Marsh's Honey, of Ettrick, is the only commercial honey producer in the South Island to use Hivemind high-tech equipment in beehives to determine which bees got up earlier and worked harder.

The business is owned by Russell and Trudie Marsh and celebrated its 85th year in the beekeeping industry this year.

They have about 1000 hives, producing clover honey and honeycomb as well as providing pollination services to high country farms and orchards.

They also breed their own queens, the reason they have decided to install the equipment on six potential breeder hives two weeks ago.

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''The key is consistency, and being able to identify and record variables,'' Mr Marsh said.

Each hive has an infra-red scanner at the hive entrance, which monitors and counts bees entering and leaving.

''If there is significantly more bees [trips recorded] on one hive than the other five and they fly earlier [during lower temperatures], then we can work out the correlation and breed off the queen for those traits, and ultimately improve the hive's work efficiency and pollination rates.''

A probe inside each hive measures brood temperature and humidity.

Each hive is on a set of scales that measures changes in overall weight, which indicates if honey stores are increasing or declining.

Ettrick apiarist Russell Marsh has installed high-tech monitoring equipment in six of his hives to determine which hives work hardest. Photo / Yvonne O'Hara
Ettrick apiarist Russell Marsh has installed high-tech monitoring equipment in six of his hives to determine which hives work hardest. Photo / Yvonne O'Hara

A monitor sends this data to the user via satellite.

''We can also use the data for trait selection," he said.

"To ensure comparable data, we chose hives with queens of a similar age.

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"The hives are in the same location, with a similar amount of sunlight and shelter, and start off roughly the same weight."

If the weight increased, he knew the bees were healthy.

If it decreased, it could indicate either the weather had been poor enough to slow the flight time of the bees (they do not tend to venture out at temperatures below 10degC), or the colony was failing for some reason.

That could include a pest, disease, or lack of blossom.

He said the trial was ongoing and although there were costs involved in the setup the eventual gain would hopefully influence bee health positively.

"We have to take a long-term view. Bees do a great job at pollination, which has a knock-on effect for the Teviot Valley's horticulture and agriculture sectors."

The business' performance monitoring equipment was supplied by Hivemind, Christchurch.

Sales manager Victoria Wolfe said clients in the North Island used their technology for their manuka honey production.

''They can see [the data indicating] the honey flow starting and finishing and when they need to add more super boxes for honey collection,'' she said.

''If the manuka flow stopped, they needed to get the honey off the hives before the bees go out to find another floral source, so it keeps the manuka purity.''

Director Bryan Hoyt said Mr Marsh was the only commercial beekeeper using the full suite of their sensors in the South Island, although several apiarists used the scales as a production indicator.

He said the system also set off alerts if there were any changes at hive sites, including swarm alerts.

"At peak flow, bees produced 1kg per hive per day," he said.

The data provided information to the beekeepers so they targeted visits to the hives to ensure maximum crop harvest and value. The technology also provided traceability and proof of product quality.

Bee Aware Month

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, has officially launched the 10th annual Bee Aware Month, a nationwide celebration of bees and their importance to the ecosystem, food chain and economy.

O'Connor inspected the Prime Minister's beehives based at Premier House in Wellington last week to mark the beginning of Bee Aware Month.

Bee Aware Month is co-ordinated by Apiculture New Zealand, and the theme this year is "Love our Bees".

New Zealanders are being asked to show their love by taking some simple steps to improve bee health such as: planting bee-friendly plants like wildflowers; providing clean water for bee rehydration, choosing bee-friendly pesticides and spraying safely.

The annual Bee Aware Month Schools' competition is well under way with pupils busily creating videos of two minutes or less on the theme "Love our Bees".