BayBuzz has taken aim at various notables and their pet projects or lapses over the past few years … sometimes generating a bit of controversy.

But who would have thought an article in the Sep/Oct Baybuzz magazine urging amateurs to take up beekeeping would have produced such a sting!

In her piece, The buzz of bees, backyard gardener and hobbyist beekeeper Janet Luke concludes: “I would love to see a network of educated and supported hobby beekeepers keeping healthy bees in a more sustainable, legal and small scale way.” Reasonable enough.

However, she also took commercial beekeepers to task a bit, and that stung local commercial beekeeper John Berry (Arataki Honey), who takes exception to some of Janet’s comments.

Says John:

“As a commercial beekeeper with over 40 years beekeeping experience I was very disappointed to read Janet Luke’s article where she compares commercial beekeeping with battery hens and sow crates. There are a few beekeepers out there who don’t treat their hives with the care and respect that they deserve, but if anyone treated their hives as Janet describes they would very soon have no bees at all.”


“As a volunteer inspector I have overseen the destruction of hundreds of hives over the years, some belonging to commercial beekeepers who should have known better, and others belonging to a hobbyist with one or two hives who through no fault of their own have had to destroy their beloved hives. Last year, for the first time in four years, we discovered four infected hives of our own, all of which had been used in apple pollination. It is not only expensive and worrying to have to destroy hives, it also leaves a mark on your soul.”

John makes his case at length. You can read his POV in its entirety here.

Tom Belford

Join the Conversation


  1. Dear John, It is not my intention to cast aspersions on how you conduct your commercial beekeeping practice and indeed we are very lucky to have someone which such a wealth of 40 years of knowledge in Hawkes Bay. All things have different ways of being seen. Could I just suggest that sometimes a set of fresh eyes can be beneficial in any industry? Perhaps that is what many new hobby beekeepers bring.

    Paint is toxic. All paint contains petrochemicals, solvents, mercury, formaldehyde and benzene. Lead, cadmium and chromium are often found in pigments. The distinctive smell of paint is dibutyl and diethyl phthalate- two very volatile compounds. I certainly wouldn’t want it in my bees honey. Bees, often described as the environmental litmus are very sensitive to any toxins. The U.S Army use bees to detect poisonous gases as bees and humans share a common sensitivity to many of the same chemicals.

    I’m glad I’m not your elderly grandma if you think you are doing the hive a favour by ‘mercy killing’. A queen can live for up to 5 years. Why not let the colony decide when they need to replace their Queen? Why do we humans always end up playing god?

    Machine imprinted foundation is generally 5.4mm. These larger cells breed larger bees which can bring in more honey. It also allows the beekeepers to eliminate or drastically reduce the number of drones. They don’t want drones as they don’t produce honey. In natural comb the bees build different sized cells for different functions. Again it is this “one size fits all” mentality of human interference.

    All evidence points to the fact that foundation wax is contaminated. Perhaps this is one of the reasons more beekeepers choose to use plastic frames, which the bees hate. In a recent report commissioned by MAF ( , Apistan ( Fluvalinate ) is found to accumulate in beeswax over time. One study showed that its residues continued to kill varroa one year after treatment. Recycling of beeswax into comb foundation does not destroy the fluvalinate residues in the product and contaminated foundation can be found in newly established hives. Treatment with ozone, hydrogen peroxide or heating to over 100 c at high pressure does not affect residue

    I got shivers down my spine when I read your sentence ‘bees really love sugar, in fact they prefer it to nectar” my bees prefer to be foraging outside in flowers to flying around my sugar bowl! Bees and nectar producing flowers have evolved together over thousands of years for a reason. Honey and real pollen are the proper source of food for bees. Sugar has a higher pH and it is thought that this can affect the reproductive capability of virtually every brood disease in bees. Brood diseases all produce more at the pH of sugar (6.0) than at the pH of honey (4.5). Honey and pollen are more nutritious than sugar syrup. Different nectars give honey its unique taste and colour. If I thought I was buying re-constituted white sugar packaged in an Arataki Honey jar I would stop buying it.

    Whatever you feed your bees, it ends up in the honey comb. Whatever you spray on your crops, it ends up in the honey comb. Whatever you place in your hive, it ends up on your bees and goes straight into the honey comb. So when you extract the honey you are eating whatever the bees have eaten, and whatever they carried in and placed in the cells.

    Sure bees may require artificial feeding on the rare occasion when you have robbed them of too much honey or inclement weather. The commercial reason is for the desire of the beekeeper for a larger number of foraging bees to collect a honey crop or for pollination duties when the bees natural rhythm is not tuned in.

    Phil Chandler writes an excellent article about what is wrong with modern beekeeping ( Yes by careful selection we can increase yields of honey. We can breed for docility, diseases resistance and over-wintering ability. We can reduce the swarming ability, increase calmness and even maybe tolerate or attack mites. But if our management techniques continue to cause the bees so much stress and our demands on them continue to grow they will inevitably suffer. In all matters of evolution nature will select for the ability to adapt and survive, not for maximum convenience to mankind.

