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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

The Final Countdown


As the leaves brown, beekeepers look to tuck their hives into bed for winter, and its no different at Pyramid Apiaries in Marlborough, owner Patrick Dawkins reports, although their hives do get a peculiar local boost every April...

We’re nearly there … as the calendar flicks over to May we are amidst the last round of Pyramid Apiaries hives in Marlborough. Not before time too. After a long season, by autumn most beekeepers are usually ready for a winter pause from the hive work. We are a bit different this autumn though, having fit in an early two week break from the bees before getting into the final trip around the hives later in April.

Grape honey fills up mating units at Pyramid Apiaries.

The final round means ensuring all hives have plenty of honey and pollen stores for winter, be they double brood box ‘production’ hives, or the three-way mating units. Despite our region suffering a drought this summer, and thus the late summer months provided very little bee forage as pastures dried off, a lot of our sites do get a timely boost heading into winter when the grapes come off the vines.

Marlborough’s lower valleys are dominated by vineyards, which are harvested in late March to early April. Left behind on the canopy are the fructose and glucose of any crushed berries, which the bees are fast to pounce on. It means brood boxes nicely packed with honey so very little supplementary feeding has been required, thus far, as we winter down.

We are also pulling out amitraz treatments as we go, and usually conducting a mite wash on at least one colony per apiary. So far so good, with three mites in a 300 bee sample the most we have seen. All the same, most production hives get a few oxalic acid staples to see them through to early spring.

School holidays in April provided another set of helping hands at Pyramid Apiaries. Gemma Dawkins undertakes her favourite job – scraping wax.

An interesting addition to our business is a first ever run of packed and labelled honey, which we are in the planning stages of – a whopping 330 1kg jars, one drum’s worth. We never envisaged packing our own honey when we first launched Pyramid Apiaries seven years ago, but one of the cherry orchards we have been providing hives for each spring has asked us if we want to help fill some shelf space in their summer cherry shop. So, we will give it a go on a very small scale this year. Thus far we have been playing around with design of a label and that is as far as we have got – luckily honey doesn’t spoil!

A much more important part of our business is sale of our mated queens. We put the last of our cells out in March, and April has meant assessing matings and uniting any failed units. With many of these mating yards located in vineyards, feeding is not required and they are now set to come out the other side of winter with some fighting fit young queens.

Yes it’s all shaping well, we’ve even found a buyer for our honey. The prices earned won’t be sending us to an early retirement, but it is all helping put a bow on another season of fun and games keeping the bees.



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