep American Foulbrood (bacterial disease) under control, are strictly prohibited in New Zealand under our biosecurity legislation. It is therefore extremely important that even those owning a single beehive become and remain compliant with the law and are vigilant for signs of new exotic diseases, in order to protect the livelihood of thousands of people in the industry.
Prospective beekeepers are advised to seek as much information as possible about bees.
See our Helpful Links page for recommended sources of information. We also recommend the books Starting with Bees and Practical Beekeeping in New Zealand.
The best way to get started in beekeeping is by going along to your local beekeeping club, as many have operating beehives to visit on field days, or may run beekeeping courses. A list of clubs around the country affiliated with Apiculture New Zealand can be found.
It is also advisable to work alongside another beekeeper before purchasing any hives.
Use the checklist in the brochure below to make sure you’ve covered your bases before becoming a beekeeper in New Zealand.
New Zealand is free of many pests and pathogens of bees and strains of bees such as the Africanised or ‘killer bee.’ It is very important to understand that the introduction of new organisms or failure to control the ones already present would be detrimental to the health of our bees and cause major financial and employment losses. The current laws were created to protect the industry from such threats.
New Zealand beekeepers have legal obligations that must always be met. These include:
- All beekeepers must be registered with The Management Agency. Additionally, beekeepers are required to register all their apiaries under their beekeeper registration number. Registration is a legal requirement and there is a small charge to the beekeeper which funds the National American Foulbrood Pest Management Plan (AFBPMP).
- The Management Agency was set up by government and works under
- If the disease American Foulbrood is detected the beekeeper must notify the Management Agency at email@example.com within seven days.
- Importation of bees, raw bee-products (honey, bees wax, propolis, pollen) and used beekeeping equipment is absolutely prohibited.
- Bees must be kept in moveable frame hives to facilitate inspection.
There are health risks associated with managing a bee colony. Being aware of allergies and reactions for yourself and others is important as these could occur at any time. A first aid kit complete with antihistamines is recommended.
Protective clothing can help build your confidence when handling your bees and help avoid bee stings especially around the face and neck.
Bee suits – Many options at a wide price range are available, from homemade to full bee suits. Being suitably dressed can keep bees from becoming caught and squashed.
Good footwear is recommended to avoid bees being trapped underfoot and stinging.
Gloves can protect hands from stings and becoming messy.
Apiculture New Zealand has a voluntary Code of Conduct which all our members adhere to. You can download here. The code’s objectives are to maintain good relations among all beekeepers and stakeholders, be considerate of public safety, and through good beekeeping practice, ensure the sustainability of bees and their environment
Hive tool – This is a toughened flat steel lever with a thin blade at one end to enable prising apart hive components. It is also used for lifting frames out of the hive, scrapping and cleaning. There are many options available from suppliers.
Smoker – Most beekeepers recommend a smoker. They can come in varied sizes but the job remains the same – to calm the bees and reduce the risk of being stung.
The smoker will need to create a cool grey smoke which can be achieved from several fuel options. The most common would be hessian, cardboard or pine needles.
Most bees in New Zealand are housed in the Langstroth system of hive ware, which consists of a floor, inner lid, outer lid, brood boxes which contain moveable frames to enable brood inspection and other boxes, also with movable frames for honey collection (known as honey supers).
There are other options for housing bees, but for these to meet legal requirements you must be able to remove frames to inspect the brood area.
Bees can be obtained either by collecting a swarm or purchasing a colony in the form of a nucleus (4 frames) or established beehive (9-10 frames per box).
Hives can be transported at night or very early in the morning, provided the bees are enclosed, and that adequate ventilation is provided. See the ApiNZ Beekeeper Code of Conduct for more information.
Before buying any colony of bees you should be certain it is free of American Foulbrood (AFB), the most serious honey bee disease in New Zealand.
The person giving or selling the hive must advise The Management Agency of the sale, (currently on the Annual Disease Return).
It is recommended not to take the risk of buying hives from non-registered beekeepers, or beekeepers that are not compliant with their legal obligations.
Within 30 days of possession, you must register your hives with The AFB PMP Management Agency as well as the apiary where your hive(s) are situated.
To do well bees ideally need to be kept where they have access to adequate supplies of pollen, nectar and water through spring, summer and autumn. Plenty of bees are kept in cities, so wide open spaces are not essential. However, shelter from cold winds, a sunny location, good air drainage, good access, away from being a nuisance to others are all factors to consider. See the New Zealand Trees for Bees Research Trust website for guides on what to plant and where to help your bees.
In a residential section, the hive should be situated to encourage a flight path straight up above anyone walking around. This can be achieved by placing a screen, such as a hedge, at a short distance in front. This can also help if there are problems with the entrance of a beehive being exposed to household lights at night.
Check your local council bylaws for any specific requirements for beekeeping.
Your bees need to be accessible by vehicle, or at least wheelbarrow. A full depth super can weigh 40kg so you don’t want to be carrying it far.
A major health issue of honey bees in New Zealand is the varroa mite. These mites parasitise bees and their larvae, and large numbers of varroa will quickly weaken or kill colony of bees. Every beekeeper needs to learn how to monitor varroa levels and apply appropriate treatments accordingly.
Find out more about monitoring and treating varroa from Control of Varroa by Michelle Taylor and Mark Goodwin. The latest edition was released in August 2021 and is available to purchase here.
AFB is the most serious honey bee disease in New Zealand, and controlling it is a major cost to beekeepers. In New Zealand, we have a pest management plan with a goal to eliminate AFB from all beehives.
AFB Reporting and Destruction
Within seven days of finding AFB you must advise the Management Agency of the details and destroy the hive by burning. For more information visit the AFB website.
Annual Disease Return (ADR)
This return is forwarded in April each year to all registered beekeepers for completion. It is a statutory requirement that the return be completed and returned by 1 June to The Management Agency. The return confirms the number of apiary sites and hives owned by the beekeeper and summarises any American Foulbrood (AFB) that has been discovered and confirms the date the hives were destroyed (date), during the preceding year.
Certification of Inspection (COI)
Many new or hobby beekeepers do not hold a Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA) so in this case a COI will be forwarded to the beekeeper in September each year, for completion and return by 1 December. In the COI the beekeeper is required to have another beekeeper, who holds a DECA, inspect and certify that the hives have been inspected and do not have AFB.
Both the inspector and beekeeper (owner of the hives) sign the form.
Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA)
A Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA) between a beekeeper and the Management Agency represents a commitment by the beekeeper to carry out the AFB elimination processes and procedures specified in the agreement to eliminate AFB from their hives. In return the Management Agency grants the beekeeper an exemption from the annual Certificate of Inspection requirements.
AFB Recognition and Competency Test courses are run all over New Zealand – to find out more click here.
The legal requirements are a lot to consider prior to getting into beekeeping. The AFB Pest Management Programme, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the wider beekeeping community, all need to work collaboratively together to up hold the New Zealand apiculture industry as world class with its point of difference of being free from many bee diseases. We must work together to protect our borders and market access. As a new beekeeper please do your bit!