About Rae

Rae Butler - Bee Smart Queen Honey Bee Breeder

My interest for beekeeping was first aroused when I was introduced to the attributes of Propolis Tincture by Russian Scientists, whilst in transit through their country in the early 1990’s. On 1993 returning to New Zealand I gained a Certificate in Apiculture at the Rangiora Training Institute. At RTI I instigated different apitherapy experiments, under the supervision of Lindus Clarkson (tutor and Registered Nurse).

On the completion of the course I took up employment with a Christchurch Queen Breeder, Trevor Cattermole at Styx Apiaries, while running 15 beehives of my own. That first season I produced 1 tonne of honey, which prompted the founding of The Runny Honey Co. After this I proceeded to selling packed variety honeys, and apitherapy products at the Christchurch Arts Centre Market.

My thirst for knowledge onapitherapy had me contacting scientists and specialists all around the world. This spurred me to study Stage III Microbiology & Biology at CHCH Polytechnic, along with a ‘Starting a Small Business Course’ and ‘Introduction to Naturopathic’.

In 1996 I commenced employment in Waiau with Wai Ora Apiaries whilst still operating the Runny Honey Co Ltd at the CHCH Arts Centre.

Then in 1997 I bought 500 beehives in Ashburton from Airborne Honey Ltd. The main source of income, honey, was topped up with pollination contracts, queen rearing and contract beekeeping. My interest was then diverted to pollen collection and analyzing.

This venture nearly came to an abrupt ending when my son developed a life threatening allergy to bee stings. He undertook 3 years of desensitizing which has worked to this day.

Year 2000 saw me amalgamating The Runny Honey Co with Wai Ora Apiaries, this meant running over 2000 beehives from Conway Flats to Hamner Springs.

During my commercial beekeeping years, I was secretary to the Canterbury Branch of the National Beekeeping Association, Canterbury Branch New Zealand Beekeeping Industry Group and the Varroa Pest Management Strategy Group.

In 2003 I obtained my PMS Authorised Persons Training, and attended the AgriQuality Exotic Disease Incursion Response Scenario in Blenheim. I then went on to work with Mark Goodwin and Michelle Taylor, on the Varroa Incursion Eradication Plan, with Wai Ora Apiaries hosting the eradication trials. 

Once retired from commercial beekeeping in 2004, I decided to promote the attributes of beekeeping through education. Starting with ‘Trees for Bees’ themed Bee Expos at the Nelson A&P Show, at which I identified there is a growing interest in beekeeping, prompted me to instigate the Nelson Beekeeping Club.

2011 saw me taking up employment with Philip Cropp and Rainbow Honey as an Apiarist Manager. Once back in the beekeeping circuit I followed up the VSH Breeding Programme, that Plant and Food Research were handing back to industry. In autumn 2012 this evolved into Rainbow Honey, collaborating with Cawthron Research Institute and gaining AGMARDT Funding to champion the PFR VSH Programme.  The aim was to get the VSH trait out to the NZ Beekeeping Industry, by tracking the correlation and breeding value of the VSH trait.

Access to overseas research was a critical part of the programme, I therefore spent May and June 2012 studying Instrumental Insemination, and queen breeding techniques with Dr Susan Cobey at the Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis and Washington State University in USA. Dr Sue Cobey introduced me to several American Queen Breeders. I then travelled to the Queen Breeding Apimondia Symposium in Quebec, along with PFR scientist Michelle Taylor, November 2012.

AGMARDT Funded the VSH Programme until 2014, then Rainbow Honey secured Sustainable Farming Funding for an advanced project ‘A New Approach to Sustainable Bee Population’.

July 2014 I returned to America & Iceland. I visited Bob Danka a Research Entomologist at the Baton Rogue USDA, VP Queen Bees in Maryland, Dennis van Engelsdorp’s Bee Informed Programme Team at Maryland University, and attended an Advanced Insemination Course with Sue Cobey in Seattle.

Whilst having a 25-year reunion in Iceland, I also visited an Icelandic Beekeeper Egill Sigurgeirsson.

With the closure of the SFF project in 2015 I moved back to Ashburton, the Runny Honey Co Ltd original homeground, and rebranded to Bee Smart Breeding.

Bee Smart Breeding was formed to condense and utilise all the gathered information from over the years and now specialises in providing queen honeybees with the Varroa Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) behavioral trait. These queens produce colonies that have a certain resistance to varroa mites (Varroa Destructor). 

Bee Smart Breeding aims to point beekeepers in the right direction, give advice and inject knowledge.