Urban Beekeeper Transforms Auckland's Skyline
New Zealand is famous worldwide for Manuka honey, but there is a whole lot more buzz about bees going on in Auckland.
Bees Up Top is a New Zealand company that specializes in urban beekeeping, according to Jessie Baker. They have 50 hives on Auckland’s roofs. She visits hives scattered throughout the city, including about 15 hives on hotel rooftops.
Jessie learned beekeeping by traveling around Central and South America about eight years ago. Rescuing bees and saving them from extermination is her passion. Her bees tend to be calm, and hardly need any smoke.
Despite lockdowns and whatever else is going on ‘down below’ on the streets, some of Auckland’s rooftops are hives of activity as the busiest season rapidly approaches for beekeepers.
During winter, which began around June 21 in the southern hemisphere, hives go dormant for the winter and bees survive by eating their honey stores.
Then spring starts around October 1, and that’s when bees emerge from winter dormancy and prepare to forage and restore their honey reserves.
This is also when bees swarm, which means they leave their hives in order to expand reproduction by setting up new hives. Jessie does not want her hives to swarm and will implement swarm control measures on all hives because they take up to 60% of their honey with them if they take flight.
Even during lockdown, beekeepers stayed busy, since apiculture is considered an essential service. In more ways than one. In addition to taking care of its hives, Bees Up Top stays busy collecting swarming bees all over Auckland, even up to 2-3 swarms and wild hives daily.
Jessie Baker cautions locals not to call exterminators, but to call her instead. Many people are fearful of bees and get them confused with wasps. Luckily many exterminators have Jessie’s number and call on her to rescue the bees.
Auckland’s leafy suburbs provide fine and nourishing ‘green cuisine’ for local bees to forage. Jessie’s skyline hives in the CBD – including atop the Crowne Plaza and Grand Mercure – produce up to 15 kg of honey per hive. Half the honey goes to hotel managers and their chefs so it can be shared with hotel guests.
Jessie is usually a one-woman-beekeeper, with help from her husband, but now she is pregnant and is seeking help although she intends to stay involved. She loves rescuing swarms and says it’s a great adrenaline rush.
There is no shortage of willing helpers around Auckland, which is a city filled with beekeepers.
And then there is Becky Umbers, whose start-up is called Kai in the Sky. She is not a beekeeper, but she grows produce atop Auckland’s rooftops for cafes and hotels. As can be imagined, bee pollination would be useful to her.
In fact, she is a 24-year old comedian with no bee experience, but rooftop gardening has been her dream since she was a student at AUT. She sees the similarity between her business and Jessie’s business. Rooftop bees have helped get her business started, along with lots of sun and rain.
Becky says the idea is nothing new in America and Europe. The idea of roof gardens was launched in New Zealand when Agropolis helped to grow a mini urban allotment in Christchurch’s “Garden City 2.0.” Agropolis designed an enormous garden in Paris, where a 7-kilometer square urban farm is planted on top of the famous Beaugrenelle mall. This is said by Forbes to be France’s biggest, producing 1000kg of fruit and vegetables everyday during harvest as well as employing 20 gardeners.
Becky brought her dreams of planting rooftop gardens to life during the first lockdown in March in New Zealand. It was just the push she needed as borders closed, travel was disrupted, and imported herbs soared in price. Cafes and restaurants struggled with less diners.
The famous ‘tomato shortage’ in New Zealand is an example of how the pandemic affected supply and demand, as the tomato surged to an all-time high of NZ$13.65 per kg.
Kai in the Sky has ignited the imagination of many people, and Becky is astounded by all the help she has received. She now has a team of specialists at her disposal.
Becky hopes her first garden will help the idea of rooftop gardens to take root.
Enjoy the original photos and article at the New Zealand Herald.
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