Mark & Belinda and the Bees

Honey Bees, Hives and More!

Having joined Timebank just after Christmas as a volunteer to cover stories of people’s trades, it seems fitting that my first trade should be a fact-finding mission delving into the lives of bees with Mark and Belinda Hodson. Why so fitting? Well … it was during a conversation with Mark, as we walked around the city shortly after my arrival here, that I was first introduced to the concept of Timebank. I remember editing a very short book on bees, years ago, and finding it interesting, but this was nothing in comparison to what I learnt last week.

Belinda and Mark of Tawa have been members of Timebank for 2 years and their knowledge and enthusiasm about bees has led them to give a couple of public talks, raising money for Timebank.  They have offered Timebank members advice on bees and bee-keeping, and growing fruit and veges.

Mark remembers when, as a young child of 10, his father bought a couple of hives as a hobby. Mark helped work the bees when he was still at school and then during holidays from University; his father having become a commercial bee-keeper by then.  When Belinda and Mark met bee-keeping became a shared interest. Once they married and bought a property, they got beehives of their own. They have developed their garden so it is particularly bee and insect friendly with plants flowering all year round so that the bees always have plenty to eat.

I was fascinated to learn that whilst the colonies of bumble bees generally consist of fifty individuals, with honey bees we are talking thousands! In fact, during the winter the honey bee hive requires about 2-3 thousand bees to keep it going, but in the summer, when the nectar is being produced this figure swells to anything between 60 and 100 thousand bees. Mark says, ‘Just think, thousands of them and they never collide as far as I can tell. They must have their own traffic-control system going on!’  With each worker bee’s life span being typically about 42 days - that’s some air traffic-control system, in my book!    

It is quicker to just buy hives complete, but you can increase hive numbers organically. Mark explains that if you think of each hive as a living organism which reproduces by swarming, it can then organically be split into two. The bees raise a new Queen themselves; the mother of the hive who will lay the eggs which become worker bees.  The existing Queen then takes half of the bees from the original to establish the second hive.

Maybe, you might be interested in keeping your own bees? Belinda and Mark calculate you need to be able to set aside about $1,000. That will cover the cost of the colony, woodwork for the hive, a smoker and protective gear. Joining the Wellington Beekeepers Association is also really important. The Association gives monthly talks and potential beekeepers can develop expertise without actually owning their own hives.

Belinda and Mark joined Timebank originally after visiting a friend in Wanaka who was heavily involved in setting up a similar scheme there. They were interested in the ‘community-building’ aspect and meeting people who share an interest in community values. They also liked the radical idea that an hour of their time was worth an hour of someone else’s time, regardless of the nature of the skills on offer.

As well as benefiting from trading with others, being Timebankers has saved them around $300 per year on their power bill after having a full energy audit on their home. They also learned that their garden is full of edible and delicious weeds, learned how to make lip balm and deodorant and more recently got advice on developing a website for Belinda’s business.

 

I found this hour’s discussion really fascinating and I think I’m well on my way to being able to distinguish the bumble bee from the honey bee … can you?