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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

A bit of Off-Farm Income and a Few Laughs with Country Calendar


This month’s look Inside Pyramid Apiaries in Marlborough sees the beekeeping season winding down and a bit of ‘off-farm’ income sought before the honey cheque arrive, reports owner Patrick Dawkins.

A change is as good as a holiday. With two tonne of pinot noir fruit on board the Pyramid Apiaries truck follows up a couple of months of honey carting with some work in the grape harvest in March.

The nights are getting noticeably colder here in Marlborough and, as we all know, that means the queens are slowing their lay. Not such a bad thing after months of harsh dry in Marlborough, the region officially having reached drought status as of mid-February. A few less mouths to feed is not such a bad thing at this time of year.

Through March the management plan at Pyramid Apiaries looked a bit like this: stop them getting hungry, stop them getting varroa and stop them getting queenless, but I guess that is beekeeping in a nutshell!

We have a policy of uniting older or poorer performing queens in single brood box hives with singles holding younger queens at this time of year. Normally we try to locate the older queen first and take her out, but sometimes we just let the two of them figure it out, with a sheet of newspaper between the boxes. This reduces our hive numbers as we head into winter and gives us more doubles for easier over-wintering and to go into pollination work come spring.

As for hunger, we have had the syrup tank on and any hives with no supers in place and sufficiently light brood chambers do get a squirt in a top feeder. Any hives with supers still on we let work through their honey stored there and we gradually remove the supers each round as they empty leading in to winter.

Varroa seems well under control this autumn, which is a nice feeling, with a front-line treatment in the hives and very little DWV or PMS seen thus far. After being bitten by varroa a few times in the past at this time of the season, we have learnt to be on our toes. That means monitoring for mites from late-January on and making sure fresh treatments go in before they are needed, because the situation can quickly change through February and March.

As for the mating units, we put the last of our cells out in March, having sold autumn mated queens. The big dry can limit the number of drones in hives once you roll into the second half of March, but luckily there was a surprising amount of the fellas late into the season despite the conditions. So, I’m hopeful the April check of matings before wintering down will not require too much uniting of failed units.

Yes, it’s a nice feeling to be on top of things (I think…) this time of year and has even meant that, when the phone rings with people looking for help in the local grape harvest, I can help out a bit. This year, it was a ‘handful’ of days assisting the hand pick at a good friend’s organic, biodynamic vineyard just up the road which provided some ‘off-farm income’.

A change is as good as a holiday, they say, and with my arms still strong from the honey harvest and my back not yet fully shot, I threw a few baskets of grapes around while watching my nearby hives compete with the wasps for any exposed sugars left on the vine canopies.

The Country Calendar cameras rolling during some work outside of the business made for an entertaining few days break from the bees for Pyramid Apiaries owner Patrick Dawkins.

For a few days I even realised my long-awaited destiny of on-camera stardom when the Country Calendar cameras arrived to capture the viticulture and wine-making story of the family business. It included cracking into a hive to remove some beeswax – a key ingredient for a biodynamic concoction – but mostly I imagine my stardom will extend to being the hunched over, older than his years beekeeper, stumbling around the back of shot trying to look busy while devouring expensive grapes. Look out for the Weavers and Churton Wines coming to TV1 on a Sunday night soon, theirs is a good story to be told.

As for this story, that’s all she wrote this month, and hopefully things have got even slower in the hives by this time next month.


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