How Auckland's urban beekeepers are saving our dwindling bee population

Jessie Baker and her partner Luke have been beekeepers for eight years.
Jessie Baker and her partner Luke have been beekeepers for eight years. Photo credit: Instagram/Bees Up Top.

When you think of bustling beehives and harvesting honey, the first place you think of is probably a peaceful farm setting, rather than inner-city Auckland. 

But if like me, you're a big fan of honey on toast as a comforting snack, you may be shocked to hear that Tāmaki Makaurau has a thriving bee population and is producing some of the best honey in the game - thanks to urban beekeeper Jessie Baker, director of Bees Up Top. 

Baker and her partner Luke have been beekeepers for eight years, ever since they came across a house with a beehive in the backyard while flat hunting. 

"Our new flatmate had been keeping bees for 30 years so we spent the next three years looking after the bees, researching, learning, selling honey and even making honey beer.," Baker told Newshub.

"The day that really hooked me in was when we needed a new Queen Bee for our hive because our current one was breeding lethal bees that were stinging our chickens. I ordered one on the internet, it took just seven hours to get to me by aeroplane and the postman delivered it to my front door! It blew my mind!" 

There are Bees Up Top hives around the city in the most unexpected of places, including one 14 stories high on top of The Grand Mercure Hotel in the Viaduct. 

Now they've teamed up with Uber Eats to get several Auckland eateries involved, with hives at Bowl & Arrow, Boy & Bird, Happy Boy and Moustache Milk + Cookie Bar. 

But Baker's passion for saving the bees isn't just because of a commercial interest in honey.  

"Bees are responsible for pollinating almost a third of the foods we eat, and without them, we'd be stuck with all the boring wind-pollinated foods like rice and grains" she explained. 

"The answer to saving the bees isn't always creating more hives for them, but to plant more floral gardens so they get the fuel they need to buzz from plant to plant, and create that delicious honey!"

The key is to 'think blue' when planting flower food, says Baker.  

"Bees love blue flowers best – that's what we teach kids, but it's important for everyone to know. Plant things like Borage, Lavender, Thyme and Rosemary to help feed the bees. 

"You can also create a water station for the bees to drink from. Bees need a lot of water to make honey but they also take water back to their hive, spread it on the capped eggs and fan their wings to create an air-conditioner inside the hive to keep the eggs cool during the summertime.

"To create a water station you fill a shallow dish with stones or marbles and submerge them in water. This gives the bees something to stand on and drink water because if their wings get wet they can drown."

Aucklanders can order their 300ml jars of homegrown honey and a sachet of seeds off Uber Eats so they can plant their own "bee buffet". 

Just look for the bee icon next to partnering restaurants.