Hives make manuka beeline

By Laurel Stowell

A shortage of wild bees and the high value of manuka honey have created a buzz in the Wanganui district, beekeeper John Brandon says.

There are a lot more hives around, in town and country.

Membership of the Wanganui Beekeepers' Club has doubled in two years, and beekeepers are flying hives into the hinterland to take advantage of manuka flowering. "We can only guess how many people from out of the area have hives here, but it would be a lot," Mr Brandon said.

After two cold, wet summers things are looking better for honeymaking this season. What's needed is enough rain to keep plants growing, and warm, windless weather.

The Wanganui hinterland has plenty of manuka coming into flower. Some of the honey from it has high anti-bacterial qualities. Health and beauty products company Comvita bought most of the hives of Wanganui beekeeper Paul Sergent in October, to ensure its supply.

There are about seven commercial beekeepers in the district.

Their hives are hired out to orchardists and horticulturists to pollinate crops.

Wild bees used to do most of that, but since the arrival of the varroa mite 12 years ago there are hardly any feral bees left. Wanganui beekeepers ensure their bees survive by treating their hives with chemicals to keep varroa numbers down to five per cent or less.

Agriculture and horticulture now has to rely on commercial beehives for pollination. And with farms being converted to dairying, where clover is important, more beehives are needed.

Mr Brandon's business, Canaan Honey in Mosston Rd, used to have 450 hives. It was a family business with no fulltime staff. Processing was done at its Mosston Rd site, and honey sold at retail prices from the shop there. The business had two sources of income, honey sales and pollination fees.

Some beekeepers have up to 1000 hives to manage. Mr Brandon is down to 150, and said those took up all his time. "Looking after a beehive is a lot of careful work. It's very detailed and you have to be very careful ... It requires constant vigilance."

That's not putting people off. Wanganui Beekeepers' Club meets in a classroom on the Brandon property and numbers turning up to the monthly meetings have grown from 20 to 40 in the last two years. Many are new members wanting to grow their own food, worried there are too few bees in their gardens.

Anyone interested in joining the club can ring Mr Brandon on 345 5350.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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