Honey is the bees knees for sibling apiarists
Matthew and Daniel Mason started beekeeping when they were just 12 and 14 years old. That was five years ago. Just kids, but they had a real interest in bees then, and still do.
They have 100 hives now and sell their honey at the Palmerston North Albert St market.
They have 14 hives on their parents' lifestyle farm near the city and others spread around Manawatu.
It is winter, and the bees are not so aggressive - in fact they're friendly, the brothers tell the Manawatu Standard photographer and me.
They lift out a bee-covered slat from a hive with only smoke to protect them.
The Mason brothers like their bees, keeping hives, extracting honey, and like seeing the countryside. That's why they started the business.
It has grown and they now produce queen bees as cells, or live queens for North Island beekeepers.
Matthew and Daniel say farmers like having their bees and often approach them. They pollinate clover, a cornerstone of pastoral farming.
Bees are down to their winter numbers now, but they get active in spring and summer and more aggressive.
"We collect honey around Christmas each year and each hive produces about 30 kilograms. To do that, 60,000 sterile female bees toil and bring back pollen each day," says Daniel.
When it comes to the queen, the brothers say she is fed royal jelly to develop. An old queen or a poor one might lay too many eggs in a cell, or miss cells. She lasts a season.
The new queen develops, and, though smaller, is more agile and stings the old queen to kill her, and takes over the hive.
Out with the old and in with the new.
Matthew is studying an Agricultural Science degree at Massey University, and Daniel is at Freyberg High School. He is one of the few students running a business.
They went to the Manawatu Bee Club to learn something of the trade.
"There were like-minded people there. They had the experience and knew about keeping bees. Our mentor has been Gavin Lambert at Bulls."
He sells honey at the Feilding Farmers' Market.
Lambert reckons they know as much as he does.
The brothers started with a nucleus of five hives and then built up hive numbers.
"We've had a few stings, but that's good for you. It's a cure for arthritis. Now we don't even swell up when we get bee stings," says Matthew.
At least once a month, the brothers check on their bee hives. In spring the bee numbers build up.
If they don't check a hive and the numbers, the bees can swarm.
Bees are at their honey-making peak in September, Daniel says.
The Masons watch their bees, and sometimes take strong bees to a weaker hive.
The Mason brothers breed and sell queen bees.
"If they're sold as a cell, then they are hung upside down and protected by a plastic sheath, so the existing queen can't sting them," Daniel says.
It's the royal jelly the bees feed the queen that makes her develop, the Masons say.
"Because she is hanging upside down, the bees keep feeding her royal jelly. They feed the other pupae royal jelly for only two days," Matthew says.
Daniel says they sell hatched mated queen bees, after they make sure they are laying well, for $30.
The Mason brothers make all their own bee equipment, the boxes for hives, the floors, wooden frames and the tin roofs.
They are serious boys. The time they get most animated is talking about their bees and queens and going out to their hives.
- The Masons produce Bush, Clover and Manuka honey.
- They sell all three types at the Albert St market in Palmerston North.
- You can taste the difference between the honeys.
- Manuka honey at $16 a kilogram is twice the price of the others, because it is known to have health properties and it is sought-after.
- The label on their honey is generic at the moment, but the Mason brothers plan to produce their own.
- Smoke for bees is the sign of a bush fire: because they might have to fly for their lives, they gorge on honey and are quieter as a result. Bee-keepers usually use smoke to help control the bees.