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Maintaining the correct balance between raising a family, running his own beekeeping business and involving himself in the local beekeeping club has been the challenge for Northland apiarist Nick Watkins over the past season. We check in with one of the Whangarei Bee Club’s newer members, who is already playing a pivotal role, and find out how a desire to improve the community is motivating him to become a leader at the club.
“Being involved in the club is giving me a sense of community, and makes me feel like I’m contributing. I've been beekeeping a while and I want to be able to share that knowledge,” Watkins says.
After only signing up for his membership in late winter last year, he soon found his place at the Northland club and has literally and figuratively been handed the keys, having been invited to join the committee and taken charge of the club hives and equipment.
The fast ascension comes after long-time president and Apiculture New Zealand board member Paul Martin stepped down from the club presidency last year. For Watkins, the Bee Club has to be managed alongside family and business.
Two stepdaughters and a baby daughter welcomed by wife Ceilia last year, make for a busy household at their home base in Tangiteroria, halfway between Dargaville and Whangarei. Then there is their beekeeping business, Mattersville Ltd. The couple manage 300 full size hives for pollination and honey production and 600 nucs for queen rearing.
The business was launched in 2020, a couple of years into a major downturn in non-manuka honey prices. Following 10 years working for other commercial beekeepers, Watkins is glad they decided to take the plunge with Mattersville Ltd though.
“I thought, why am I doing this for other people? I could be doing this myself. We also have a young family and my wife was pregnant. So, we wanted more flexibility around our time and to be able to spend more time with the family where we can,” Watkins says.
“It hasn't been easy, but I guess we got into it, more than anything, because of my passion for beekeeping. I keep questioning myself, is there anything else that I want to do? And I just want to stay in the industry really.”
Mattersville has a focus on queen breeding and supply, with their strain of bees a hybrid Italian-Carniolan.
“We select queens based on performance, more so than looks. Which I think a lot of commercial guys like. They want something that's going to perform rather than just look nice and golden, so they get the best of both worlds.”
Pollination services are provided to both kiwifruit and avocado orchards, which Watkins calls the “bread and butter” of a business launched at a tough time for the honey industry.
After only one full season in business, Watkins decided to venture along to the local bee club and they have eagerly called on his knowledge and expertise over the past 10 months.
“I kept my head down a little bit initially, just went along to the meetings and had chats. I think it didn't take people very long to realise I had a little bit of knowledge or expertise on beekeeping from a commercial point of view,” Watkins says.
There is a changing of the guard at the top of the club and Watkins looks set to take a prominent role. He hopes others will help him bring some new energy to the club.
With around 240 members on the books there is plenty of local beekeepers to benefit from a strong club and prior to Covid they were drawing about 80 people to some of their monthly gatherings, which continue to be held on the first Saturday of the month at Whareora Hall.
“Those gatherings are especially important for those new members. For them to buy a beehive in spring and invest their time and money into it, they don’t want to be left in the dark. There's a lot of resources out there, but you can’t beat one-on-one talking about beekeeping issues, or the things that they've seen and analysed, that the club offers. They just need that little bit of help to see them through.”
It’s not just helping people that is driving Watkins to find time in a busy schedule to help the club. He has been interested in bugs and insects from a young age. That interest has motivated his career choice and so too his recent investment in the Whangarei Bee Club.
“For me, it's not only for the welfare of the club members, but it's the welfare of the bees,” he says, adding, “I'm passionate about the bees and every life matters”.
Whangarei Bee Club, www.whangareibeeclub.co.nz meets on the first Saturday of the month, 10am, Whareora Hall, Whangarei.