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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

January: A Slow Lead in to Harvest


Some R&R and a scenic drive has owner Patrick Dawkins well rested before launching into the honey harvest and a bunch of orders for queen bees in this month’s Inside Pyramid Apiaries

Pallet loads of full-depth honey boxes head out the door of Pyramid Apiaries shed to a contract extractor, having been depotted in batches of about 300.

January is a hectic month for many beekeepers around New Zealand, but, for whatever reason, we seem to have stayed on top of things at Pyramid Apiaries as we wind into the honey harvest. I think the sense of control might be short-lived though, because we have just pushed a lot of the honey harvest activity into February.

In Marlborough it is dry, December and January only netted us 38mm of rain total. It means there were a good number of sunny days for bees to operate in, but it also means the pasture flows ended quickly in mid-to-late-January, and potentially they were not as strong as they could have been leading up to that point.

There’s a bit of honey there though and normally by now we would have shot around and taken the mānuka/kanuka honey off everything and left them to fill up a box of whiter honey later in the season. However, with buyers signalling they are not picky about differentiating honeys to that degree, we are working towards one big harvest on the hives.

In three days Laura and I got around all the 3-way mating units and support hives on their sites and blew off their honey boxes. With most having only one honey super to fill, and three queens providing the workforce, the boxes were well packed out. From the apiary we cart the boxes back to our shed – once a two-stand woolshed – to depot into batches of about 300 for a contract extractor to pickup. It is pasture honey, taken from sites close to home, many in vineyards.

A heck of a lunch spot forparents and kids alike. Looking north up the Acheron River on Molesworth Station, in the Marlborough high country, on the journey from Hanmer Springs to Blenheim.

Being a bit of a control freak, in an ideal world we would have our own extraction facility. With only 400 production hives and about that many mating units, we are best putting our capital elsewhere though I feel. Even more importantly, not having to spend days in the honey shed frees us up to focus on our real speciality, a breeding programme and raising queen cells and mated queens.

So, a contract extractor it is and as I type, Rainbow Honey in Nelson should be spinning out our first batch, and a return of our stickeys should be just days away. That sets up what will be a hectic February bringing in a whole season’s-worth of honey from our production hives.

We use all full-depth boxes – It just makes sense when you are using contract extractors whose prices will not vary between three-quarter boxes and full depth – so there has been some heavy carting already. The heaviest of our honey boxes so far was 38kg.

Blue borage honey can be bountiful on New Zealand’s largest farm, Molesworth Station in the Marlborough high country where the Acheron river flows. In January it was flowering profusely.

I was well-rested to put my back into carting them though, as I took a few days off in mid-January to take our daughter to Hanmer Springs for some R&R and meet some family. This provided me an opportunity to tick something off the bucket list which, for a variety of reasons, I had previously never managed to make line up: driving the Molesworth rd, from Hanmer Springs to Blenheim.

You would have seen ads for J Bush and Sons Honey business in Marlborough up for sale recently. They have had hives on New Zealand’s largest farm, Molesworth Station for decades and produce some delicious blue borage honey. It was a delight to drive through mid-summer and see Bush’s hives – which have now sold to Kiwi Queen NZ in Nelson – and the borage in flower, along with the rest of the 185km of stunning vistas. It was a great road trip for our daughter to take with her cousins too – she’s ticked the journey off her bucket list far sooner than I!

As for the queens, we turn all of our mating units over in January/February so that anyone buying over-wintered queens next spring is getting a good, young queen. That means caging mated queens on weekends in January and February and getting orders sent out on Mondays.

Lastly, we must be vigilant to varroa this time of year. As bee populations drop, especially in a dry year when pollen and nectar intake come to an early halt, but varroa populations increase, this is the key time of year to understand varroa infestation levels. We will be undertaking mite washing in the coming weeks, and I dare say that our autumn treatments won’t be far from going in. I advise you to stay vigilant to varroa this time of year too…


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