High hopes for honey harvest
It's a good season for lighter bush honeys, but it's still too early to predict how plentiful the prized manuka crop will be, say beekeepers.
After a slow start due to wet and cool early spring weather, honey flow has picked up as the weather has improved.
Frazer Wilson, president of the Nelson branch of the National Beekeepers Association, said the drier than normal conditions in Golden Bay had been ideal for bees.
There had been excellent kamahi flowering, he said. "It flows every year, but we often don't get the weather so the bees can get out and collect it."
The erratic northern rata had also flowered well, he said. "It makes very good honey but hasn't had the marketing done on it that manuka and other types have."
This had meant bees had taken longer to move on to manuka, and some of it was likely to be diluted by rata and other bush honeys, he said.
"My gut feeling is it's only going to be an average year for manuka.
"The flowering doesn't seem to be as strong, and we had some rain just as it was getting going, which slowed it down."
He expected manuka to make up 40 per cent of his harvest, rather than the usual 60 per cent.
It was a bit disappointing after the previous season, which started very slowly but went on for longer and turned out quite good, Mr Wilson said.
"There will be a large quantity of lighter honey, not the manuka we are after, but you can't do anything about that."
This was likely to hit some beekeepers in the pocket, with manuka set to return them around $14-$15 per kilogram and other honeys $4.50-$6, much the same as last year, he said.
Emmanuel Kelly of Motueka-based NZ Honeys said winter and early spring had been challenging, but the dry spell since had helped.
"There haven't been too many glitches. It's been a pretty clean year for disease - bee health has been good, and there have been very few swarms."
While there had been good flows of rata, it was too soon to tell how much manuka would be harvested, as it was only starting and depended on the weather, he said.
"We normally take honey off in February, although others like Marlborough do it earlier."
Prices could be down slightly on last season, when prices rose after a poor harvest in parts of the North Island, Mr Kelly said.
Scott Williamson, president of the Nelson Beekeepers Club, said manuka was quite site-specific, although the year was shaping up as an average one.
He said there appeared to be few problems with American foulbrood, a contagious bacterial disease which requires infected hives to be burnt, or with tutin toxin, although most commercial beekeepers had taken only small amounts of honey from their hives so far, he said.
Garry Davis of Backyard Bees, near Richmond, said manuka had been very late flowering at most of his hive sites, but it was flowing well now. He had collected two drums of manuka honey before Christmas, which was much better than last year.
He said he concentrated on manuka because other honeys weren't worth enough to harvest.
Although his work involved a lot of travel to places as far as D'Urville Island, he found it enjoyable, he said. "You don't have to deal with staff, and you have really nice scenery."
Mr Davis said he supplemented his income by processing honey from other beekeepers, and hiring out hives to hobbyists.
He had supplied 70 hives to people who wanted to help the bee population recover after the ravages of the varroa mite. "They realised there were no bees in their gardens and orchards and their fruit trees weren't being pollinated, and want to do their bit.
"It's quite time-consuming, as you have to visit each hive 10 times a year, but you meet a lot of nice people."