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  • Writer's pictureMaggie James

Southern Satisfaction – Southland Bee Society Going from Strength to Strength

Being based in one of the southernmost cities in the world can make for challenging beekeeping conditions, but the Southland Bee Society in Invercargill takes the challenge of sometimes cold and inclement weather in their stride. Maggie James ventures south to speak with club president Lindsay Affleck and secretary/treasurer Marj Baker about what makes their group of apiarists tick.

Over the past two years the hard-working committee at the Southland Bee Society (SBS) has set about reversing what was a declining membership. Now, thanks to some good PR and beekeeping standards, membership sits at 62 – an increase of 24 over the last 18 months. Established just 13 years ago, the club’s membership is mainly hobbyist beekeepers and spread throughout Southland.

Southland Bee Society members take advantage of extended daylight hours in summer to inspect club beehives in the evening once a month, followed by a ‘cuppa’.

While the region might get more rainfall than many others around New Zealand, working in beekeepers’ favour is the extended daylight in summer as one heads south on the Mainland. The club takes advantage of this with monthly evening meetings at their Findlay Road apiary in Invercargill where hives are inspected, followed by outdoor BYO cuppa.

The club also uses the Commercial Vehicle Centre at Bill Richardson Drive, which provides an area for storage of equipment and club workshops, plus a meeting room which is well utilised in the long winters.

Quality Advice

All workshops, seminars, BBQs, and apiary evenings are well attended, giving beginners a chance to meet local experienced beekeepers.

“Whilst there aren’t a huge number of beekeepers in Southland, we do reach out to local quality advisers,” Affleck says.

“We are lucky to have as a club member, Frances Trewby. Frances has reared queens for 40 years. We were treated to a great session on all things about queens – their life cycle, how to look after hatching, introduction of a mated queen to a hive, how to sight the queen, and how to inspect the hive without rolling the queen and damaging her.”

Trewby served on the Executive of the National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand 1990-93, including one year as President.

Another club member speaker is Dianne Allan, a local hobbyist beekeeper, and in the commercial sector a well-known queen cell rearer and artificial insemination specialist.

“Dianne gave a very interesting and informative specialist PowerPoint presentation on instrumental insemination,” Affleck says.

SBS club nights sometimes include demonstrations of practical beekeeping skills, such as embedding wax onto frames as seen here.

“In the past year the club was also visited by Grant Hayes, long-time local commercial beekeeper with a wealth of experience and hives throughout Southland. Hayes talked on how he got started, what made him decide to become a commercial operator, and his biggest work problems he faces daily, and was happy to field a variety of beekeeping questions.”

On other occasions hands on talks and demos from other club members have covered alternative products from the hive on making honey liqueur, manufacture of beeswax furniture polish, candles, toffee honey, plus lip balm. Other workshops include practical skills such as frame wiring and use of jigs, box construction, and building your own solar wax melter.

Hive Management

Prior to last season, SBS boasted only two hives. With improved beekeeping practises, there are now three strong hives with three-quarter depth double brood boxes, and three-quarter depth honey supers.

This season, due to building up the apiary and to increase available drawn-out comb, ten frames are in each of the brood boxes and supers. Next season there will be nine frames in the supers, and the year after eight frames, once the comb is drawn. With the current regime of ten frames in brood boxes, extra vigilance and time is required not to damage the queen. 

In winter, the preference is to leave on a super of honey rather than feed sugar syrup. This helps the colonies cope with the Invercargill winter which brings strong, cold, westerly winds channelled through Foveaux Straight and hail storms, temperatures below 10⁰C, and only eight hours of daylight. All these factors affect floral sources and bee flying times.

Varroa treatments consist of spring and autumn miticide strips – alternating Apivar and Bayvarol. The club actively promotes sugar shakes to check mite levels.

Generally requeening is with introduction of a virgin queen sourced from Hayes or Trewby.

“Southland in general this season has had very unsettled wet and windy weather, and this is a bit of a problem getting virgin queens not mated, and quite a few have had to be hit on the head,” Baker notes.

The Club also has a couple of members with 40 hives, and these beekeepers are often on hand during hive openings to chat with beginners.

Bee suits worn must be clean, but SBS supplies gloves and hive tools for Club hive inspections.

“On club nights we haven’t had as many open hives this season due to weather patterns, and this has been disappointing. I believe there is nothing like opening a hive and letting members go through it themselves. It’s a great learning tool,” Baker says.

During the season, outside of the monthly club night hive inspection a committee member inspects the hives every ten days.  American Foulbrood (AFB) appears to be on the rise in Southland and recently the Management Agency alerted the club to AFB within two kilometres.

 “The upside of this notification is that it hammers home to members that every time they inspect their hives, they must be vigilant for AFB. It’s given them a bit of a shakeup. If there’s any sunken brood, or cappings with holes present, we undertake a matchstick rope test,” Baker explains.

SBS founder and life member Murray Christensen, right, shows off the clubs display hive during a visit to a local plant nursery.

Clover and pasture honey is produced from the apiary and members extract the club honey using various knives and prickers to ascertain the best preparation and extraction method for their home apiaries.

In the Community

SBS has a strong presence at several local events, which helps drive new membership. Once a year the club has a one day stand at the Riverton Harvest Festival, and again at the Southland A&P Show. In September for one day during Bee Aware Month a stand is manned at Nichol’s Garden Centre, Invercargill branch. Glass display cabinets holding one or two frames of bees are excellent at attracting the public.

Using the populated display cabinets committee members visit preschools, kindergartens, senior citizens, and horticultural groups delivering talks.

“At our last AGM, we had two new members stand up and comment on how amazing and welcoming our club is, so we were pretty stoked with that,” Affleck says.

From what is likely one of the world’s most southern honey bee clubs the enthusiastic committee of the Southland Bee Society are happy and hoping for continued expansion of their membership base and club hive numbers.

To discuss any aspect of this story with the Southland Bee Society email


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