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John Trevena is a man dedicated to improving beekeeping knowledge, both his own and his fellow members of the Marlborough Beekeepers Association (MBA). He’s spent nine years at the club, nine years with his own hives – including a three-and-a-half-year stint working for a commercial beekeeper – and recently communicating with his fellow beekeepers got profoundly easier...
Not one to rush in, Trevena spent 12 years reading up on beekeeping and as a beekeeping club member in Christchurch before getting his own hive.
“I thought, it’s now or never,” Trevena says of the time he moved north to Blenheim, joined the MBA, and took up the hobby.
Taking the time to learn something and learn it well was not new for him though, having been born profoundly deaf, yet taught to speak by his parents.
“There are two types of deaf people. You either belong to the hearing world, or you belong to the deaf world. I have always belonged to the hearing world, because I went to a normal school. My parents didn’t want to send me to an institution. They were both teachers and Mum had the time to teach me how to talk,” Trevena says.
He has never learned sign language, but for most of his life has relied on lip reading while using a hearing aid – a skill that doesn’t combine well with beekeeping.
“With people hidden behind a veil it makes it very difficult to lip read,” he points out.
However, last year a whole new world of hearing was opened up to Trevena when he received a cochlear implant. It means he can now hear many sounds, including peoples’ voices clearer, and it compliments lip reading to communicate in person. While he is still getting used to the implant and resulting hearing, with it adjusted every three months by a specialist, it does make communication around the club’s hives in Blenheim much easier.
Trevena, in his 50s, was first introduced to beekeeping when his father retired from teaching and took up the hobby in the 1980s.
“Regrettably I wasn’t involved at all, other than extraction of the honey. I should have followed him more to learn more about beekeeping. I was young and busy with other things though.”
He spent much of his working life at local Councils as an assistant environmental planner, but in 2018 – having had his own hives for five years – landed a job with then Blenheim-based beekeeping business Putake.
“I was doing basic hiveware work and maintenance and then one day one of the queen rearers quit and I was asked to fill in, that lasted a few years so I must have been doing alright.
“You learn more quickly because you are regularly working in the hives. If a hobby beekeeper was to join a commercial for a short time they would learn a lot. Unfortunately some commercials don’t always have time and patience to do that.”
He’s committed to sharing his time and what he has learned with others at the MBA though, as a committee member and the club’s “hive guardian” of their apiary located at the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology premises in Blenheim. Trevena is fast to point out the club is based around a strong team on the committee and about 20 members who show up at their monthly gatherings.
The club is led by president Dion Mundy, while commercial beekeeper and committee member Phil Vercoe helps educate. Murray Bush, Will Trollope and Dale DeLuca – also commercial beekeepers – have previously helped too.
“They are happy to pass on their knowledge to hobby beekeepers which is great. There is no them and us. They generously help and give their time.”
Trevena says he enjoyed his years as a full-time beekeeper, with much of it focused on queen breeding for sale, but believes he has “done his dash” as a commercial apiarist. Now his seven hives and the club’s small apiary is plenty.
“I give away most of my honey, so I really do need to cut back on hives. Having a few more gives you a safety net though. For me I get satisfied just watching the bees. It’s not so much about the honey.”
As far as mentoring other beekeepers goes, he encourages those new to apiculture to seek others’ opinions as well, before finding their own way.
“I enjoy helping people,” the hive guardian says, adding “it’s quite satisfying when they get the hang of it.”