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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Moving Towards a Pit Stop


December is a month of two halves when it comes to the workload at Pyramid Apiaries in Marlborough, explains owner Patrick Dawkins as they hit the honey flow in this month’s Inside Pyramid Apiaries.

By Patrick Dawkins

I like December in the hives as you can aim for a clear, well I was going to say ‘finish line’, but I think ‘pit stop’ would be the better analogy. You can’t have a finish line just as the honey starts flowing, there is still the hot and heavy work of the honey harvest to get through in January and February before our minds can turn to any of that. However, queen sales slow down, grafts are fewer and our spring pollination work is done and dusted, so attentions turn to getting hives to their honey sites, supering up and then – hopefully – applying our energies elsewhere for a short while before the honey needs to come in.

Owner Laura Dawkins and a mix of single brood box hives, and a few double-queeners for fun, in one of Pyramid Apiaries yards.

We entered the month still making the last of our spring splits which, as I explained last month, was far too late. A round of assessing them followed. I promised to report back on how our on-site splitting of doubles down to singles affected distribution of bees between hives, so here goes.

For the most part it worked out ok, but there were some weaker colonies. A good way to even up strength at the time of splitting was to make the extra effort of shaking bees from at least a couple of brood frames into the box that was to be moved to a new base. That way, when the old queen and brood box was moved she went with plenty of young bees. You can’t stop the field bees from orientating back to their original hive site, but by giving the split plenty of bees from a brood frame, then at least there is plenty from the new generation coming through.

An early morning load of hives in a vineyard in the lower country, destined for a mānuka/kānuka site up country.

Once all the splits had been made, the next round required assessing the splits to be queen right, healthy, and populous enough for honey production. That meant adding a few brood frames from strong hives to weaker hives on site. After this, it was time to make sure they were where they were supposed to be for the main honey flow.

December is a key month in Marlborough. It’s when mānuka starts flowering, followed by kānuka, and white clover really kicks into gear as the temperatures rise. Our main mānuka/kānuka block is a little later flowering, but by the middle of the month I had made a few early morning trips from the vineyards of Marlborough to the bush with hives, thanks to our trusty tail-lift Isuzu Elf. A fully loaded truck on some true 4WD tracks can be perilous, but hopefully the loads coming out in a month’s time are even heavier with honey.

Beekeepers all over New Zealand make the same migrations every spring/summer and then hope for hot, clear weather. In Marlborough there was very little rain in December with a few hot days thrown in too, so our honey flow is off to a decent start.

Hives unloaded on site just in time for the sun to strike. Bring on the heat and the honey flow.

While all this is going on in the production colonies, we are managing the mating units. We have honey boxes on our 3-in-1 units to prevent them getting honey clogged, there are a few smaller queen orders to fill, and then it is a matter of getting all the units queen-right for the late-summer rush of orders.

As I write this on December 28 though, I’m on top of the workload and in the mode of hoping for hot weather and full honey boxes, to give me plenty of work in January. I’m sure you’re all hoping for the same.


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