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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

A Sting in the Head


The bees have treated Wanganui beekeeper Neil Farrer well for almost four decades now, but it didn’t start out that way. Having been a small commercial operator for over 30 years, and then more recently the owner-operator of Apiary Services which supplies Feedbee pollen substitute to beekeepers all over New Zealand, Farrer owes a lot to the humble honey bee, but their relationship didn’t start out smoothly at all.

Farrer’s A Sting in the Tale story is in fact a tale of many stings, and not to the tail but the head. That was result of his first encounter with a beehive left behind his garage in the early 1980s when his stepson moved away from town. The transaction of hive from junior to senior went something like this:

Neil Farrer
Neil Farrer – selling up his Apiary Services business after over 30 years in apiculture, a journey which began with a painful lesson.

Son: “I’m going to sell up and move around the countryside, and by the way, I have put a beehive around behind the garage.”

Farrer:What the hell do I know about bees!?”

Son “You’ll soon learn.”

“I soon did,” says a present-day Farrer, but it was a sharp and painful learning curve.

A beekeeping friend who kept a few hobby hives was enlisted to show Farrer the inside of the hive for the first time. Unfortunately, that friend did not have any spare beekeeping gear.

“I put on a pair of green overalls I had in the shed, along with my gumboots, so that part was OK,” Farrer explains.

“I had some rubber work gloves, so that part was OK too. That just left the top end… but no brain, no pain as they say!

“We had been changing some curtains around the house and we had a bit of scrappy curtain. So, I improvised, put on a floppy hat, wrapped the curtain around my face and away we went. It was not a good move…”

Despite using a smoker, the bees in his newly inherited hive took umbrage to Farrer’s first visit and soon were crawling under his homemade “veil” from top and bottom.

“By the time they were all going crazy around the top of my head it was too late. I bolted inside, chucking things everywhere and doing the usual amount of swearing.”

After a shower and a good wash of the head, Farrer’s wife painstakingly pulled stingers out of the top of his cranium, counting each as she went, all the way to 16.

“I remember feeling not too good for about 24 hours after that. After that it came right and I didn’t worry about it.”

Sixteen stings to the cranium might have been enough to end many people’s dalliance with bees then and there, but not Farrer.

“It made me more determined to get control of the situation. I rapidly bought the appropriate equipment and learnt properly. I joined the local bee club and read extensively on the subject, went out with commercial beekeepers, as you do, and I found out all about beekeeping.

“I can’t remember why those bees were so agitated at the time. They might have just been stroppy bees. Nowadays I would have no problem dealing with that, but then I didn’t know a thing of course.”

He has gone on to have a commercial beekeeping business, which included pollination services and nuc hive sales, then the Apiary Services business he is now looking to sell as, being in his 80s, he eyes retirement. However, those careers might have gone by the wayside before they even began, if not for his resolve to continue following his first ill-fated dalliance in the hives.

That determination to learn and improve his beekeeping is one which has lasted.

“I often tell people, when showing them around hives, ‘if there is a mistake to made, I have made it over the years’. That is how you learn quickly, that this is not the right way, there must be a better way,” Farrer says, adding “That first lesson was by far the most painful though!”

Neil Farrer is the owner of Apiary Services, more information relating to the business and its sale can be gained by: ph 027 457 9634, email


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