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In just two and a half years of existence Beekeepers Hawke’s Bay has grown to 70 members, is playing a key role in disease and pest management in the area’s bee hives and even has their own extraction facility. That success is off the hard work of some key members, one of those being Graham Heaven who stepped into the club’s presidency last year. We catch up with the former baker and business owner, now moving into retirement with beekeeping a heavy presence in his life.
The Heaven name is synonyms with baking in Hawke’s Bay, with Graham and wife Denise launching Heaven’s Bakery in Napier in 1974. Over the years five more stores were developed, but beekeeping almost got in the way of it all.
"I got really interested in beekeeping,” Heaven, now in his 70s and edging towards retirement, says, looking back to the early 1970s and his 20s.
“I could see some potential there at the time and I remember dreaming and thinking it could be a business.”
There was good reason for beekeeping catching Heaven’s youthful eye. While training to be a baker he mixed in a stint of several years driving trucks for local beekeeping business Arataki Honey, between their bases in Havelock North and Waiotapu, south of Rotorua.
“In those days it was the old Taupo road and we used to load the truck up to the gunnels and it was about a four-and-a-half, five hour trip up to Waiotapu. Now it is a lot less. Sometimes it would take five and a half hours one way,” Heaven explains.
The cargo varied, but often included honey boxes, full one way and empty stickeys the next. Mixed in with his early morning starts at the bakery, it made for some long hours to boost his pay packet.
“I used to start at two o'clock in the morning at the bakery and then finish about 8am. Then drive the Arataki truck up to Waiotapu and back again. Then home for a few hours sleep, before off to work again at the bakery. I was pretty fit in those days.”
Fit yes, but Heaven also admits he may have been “young and stupid” to pack in the hours some days! After a few years of doing that, his own bakery business became a reality and for the best part of 40 years it occupied much of Heaven’s time, before beekeeping popped up again about 10 years ago.
When the couple sold their baking business to their son, wife Denise bought Heaven a Flow Hive. That once again piqued the intrigue from his 20s and now he has about 100 hives to his name, along with the presidency of the local club.
“Once I got the Flow Hive, then I got another and I split that, and split that, and then kept splitting and splitting and splitting.”
Much of Heaven’s past 10 years has been spent traveling New Zealand to work with other businesses on research and development, but beekeeping has also squarely found a place. He has been a member of Beekeepers Hawke’s Bay since its inauguration in 2019 and although never having served on the committee, found himself in the top job at the last AGM.
“I'm quite enjoying it actually. it's quite challenging, but I've been in business all my life, so it's not too bad,” he says of the role.
Like any beekeeping club, education is a focus and this is primarily served through a range of field days on the calendar. Further to that, the club plays an important role in helping control disease in a region that is among the most populated by beehives in the country, by helping provide hive inspections and rescuing abandoned hives.
“People think that this is a bloody good little hobby, but don't understand the work in keeping a beehive. They don't, or can't, afford to treat for varroa or anything else and perhaps don't understand AFB (American foulbrood). Sometimes they'll just abandon the hive and that's when we come into it.”
Heaven says he and fellow club member Dave Hills spend a lot of time inspecting suspect AFB colonies and collecting abandoned hives. They have had to destroy around 30 AFB hives this calendar year already.
On a more positive note, the club’s extraction facility in Bay View, north of Napier, launched last year and has the ability to spin out about 60 boxes a day. It is working well, but has come at a cost of around $60,000 (as detailed on pg 23 of the May 2021 Apiarist’s Advocate). So, now they hope to be able to extract beekeepers honey from further afield, not just club members, to help it earn its keep.
There’s plenty going on at the young club and Heaven is in no hurry to step away from beekeeping either, the 75-year-old still enjoys his 100 hives.
"I'm a very young 75. I would like to think I have about another eight years in it and even if I got rid of my own hives, I would probably put myself out there to help other people with theirs,” he says, adding, “That is my philosophy in life, helping people and passing on skills."