Learning lessons from bees

22:45, Jan 16 2013
BUSY AS: Mark Horsnell’s love of beekeeping helped him turn his passion into a fulltime profession.

Mark Horsnell, 56, is a beekeeper from Henderson. He chats with reporter Julian Raethel about his passion for bees and preserving one of nature's greatest assets.

I wake up at different times depending on the season.

In the warmer months I'm up at 6am but during winter and autumn I'll be up a little later.

Beekeeping is very weather-dependant, so I check the weather forecast before I plan the day.

Bees don't like to go out when it's raining so they stay inside the hive.

There's no point in trying to work around them as the hives are too congested.


I have a worker so if it's bad weather we will carry out maintenance and repairs on our equipment and I'll keep up with the bookwork.

If the sun is shining we head out to the hives.

We cover bee farms from Oratia right up to Helensville and will lift the lid on anywhere from 50 to 100 hives a day.

We have three main income streams and they all take turns during the year.

One is pollination for orchardists during the spring, for example, kiwifruit in the Kumeu and Taupaki areas. Pollination is the process where bees transfer pollen from male to female plants to enable them to bear fruit and set seeds.

We house our hives in the orchards and supervise the pollination and when the job's done we pack up the hives while the bees are sleeping at night.

Right now we are gathering honey, with the season in northwest Auckland flowing from November to March.

The third part of beekeeping is to breed and sell bees to other beekeepers.

There's a very small window to complete certain tasks and only one shot at it during the year.

My interest in bees began from a very young age.

I grew up in Christchurch and at the bottom of our school's playground were a row of poplar trees and in one of them was a beehive.

I loved watching them and beekeeping became a hobby as I grew older.

I eventually asked myself: Why not make your hobby your business?

So I began working with bees in 1996.

You do get stung as a beekeeper and that's just the nature of the job.

I had one helper who, on his second day of work, was stung and had to be rushed to Waitakere Hospital due to his allergic reaction, which he was previously unaware of.

The common misconception is that bees are aggressive and go on the offence but really they're just going about their work and will only attack if they feel threatened, just like any creature.

I'm learning new things all the time from bees and every day is different.

They are a vital part of nature and we really do need bees to survive, they are a society in their own right.

In the summer months we usually pack up work at 5pm but it's different from day to day.

Western Leader