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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Wind, Wind, Go Away


Welcome to October’s look inside Marlborough-based commercial beekeeping business Pyramid Apiaries, where operations are already near full-noise still early in spring.

In September and October we pray for ‘good’ weather. Hoping for supportive weather conditions is nothing new for farmers of any variety and as beekeepers we all turn our eyes to the sky first thing in the morning during honey season. However, for many – Pyramid Apiaries included – the spring months are just as important. That’s because September and October are the alluringly titled “mating season”, and pollination season too (which is the trees’ kind of mating I suppose).

Another Pyramid over-wintered queen gets her bags packed, with a fresh yellow dot to signify her 2022/23 season’s age.

I spent September caging around 300 mated, over-wintered queens over three weekends for our beekeeping clients all around the motu, and replacing them with queen cells destined to follow similar travel itineraries as spring-mated queens in a month’s time. That is, if the weather plays ball. Like much of New Zealand, spring can be gusty in Marlborough. While we put everything within our powers in the virgin queen’s favour for a successful mating – such as mating-yard locations, ensuring the presence of mature drones before cells go out, and strong, healthy mating units – we still rely on warm enough weather to get both drones and virgins flying, and still enough conditions to get the female half of the equation home safely.

A consignment of caged queens gets a last drop of water before hitting the ‘road’.

The weekend of September 16-17 saw gale force winds batter much of central New Zealand and it made getting the consignment of queens caged and ready for sending on Monday challenging, but we got it done. Luckily, not many of our virgin queens would have hatched by then so we are hopeful it won’t impact matings too badly. What it has impacted is one of the two cherry orchards the Pyramid hives pollinate.

We have around 120 hives across the two orchards, of which there is now only a handful in this wine-dominated region. During the winter months I met with both orchardists and stressed the need for us to maintain hive strength by providing gaps in their nets nearby to hives, to allow better orientation by the bees. It followed setbacks to the hives’ strengths in recent years and also research conducted by Plant and Food Research which indicated that gaps in nets were beneficial to improved pollination success. Luckily for us the growers were receptive to the idea, but at one orchard the work was done for them…

I started this column with talk of beekeeping prayers, and I guess mine were answered when the huge wind gusts destroyed over half of one orchard’s nets just days after our hives started to move in. In all seriousness, it is a terrible situation for the owners who are now on the clock to get the old nets off, have replacement nets arrive, and get them up before the birds move in later in October. It’s a labour-intensive process and they too will be hoping for wind-free days to make the job easier.

Open sky where nets should be. Cherrybank Orchard in Marlborough has a race on their hands to get new nets up after the old covers were destroyed by wind. In the meantime, the Pyramid Apiaries hives will have an easier flight home though.

We need the temperatures to rise to assist the forager bees to get out and pollinating too. I’ve spent the last two months getting around the hives and preparing them for their September and October work and they are strong and ready to go to work, but it will be all for naught without decent weather windows.

Many beekeepers and orchardists around the country will be in the same position and beekeepers in the far north are already hoping for conditions receptive to a nectar flow on the early-flowering mānuka. In Southland there’s recent flooding to contend with too. Wherever you are and whatever your bees are doing, here’s hoping Mother Nature plays ball…


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