    You are incorrect in stating that Top Bars are illegal in NZ. If they were, I as an advocate for them, would be prosecuted. The perceived issue is about the interpretation of the Act. Section 5 of the Interpretation Act 1999 states that when interpreting legislation, one needs to do so in light of the purpose and text of the legislation. i.e you don’t just look at the dictionary meaning but also the context or the intent of the words. With the American Foulbrood Strategy Order (clause 5) the purpose to have moveable frames is to facilitate inspection. If top bar hive frames can be individually removed and inspected both sides of every frame it is breaking no laws. This of course can be done. . Around 4 months ago I met with Frans Laas and Rex Baynes at my home. During that meeting I directly asked Mr Laas “ Am I breaking the law by having a Top bar Hive in my garden?” . He replied ‘no”.

    You state a poorly managed Top Bar Hive would be impossible to inspect and yes it would but so would a poorly managed Langstroth hive which I have seen get cross combing and burr combs. You are quite right in saying that new hobby beekeepers may not stay enamoured with their hive. Luckily the Charitable Trust ( I am involved goes somewhere in managing this risk by providing free advice, workshops, monthly newsletters, legal responsibilities and a community forum which has many members. This online support provides contact for people who would be only too happy to inherit a hive hopefully going some way in negating this risk.

    I, like you John, am passionate about bees. If it only involved one primary industry I would'nt mind so much about critical flaws in its practice. But with bees we automatically involve 'NZ Inc" and ultimately the welfare of all New Zealanders. I think it is time that many commercial beekeepers stood back and critiqued many aspects of their practice.

    Regards, Janet

  2. here here, you have said it all really Janet – for the life of me , I cannot understand why many old-school beekeepers have such a thing about TB hives – what are they afraid off ?? More beekeepers ? great , we need them, the simple fact is, our bees are slowly dying and unless beekeeping practices change, they will continue to – to late then John ..

  3. dear Janet

    I have never been against hobby beekeepers or alternative hives that meet legal requirements, indeedI have a long hive at home. top bar hives are illegal according to the letter of the law and even more so if you go into the intent of the law. I know you will probably never believe me but this law was brought in for very good reasons. It is true that top bar hives or any other type of hive kept by itself using nothing but new equipment is far less likely to contract American foul brood and that poor beekeeping practices by beekeepers is the main cause of this disease . Unfortunately some people are so bad at beekeeping that some hives with the disease end up dying and are robbed out by other hives up to 3 or 4 km away. This is what happened in Taradale recently when 36 hives many of them belonging to Innocent beekeepers had to be burnt. To find the disease hives have to be inspected. You believe inspecting a top hive is simple where I believe it is a more difficult task and at times would be impossible. I had a look at Phil Chandlers site like you suggested. A little new-age knowledge is a dangerous thing. I paint my hives on the outside and I would certainly not use paint with lead or mercury in the ingredients whilePhil waxes lyrical about the good old days when beeswere kept in skeps . It is interesting to note that these are the exact opposite shape of natural honeycomb, the straw was sealed on the inside and outside with fresh cowshit and at the end of the season the honey was gathered by poisoning all the bees with burning sulphur.Even though I believe top bar hives are illegal I would not support prosecuting you although I would suggest there are some very cheap and simple ways to make your hive meet the regulations . We have far more serious things to worry about in New Zealand. 1.varroa 2.a government hellbent on using free trade to import every bug we haven't got already 3.Way too many beehives which really is affecting the health of hives in many areas and I don't mean people like you with one hive. Beekeeping has become the modern gold rush.

    John Berry

    PS my business is completely separate from Arataki honey and has been for over 15 years. Being family we do work closely together at times but we are completely separate entities and my views are nothing to do with Arataki.

    and Marcia if you had had to oversee the destruction of hundreds of hives as I have as an inspector you might have more sympathy for my views

  4. Thanks John, my invitation still stands for you to visit me one day and actually look inside my top bar hive and see how easy it is to inspect as you emailed me on May 24th,20011, that you " would appreciate the opportunity and chance to actually open and work with a Top bar Hive just to see how possible an American Foulbrood inspection is"

    Cheers, Janet

  5. John, I don`t think for a minute that any destruction of hives and bees would be a fun thing to do, in fact it is a horrifying thought and image – I have seen one of my friends in tears after having to destroy his hives.

    I think the point Janet and I both are trying to make, is that we both believe there has to be changes made , both in people`s thinking and how they care for their bees. Beekeeping in NZ is commercially driven and always has been.

    `the modern gold rush` you say ? Interesting that when ever new ideas or more natural/organic ways are used people get upset and automatically suggest you must be a hippy from way back , you certainly will neglect your bees once the interest has worn off – rubbish !! There may be the odd one just as there is neglectful commercial beekeepers. We need more bees for crying out loud !! In urban areas we hardly see them, it is really important that people learn how to care for their bees properly, which includes disease checks regularly and learn how to recognize disease.

    We cannot, as decent stewards of this earth, carry on the way we have for the last 200yrs. Unless changes are made, we will have no bees . . .

  6. Yesterday i read in the Beekeeper Magazine that the Management Agency are trying to fast track changes to the legislation to make Top Bar Hives illegal ( yes John, not illegal yet) . Please sign our petition to allow hobby beekeepers the choice to keep their bees in a more natural, low tech way. Please pass this link to anyone concerned with the declining bee population

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