Up on a roof top of a two-storey coffee store in the Auckland suburb of Mount Eden, urban beekeeper Jess Baker tends to her beehives.
“My favourite bees are the guard bees,” says Jess, dressed in a beekeeper’s suit and armed with a smoker.
“They stand at the entrance of each hive and they smell every bee coming in and out of the hive and if a wasp tries to get in you see those bees fight the wasp out at the entrance.
“There’s a whole little community going on inside that hive.”
With her fiance Luke Whitfield, Jess carefully and gently inspects the two boxes the pair have handcrafted for the bees, extracting the honey from the hives to give to Kokako coffee roasters below.
This process is a regular task for Jess, who gave up her career as a graphic designer to rescue swarms of bees from exterminators and re-home them.
For five years these urban beekeepers have been extracting bees, but it was a trip to Bolivia that the business idea Bees Up Top was born.
“I just came up with it one night. I couldn’t sleep, and we were thinking about when we get home what we were going to do,” says Luke.
“We both were at that stage pretty passionate about bees and we came up with this idea and ran with it.”
Why put bees up on rooftops?
“Rooftops are such unutilised spaces so they’re perfect for bees,” says Jess.
The hives can’t be stolen, vandalised and damaged on rooftops, a further appeal for the pair.
“It gives us a bit of peace of mind where we know at night time our bees are safe,” says Luke.
On getting a call that there’s a swarm, Luke and Jess will arrive, take the bees and ferry them out to Bethells Beach west of Auckland before they’re rehomed on a rooftop.
There are currently 21 hives on rooftops and backyards across Auckland.
They cost around $1,000 per year to have, but in return the couple inspect the hives once a month and harvest fresh honey for the owners.
They say business is booming and despite their urban location, bees are thriving on Auckland’s green parks and flowering backyards.
Quick bee facts:
Jess and Luke aren’t the only ones passionate about bees with currently 887, 510 registered beehives and 8,000 hobbyist and professional beekeepers in New Zealand.
- New Zealand’s has a healthy bee population, but the risk to their colonies are very real.
- According to the Ministry of Primary Industries, New Zealand’s bee colony losses are lower than many other countries where numbers are declining.
- Bees are a vital part of our economy, bringing $5 billion a year, with a third of our food production in New Zealand relying on bees to pollinate.