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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Inside Pyramid Apiaries: Take a Break – but Not for Long!


Patrick and Laura Dawkins show some visitors through their Pyramid Apiaries hives, a good diversion at a slow time of year on the beekeeping calendar.

Last month in our new ‘Inside Pyramid Apiaries’ column I explained how our 400 production hives and 500 mating units in Marlborough had been tucked into bed for the winter. So, what does late autumn/early winter hold for the small-medium scale commercial beekeeper? Well, after a long season, a holiday break I hope, before varied tasks…

Luckily for us a small holiday was on the cards, but it might more appropriately be called a ‘vacation’ as it coincided with my American cousins coming to visit from San Francisco and thus a couple of days showing them some of the best spots in our neck of the woods. Naturally a quick check through a Pyramid hive ensured for these city slickers. I’m sure the colony would have preferred if we didn’t crack the brood boxes at this time of year, but it has been unseasonably warm at the top of the South Island so there was an active queen and colony to present to our visitors on a sunny day.

While some beekeepers incorporate the ‘eco-tour’ to their operations by showing tourists through hives for a fee, it is not something we will be doing anytime soon at Pyramid Apiaries. The ‘Yanks’ did enjoy their brief dalliance with a beehive though, so I suppose no business idea should be off the table at present!

Winter work

I always head for work outside of the beekeeping business over winter, alongside publishing Apiarist’s Advocate of course. In the current honey industry climate, it is something more and more beekeepers are being forced to do. I’m lucky I can hold out until winter, as many beekeepers are forced to work elsewhere in season as well as tend to their hives/businesses.

Marking a queen – always an interesting undertaking to demonstrate to non-beekeepers.

A few years ago, at the ApiNZ national conference in Rotorua, Laura attended a toolbox sessions on ‘Getting through the tough times’ while I popped my head in somewhere else. I asked her what the key lessons imparted by experienced beekeeper Dennis Crowley were. A big one was “get work outside your business to bring in a guaranteed income”. Of course, it can be easier said than done for a number of reasons, but if you can make it work, it’s worth trying, especially over winter.

Last month I mentioned how the thriving wine industry can be of benefit to our bees, and it is certainly of benefit, directly, to this beekeeper too, as there’s plenty of work to be had to supplement the income! So, I have been helping out in various vineyards replacing broken posts, removing bird nets post-harvest and with general winter maintenance.

It pays to be gentle when handling a colony for visitors in late-May. The bees were happy enough, but they would prefer not to be disturbed in winter.

Of course there is some maintenance of beekeeping equipment and apiary sites within Pyramid Apiaries this time of year too, but that can wait until next month which, by the time you read this, will already be here. Which leads me to one very small bit of wisdom from my time about beekeeping – don’t put off the winter maintenance work too long, as spring can fast approach. It’s much easier to do it now than when spring sneaks up and grafts are going into hives, queens caged for sales, pollination contracts are being filled or hives generally tended to however you do it in your setup. That all sneaks up faster than you think!


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