'Spectacular' season for beekeepers

Former National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand president Frans Laas, pictured with honey...
Former National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand president Frans Laas, pictured with honey from one of his hives near Mosgiel on Friday, says conditions in Otago are "exceptionally good" for honey production. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Beekepers in Otago are having a "spectacular" season, with warm weather in the region resulting in better honey producing conditions, says National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand Otago president Allen McCaw.

Mr McCaw, who owns more than 200 hives at Milburn Apiaries near Milton, said a good growing period in spring and a warm December meant conditions were excellent for producing honey.

"It's been quite spectacular," he said.

The warm conditions also meant hives were producing earlier than usual, with some beekeepers starting to harvest honey in mid-December rather than the usual January.

The only thing beekeepers needed to make the season better was a bit of rain to improve conditions for nectar-producing flowers later in the season.

"It's been good so far, but with another drop of rain it would be fantastic."

The excellent season came at the right time for beekeepers in the region after last year when cool temperatures, very little sunshine and too much rain resulted in a terrible season.

"Last year was disastrous, it was a terrible year and so we need a good one now to pull a few people out of the difficulty."

A productive honey producing season would also allow beekeepers to put some money away to prepare for the spread of varroa mite, he said.

"I just hope that people have the sense to put something aside to prepare themselves for [varroa]," he said.

The presence of the varroa mite, a parasite that destroys bee colonies by transmitting viruses from adult honey bees to larvae, has been confirmed in Central Otago and south of Oamaru, but beekeepers in other parts of Otago are yet to find any signs of the mite. Mr McCaw said the spread of varroa was inevitable and when it arrived it would cost beekeepers between $30 to $40 per hive a year to treat.

Beekeepers were waiting to find signs of the parasite in Dunedin, but if it was already present it would likely only be found after the end of honey-producing season in February, March or April.

"At this stage, there doesn't appear to be anything in Dunedin, but the trouble with this beast is that it can be here for anything up to a couple of years before anyone spots it."

Former National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand president Frans Laas said this season had been "exceptionally good" for beekeepers in Otago.

Mr Laas, who runs Dunedin-based breeding research company Betta Bees Research, which operates about 300 hives spread across the bottom of the South Island, said the warm weather meant bees were producing more honey.

The Mosgiel man is working to create bees which produce more honey and are more resistant to varroa.

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