The humble honey bee plays a crucial role in New Zealand's primary industry, and is responsible for much more than just honey production. This busy little creature is the focus of New Zealand Post's latest stamp issue: Honey Bees.
Honey bees have been kept in New Zealand for more than 150 years, and 2013 marks 100 years of the National Beekeepers' Association of New Zealand. In the years since bees were introduced to New Zealand, beekeeping has developed from a home craft to a progressive industry, and New Zealand is now recognised as one of the world's most advanced beekeeping countries.
The stamps feature the whole process of honey making from hive to table:
70c - Collecting the nectar: the first step in making honey is the gathering of nectar, which is normally done by "field bees". The busy bees fly from flower to flower using their long tongues (proboscises) like straws to extract the nectar. Each bee stores the nectar in its "honey sac", which can weigh almost as much as the bee itself when full. Within the honey sac, enzymes break down the complex sugars of the nectar into simpler sugars – a process known as "inversion".
$1.40 - Returning to the hive: once the field bees' honey sacs are full of nectar, the bees return to their hives. A single hive can contain thousands of bees, most of which are workers. When the field bees are back inside the hive, they place the honey into the cells closest to the entrance. Within each hive is a single queen bee, which goes out to mate with a drone (male) in the air and then returns to the hive where she lays eggs to produce more workers.
$1.90 - In the hive: inside the hive, the young worker "house bees" transfer the nectar to the honey storage area of the hive. Enzymes are added to the nectar and the nectar is then further concentrated by house bees creating an air current inside the hive by fanning their wings to dry the nectar into honey. This process is called "ripening". Once the honey has water content less than 20 percent, the bees seal the cell of the honeycomb with a wax cap.
$2.40 - Harvesting the honey: to harvest the honey, beekeepers remove the combs from the hives and spin them in centrifuges, or honey extractors. This process removes the honey from the combs and makes it relatively easy for the beekeepers to harvest the honey without damaging the hives or hurting the bees. Many beekeepers use veils and gloves to protect themselves during harvesting. Some also use bee smokers to mask a pheromone emitted by bees – making it less likely that the bees will become agitated as the beekeepers work.
$2.90 - Ready to eat: once harvested, the honey is processed and packaged into the jars and pottles we see on supermarket shelves. New Zealand honey products are sought after worldwide, and of the 9,000 to 12,000 tonnes of honey that are produced annually, one-third to half is exported. Honey is increasingly differentiated according to the flower source, and New Zealand is known around the world for its premium natural honey, particularly manuka honey, which is renowned for its antiseptic properties.