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  • Writer's pictureMaggie James

Confessions of an AP2

For approximately 15 years Maggie James was an AP2 hive inspector in Canterbury, mainly conducting exotic surveillance. These are some of her confessions…

For quite a few of my 15 years in the role I inspected hives by myself and, in the space of a few weeks in autumn each year, got through hundreds of commercial hives in the Ellesmere area. Initially this meant 24-hour surveillance with sticky boards and strips, plus 500gm samples of bees from each hive. Sometimes soil and honey samples were requested by the higher-ups.

Maggie James, who along with offsider Barry Sheehan, found themselves in their fair share of curly and often humorous situations when carrying out AP2 work in Canterbury.

I reported mainly to Tony Roper, AP1, AsureQuality and was never declined access to any commercial apiary. Although, then not required, as much as possible I spoke with beekeepers prior to inspection, and this often gleaned info which sped things up on surveillance days – it was good PR for getting inside the gate. If there was a sign saying “no admittance” we took note of it! Only twice, for safety reasons, did I refuse to inspect an apiary.

When “The Rope” vastly increased my contract, I was assisted by well-known Canterbury beekeeper Barry Sheehan (DECA 1!). The area we inspected together for over eight years was from Pendarves in Mid Canterbury through to Kaiapoi and the Canterbury foothills, including urban Christchurch. Later, much of Banks Peninsula was added. It was a large surveillance area and the contract was undertaken in several highly organised weeks in late autumn and generally completed by May 15.

We made the task enjoyable with huge laughs along the way, meeting interesting people, seeing some interesting things. We became experts in the best places to have a lunch break or smoko – cemeteries preferably with a toilet, or bench to sit on, and whilst reading headstones we got a history lesson!

Here’s just some of the things we got up to in-between smoko breaks, with a focus on disarming marital strife in this first batch of ‘confessions’. At times we felt like psychiatrists given some of the curly situations, between husband and wife, in which we found ourselves the centre of…

Why’d She Leave?

The hive owner, recently made single by a brassed-off wife, showed us to the upstairs, outside balcony where there were eight very strong hives. Double decker full-depth boxes, each with two full-depth honey supers and each with hive entrances facing the huge glass sliding doors of the large living area … all of two metres from the hives!

The guy truly could not understand why his wife had left him! We stayed out of that one, but did go so far as to offer advice on the weight-bearing capacity of the balcony…

Last Bus on the Block

The one beehive noted on the surveillance form was situated “next to the bus”. Simple enough, right? Well, we got to the address and, gobsmackingly for the South Island, there were hundreds of buses, campervans and caravans parked up with people living in them. Of course, no one knew where the hive was. So, we rang the phone number on the form … vicious ex-wife answered, told us to ring her when we discovered where her husband was!

We decided search for the hive was more in our remit than the search for the husband, so we drove up and down grass lanes looking for the hive which was – as per Murphy’s Law – alongside the very last bus on the block, plus the hive was nearly as high as the bus. There was only one thing for it: a cuppa before inspection, to plan the tactics!

We were over 100km from home base and didn’t want to come back. So, we drove our vehicle up to the hive and I stood on the front bull-bars and handed componentry down, until we were able to work the hive standing on the ground. Two surveillance hive inspections were completed in 24 hours, but husband is potentially still on the run.

A Sticky Situation

We drove up the long driveway to the house in our usual good spirit, only to be greeted by one right royal stroppy, let’s say “bee”, who informed us her husband had left her and not taken his two hives. Yikes.

Because of all the cast iron antiquities, displayed as artefacts – which hubby had also apparently not seen fit to take – it was a real effort to inspect the hives without twisting an ankle or blowing a fuse. Adding to the degree of difficulty, the hives hadn’t been inspected for months and all the nearby shelter belts were poplars; therefore, hives were mega-propolised. The solution? A seriously large wooden wedge and big blunt-nosed long-handled hammer to separate the brood boxes.

The woman insisted on me giving a running commentary on what we were doing. On putting the miticide strips and sticky boards in, she informed us when we came back the next day she would be looking out for us, and we could overwinter the hives etc etc for her and she would make the syrup feed that night… This called for a stealth mission.

Next day, driving up the narrow valley road, we closely managed to avoid being involved – unlike two other cars in front of us – in a head on crash. We quietly, and safely, arrived at the road end of the ‘beekeeper’s’ long driveway, opened the vehicle doors, but didn’t close them for fear of giving our position away. Firing up the smoker, we walked silently up the driveway, no talking, removed strips and boards, hurriedly threw them in the vehicle, then made our getaway down the road. Phew – lucky escape!

Dances with Bees

We visited a lifestyle block on the Mid Canterbury Plains to inspect one hive. No house on site, but the recently-separated-from-his-partner owner was living permanently in a real leather “Indian” tepee beside his hive. A cosy couple they made.

That’s all for this month, but that sure as heck ain’t all the quirky situations we encountered. So, I’ll pen a few more for another day!


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