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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

A Regular Insight Into Beekeeping Operations

INSIDE PYRAMID APIARIES

Welcome to a new column for Apiarist’s Advocate – Inside Pyramid Apiaries. We want to give readers, who will be a mix of large and small commercial beekeepers, hobbyists, or just those with ties to the apiculture industry, an opportunity to follow along with the regular goings on of a beekeeping operation. I think our own beekeeping business, Pyramid Apiaries, is well suited as providing a middle ground for our industry…

Pyramid Apiaries mating-units watch the sun set on another beekeeping season, heavy with ‘honey’ stores gathered from grape sugar residues in the vineyard-laden Marlborough region, and set to supply queen bees to beekeepers in the coming spring.

Background

We are based in Marlborough, at the top of the South Island, so literally about as ‘middle ground’ in New Zealand as one can get. We run 400 production hives in the honey season, and 500 mating units come spring to supply mated queens to fellow beekeepers and for our own production hives. So, size-wise, we are fairly well middle of the road too.

Since our inception as a business in 2018, we have provided pollination services to growers in Marlborough (mainly cherry orchards, but some small seed) and we launched our breeding programme then too. Therefore, ours is a young business, but between my wife Laura and I we had a combined five seasons of commercial beekeeping experience prior to formation of Pyramid Apiaries. So, we are a young business compared to many, but have probably seen through more hives than most.

While we are not as diverse operators as some (see the story on Whitestone Honey!), we are a lot more than honey producers – and that’s a good thing right now. So, again, we straddle a middle ground in terms of the products and services we offer, while being in a prime position to learn of new options through this publication.

Anyway, that’s a quick background and why I think an insight into our operations may be relevant to you, the reader. Let’s move into a bit about what we have been up to lately.

April – wintering down

To give ourselves a decent winter break, we aim to stay out of our hives from May to early August, at which point we begin checks on the status of mating units and begin to prepare hives for cherry pollination. In saying this, that pesky parasite varroa means we are having to monitor and potentially treat hives in some of those winter months.

So, we make sure we conduct mite counts going into winter (we use a soapy wash) as we pull Bayvarol out. All hives get an oxalic acid staple treatment and any apiaries that still have high infestations (>9 mites/300 bees) get a follow up of formic acid or amitraz.

As for feeding, Marlborough has about 30,000 hectares of planted vineyard (keep drinking that sav’ blanc people!) and while the grapes are self-pollinating and don’t require our honey bees, they do offer a timely boost going into winter…

Every March and April you can’t help but witness an army of grape harvesters (both machines and humans for hand-picking) and tractors towing ‘gondalas’ (chaser bins) that emerge around our province. Between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes of high-sugar content grapes come off the vines. Luckily for the bees and the beekeepers, they leave behind a sticky residue on the leaves and canopy, which honey bees are quick to find and pack out the brood nest with, just in time for winter.

Many of our mating yards are located in vineyards, so the 3-way mating units or nucs have little trouble filling up with ‘honey’ stores. So, as you sip your Marlborough sauvignon blanc this winter, enjoy it knowing that, if you need mated queens this spring, you are already helping out!

For more info on Pyramid Apiaries or to order over-wintered or spring-mated queens visit www.pyramidapiaries.co.nz.

Patrick Dawkins is owner-beekeeper at Pyramid Apiaries and publisher of Apiarist’s Advocate.


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