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  • Writer's pictureJohn Berry

Husband, Father, Beekeeper – Ian Berry

Ian Berry died recently, March 18, having played an integral role in iconic New Zealand beekeeping enterprise Arataki Honey, for which the Berry family are synonymous. He witnessed many changes in the world and in beekeeping in his 90 years. His family’s beekeeping legacy is continued by son John Berry – among others – who takes time here to put some key aspects of his father’s life and times into perspective.

By John Berry

My father was born on October 7, 1931 and was named Perceval Ian Berry, but always called Ian. Apparently, my grandmother thought that the initials I P might be taken the wrong way.

He was raised on a dairy farm at Nireaha, in the Manawatu, where they milked 32 cows by hand because they couldn't afford the electricity to run the machinery. When he was nine the family moved to Hastings and when he was 12 the whole family moved to Arataki Road, Havelock North. There he would live until ill-health a couple of years ago meant he had to move to a retirement home.

He had two great passions in his life: the family business, Arataki Honey, and his family.

Three generations of Berry beekeepers: from left, Robert, Ian and John in recent years.

He was also a keen vegetable gardener, fisherman and, in his younger days, a keen tramper and a member of Search and Rescue. He could play a mean game of table tennis, play the mouth organ and loved to sing duets with my mother (Pat) at the local country and western club.

Dad worked. He worked early and late. He worked weekends and public holidays. Even when we went on a family holiday, there was always some element of work involved. All his working life, he was very involved with the National Beekeepers Association, both at a local level and eventually as president. One of his proudest moments was being made a life member.

One of my first memories of Dad is of him, along with my uncles and grandfather, dipping heart totara floors into boiling hot tar. Times were tough for beekeeping and beekeepers and Dad had to learn to do everything from making frames and boxes to packing honey and then marketing it. If you could possibly do it yourself then you did, because you sure as hell couldn't afford anyone else to do it for you.

He was a specialist comb honey producer, producing section honey for many years and then pioneering cut comb honey. He was also a skilled bee breeder, but he had none of the fancy gear and would just sit on a bee box with the sun over his right shoulder and graft using a piece of wire. He did eventually change to a 000 Sable paintbrush.

A teenage Ian Berry, left, with his father and Arataki Honey founder Percy Berry in the early days of the now iconic North Island beekeeping business, around 1948.

He read a lot of beekeeping books and magazines, both local and international, and it was from something he read of Brother Adam’s that he decided to try keeping hives on pallets with four hives each facing a different direction. A lot of people think he developed this system so that the hives could be moved mechanically, but at least initially it was used only for hives in permanent apiaries. The main reason for doing this was to stop stock damage which used to be considerable.

He trialled quite a few hives over several years and found that he not only got a lot less stock damage, but also a significant increase in honey production, so much so that, even before we changed all the hives over to pallets, the singles we had left were also set up in the same configuration. He ound that it made no difference at all to which way a hive faced and that the pallets not only reduced stock damage to almost zero, but also almost eliminated drifting.

Dad was quiet, honest, teetotal all his life and could never relax until the last truck had safely returned for the night. He was obsessed by weather and all of his six children learned to shut up during weather forecasts at a very early age!

He wanted to work until he was 90, but only managed till he was 87. Other than that, I think he achieved most of what he set out to do.

It's impossible to put 90 years into just a few sentences, but anyone who knew him well will remember how kind he was and how far he would go out of his own way to help others, with never a thought of what was in it for him.


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