Growing Fruitful Clubs
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Club Catch-Up celebrates those dedicated folk who make our beekeeping clubs hum, and every club has them. How many people have been instrumental in the advancement of two beekeeping clubs though? In Levin there’s a beekeeper who has given to The Buzz Club Otaki, as well as the Manawatu Beekeepers Club, in about as many ways as possible, and has the life memberships to prove it.
Frances Beech is down to two hives now – a standard Langstroth and a 30-frame long-bar – where there once was 20, but in her 70s the passion to keep bees is still strong. That is unsurprising, being that she has not only kept her own hives for pollination of her commercial orchard, but taught beekeeping basics courses, Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA) courses, served as secretary of the Manawatu Beekeepers Club and donated earnings from teaching to the club coffers, and been instrumental in founding another club closer to home.
Now retired from Victoria Line Orchard, Beech reflects on how she first came to keep bees.
“About 20 years ago my husband was made redundant at 50 and so we bought a piece of land in Levin and we grew heritage fruit trees. Of course, fruit trees need pollination. So, I became a very unwilling beekeeper to a very aggressive hive and decided the best thing I could do was actually learn what the hell I was doing. Gary Milne, at Southern Sun Queen Bees, came to my rescue. I worked with some of his crew over the summer period to learn what I was doing. And I sat my DECA,” Beech recalls.
“I just found it so fascinating. At the end of the year, I had six hives. At the end of the next year, I sort of had 18. I settled out at about 20, so I could also work the orchard with my husband.”
The couple sold their fruit and honey at the Paraparaumu Beach Market for years.
Once she had dived into beekeeping head first, it wasn’t long before Beech was taking a leading role at the Manawatu club and she took a shine to teaching others.
“I found that I was actually quite good at teaching and so I took one-on-one lessons with people and taught them beekeeping, right through to the DECA courses. Then I was asked to actually be the tutor for the DECA course as there was no one in the Manawatu or Horowhenua taking them.”
Beech’s affinity for teaching led to her holding larger beekeeping-basics courses, for which she donated the earnings to the Manawatu club which was struggling at the time.
“It's been a really good network and I've certainly enjoyed the people I've worked with over the years,” she says, although retired from organized teaching now.
Her propensity to help others is what eventually led to Beech becoming one of the founding members of the Buzz Club Otaki, which brought the benefits of a club beekeeping community closer to home for her and others in the area who no longer have to head north to the Manawatu or south to Wellington to meet with like-mined apiarists.
“When I first started the Otaki group, that was actually my husband's fault,” Beech explains.
“He refused to answer the telephone anymore. I was receiving so many calls from people in the area wanting me to go out and help them. So, he said to me, 'whatever you do, I am not going to answer the telephone anymore. I'm not your secretary'."
That led to meetings once a month for a whole year where Beech would mentor for 45 minutes on basic beekeeping and Andrew Beech (no relation), the AP2 for Kapiti, would take another 45 minutes on the hands-on things like assembling equipment. With around 50 to 70 people attending meetings, it was decided to form an official club.
Now, more than a decade on, Buzz Club Otaki is thriving, much like the Manawatu club up the road is. It’s no coincidence that Beech has her fingerprints all over both and thus in 2016 the Manawatu Beekeepers Club awarded her life membership and the next year the Buzz Club presented the same award to the one-time accountant and payroll manger, turned orchardist and apiarist.
“I’m quite proud of the Buzz Club and the people who have stepped in and kept it going, because it could have easily flopped. People like Rusty Barrett, the inaugural president, and the committee he set up.”
Now, her input at both clubs is less, having slowed down since the passing of her husband nine years ago, but the passion for bees will always be there.
“I should have started with bees when I was 18. I really should have. I absolutely love it,” Beech says, adding “the world absolutely disappears when you have your head in a beehive”.