A Winter Beekeeping Season in New Zealand
Our apprentice beekeeper Jack Silberrad shares his experiences beekeeping in the beautiful mountains in Tasman, New Zealand, for a three month work experience placement.
As part of my apprenticeship and to broaden my experience I have been hosted by Manuka Island Honey, based in the mountainous alpine-come-tropical region of Tasman, near Murchison, New Zealand. Supported by a scholarship from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship trust, I hope to return to the London Honey Company a better beekeeper.
Having left winter winds in the UK, I arrived after a gruelling 27 hour flight over three planes in November during what is late spring in New Zealand. Each day averages around 25 degrees, is humid, and physically demanding. I join the last phases of queen rearing, with marking of queens and dispersal to build up new colonies for the looming summer nectar flow.
Many beekeepers will discuss how at times there may be two queens in a colony, with one usually about to swarm away or to replace an ailing incumbent. Here, four queens are quite normal, with three beautiful golden-orange Italian queens raised for producing additional colonies. But it gets more curious!
This spring build-up of queens is used to create dual-queen colonies, a sort of super charged beehive that maximises what has been an impressive spring yield so far. Master beekeeper Alex and partner Alysha nonchalantly describe it as being akin to “a train with two locomotives”, and where honey production is concerned there’s certainly a full head of steam. One site of thirty colonies has yielded 106 honey boxes already.
The flora here is diverse. Matagouri is a primordial shrub with savage thorns, flowering before budding leaves. Finding green nectar in the honey boxes is its calling card. Meanwhile palm-like Cabbage Trees line road sides with profuse creamy cones of sweet smelling flowers, whilst fields cut for silage resurge with the more familiar Subterranean Clover, followed suit by enthusiastic honey bees. Yellow broom coats the mountain sides and provides much pollen, whilst plants rarely seen in abundance in the UK like Lupins and Vipers Bugloss (‘Kiwi Borage’) make their home on the stony river banks.
Seemingly a veritable paradise for foraging bees, the beekeeper must contend with the rough alpine-come-tropical conditions. Damp fern understory to fording icy blue melt water rivers before climbing through the green bushy scrub that in recent years has seen a renewed gold rush. The prize? Alongside delicious Tawhairauriki Honey Dew, Clover, and truly wildflower honey is the Manuka. This year it has bloomed enormously already, alongside its cousin Kanuka. I am incredibly excited for the rest of the summer and look forward to reporting further on my adventures.
The London Honey Company work with The Bee Farmers Association to run a 3 year beekeeping apprenticeship scheme, with the support of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. If you are interested in getting involved in the London Honey Company and applying for the apprenticeship scheme don't hesitate to get in touch.