Well, another winter has come and gone, and the busy time for beekeeping is about to begin. Spring has come a little early (about two weeks according to our apple and pear trees). I am about ready to remove the mite strips from the hives, and super-up. Last week I removed a couple of queen cells from a hive that was ready to swarm, and am nursing a weak colony. I read in the paper about the massive increase of bee hives in this country (New Zealand), and some are warning that many areas are at capacity. There are more and more hobbiest beekeepers every year – those with only a few hives. Other countries are having difficulty with bee numbers being low, losing colonies to more and more troubles.
If you want to be become a beekeeper, there is a bit more to it that just having a bunch of beehives and never-ending honey flowing straight into the pantry. In this day and age, you must truly become a bee keeper, one who keeps and cares for and manages your little box of princesses. You need to develop an understanding of how bees ‘think’, of your local area, of woodworking, of diseases, and a bunch of other practical skills. You will also need to develop an acceptance that you will get the odd sting now and again, and occasionally get really pounded.
Thankfully there are many wonderful beekeeping mentors out there, who are more than willing to give advice and help. It can also be a hobby that the whole family can take part in, as well as friends and neighbours. You become everybody’s best friend when gifts of golden honey are given.
At the moment, some parts of the country are a bit like the wild west, with hives being stolen from distant parts of farmland, and others resorting to using helicopters to put hives into really inaccessible places. This is all about manuka honey, a magical substance worth thousands for the amount even one hive can bring in. It can be a lucrative livelihood for those wanting a change. I just go for whatever honey they bring in, and stay away from the manuka areas.
How do you start to be a beekeeper? First of all, read. Read. Read. Read. Get to know as much as you can (books and online). Secondly, talk to experienced beekeepers. Try to talk to one who runs to the same scale as you intend to work towards – hobbiest with less than 10 or so hives, or commercial, with hundreds or thousands of hives. Thirdly, get a hive! Or preferably two – it gives you options in case one is struggling.
To get a hive will mean investing about $1000 or more initially – hive, woodwork, clothing, equipment. Then another $500 or more when the honey comes in – extractor, sieves, buckets, pottles, knife. But a couple of good years can pay that back – If you can get $10 per Kg, which is very manageable, then 50kg per hive gets you a significant amount. My best year was 175 kg from 3 hives. Just think about that – LOTS of honey. In New Zealand you will also need to register yourself as a beekeeper, and your hives/apiaries with AssureQuality, and pay a yearly levy.
Get equipment and gear from Ecrotek.
You can also get gear from Ceracell, though I have not used them.
Just don’t buy used woodwork – live hives a fine, but empty hives are a vector for disease, such as American Foul Brood.
I enjoy having my darling girls around, and enjoy the process of extracting honey, and eating fresh honey. I enjoy having ready gifts for people, as well as a tradable commodity – honey for fish, or cheese, or fruit, or whatever someone else has in abundance. I enjoy being able to donate good quality honey to our home church’s food bank. I enjoy having a skill which helps the community. In the words of the Dilmah tea man, “Do try it!”.