One thing is for certain, that owning a hive takes a lot of work to maintain it, and keep the colony healthy. There are so many diseases and opportunist parasites that can reap havoc if the colony is sick or weak. It’s a hobby that takes some devotion. One speaker caught my attention as he spoke about what causes swarming in a hive, where the queen and all her followers leave looking for more space, and just how to avoid it. Lindsay also talked about how he is often called to swarms, and how he gets them back into hives where they can be safe and productive once again.
We chatted afterwards and it turns out that he is a hive inspector. His role is to check hives for disease mostly, and then give the a certificate of health to beekeepers who can then legally own and maintain hives. It’s an annual event that safe guards and traces disease throughout the New Zealand hive community, and that makes total sense. Through such inspections ‘hot spots’ of disease are known across the islands and helps a cause of action to remedy it. Lindsay was visiting Kaikoura on Monday to inspect some hives for a fellow called Perry, who had 15 hives spotted at the base of, and top of some high country there. I asked if I could join them and document it, and with Perry’s consent I drove down Monday to see the hives and Lindsay in action. It has been a long time since I’ve visited Kaikoura, and I was excited to join them.
When I first arrived they were suited up and checking out some hives just off the coastal road near Goose Bay at a strawberry farm. Walking towards them I could see a fellow patting his head, and flicking a branch around as if he was trying to warn off some bees. As I got closer the pissed off bees were onto me, and I could feel the anger! Unlike last time this happened when I started swatting them, and I got stung, I took the advice of Kevin, to curl into a ball face down on the ground when being attacked. I did i exactly that and after a few ‘head butts’ and rapidly buzzing around my head, the bees flew off. I then had time to suit up. I was like WTF Perry! haha.
Perry’s family has a holiday home in Kaikoura, and it comes with 700 Hectares of bush, and boy oh boy was it lush and rich with New Zealand flora! When we got to the high point, the hives were literally over flowing with bees and they were showing signs of swarming. Several hives had heaps of bees covering the outside, signalling that the space inside was not much. It was super foggy and quite humid-warm- with absolutely thousands of bees flying around as they opened up the hives to check for disease. I mentioned to Lindsay that this job was not for everyone as it’s quite the experience being inside a huge loud ‘swarm’ of pissed off honey bees as you rummage through their home. From what I’ve heard, commercial beekeepers struggle to find photographers due to the remoteness of the work, and also working with the bees themselves. For the faint hearted I guess, it is quite scary. Thankfully I’m pretty comfortable being remote and with the hives, and aware that the images I’m capturing are quite unique in the sense of documenting what Beekeeprs experience day after day. I feel my imagery is more for the Beekeeprs and a celebration, than commercial work that is about the product ultimately. It’s an ongoing privilege to spend time with Beekeepers too, and appreciate it very much.
Perry must have taken 5 boxes of honey back home to Christchurch on Monday, and after tasting some, I can share that it was utterly beautiful. Pure ‘bush’ honey from bees who are surrounded by flowering natives from Manuka, to Kanuka to Beech Trees and more is divine. At one point the fog lifted and the sun broke through to reveal some peaks and sky. It was beautful. Boy oh boy was it hot in that suit though. I was not even lifting the 40KG boxes, or on my knees working though rack after rack, but felt very hot and uncomfortable during the day. A few times I had to walk off about 500M and just sit in the shade with my vale off. It’s quite intense when your hot and amongst such active hives, and the more time I spend with beekeepers, the more I appreciate just how physically demanding the job is. It must be brutal on hot Summer day for sure. The bonus of the fog though, even though it sacrificed views to the ocean, was just how well it showcased the sheer numbers of bees flying about due to it offering a ‘white background’. I feel that I caught images that showcases just how intense it actually is right in the middle of a giant ‘cloud’ of bees. The close up images of hive ‘comb’ and the larger peanut shaped cells, for the growing the queen bee in, are crops taken from my 35mm camera.
Overall the day was great, and It was pretty nice too, being called the young bloke at 47, with Lindsay in his 60’s, and Perry mid 70’s. I hope I’m as active and passionate as these guys in 20 + years time. Haha. Cheers fellas from the experience and good yarns.