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The Sweet Life

I’m positively buzzed. I was sitting at my desk some months ago when - DING! - “you’ve got mail.” Sheridan Gundry had sent an email to The Gisborne Herald about a swarm of bees in her backyard. If you have never seen one they are dangerous-looking things. Menacing and wandering. A pretender to the throne has hatched in the hive and there can only be one queen in the hexagonal home.

I picked up the phone and gave Sheridan a buzz. It turns out she was the communications manager in her house. It was her partner Mike who was the bee man. We got chatting about the funny honey-making insects and that was that. As a perennial YES man I put down the phone having agreed to take up the sweet task of beekeeping.

The best part of beekeeping is the minimal amount of anything. The bees do the work. Your job, more or less, is to not let them die. Kind of like children or plants.

The hardest part of beekeeping is the minimal amount of anything. You have to remember you helped bring them into this world and not forget they exist.

But the hobby ain’t cheap. The gear costs a fair few hundred. Thankfully our species is pretty flaky.

"Oh beekeeping sounds cool! Let's give it a go babe, I think we could really make a go at this!"

People love experimenting and trying things out. You probably know three or four people who have given up on the craft already. Go borrow all their gear until they forget they ever gave it to you.

As it was, my sister had bought Practical Beekeeping before she gave up on the honey game and handed that over. Another friend lent us all the other gear we needed.

But it was Mike who was the real MVP. Someone who has very much not given up on the sweet life. Mike runs beekeeping workshops at the Environment Centre and has hives all over the show. It was he that got the ball rolling finding a swarm of bees out in the wild, captured it and brought the usurper queen and her followers to our kingdom.

What a kind man.

Now my brother and I are beekeepers. Jethro bought the boxes and paint so my total outgoings so far is 26 dollars to account for the six-pack of beers that must accompany us to the hives.

For me, joy in life comes from toddling into a new world for a while and having a look around, talking to the people inside their spacetime and hanging about in their secret worlds. The honey world is one worth dipping your toes in for a little nectar.

Bee people are just like us, except maybe a little sweeter. They walk and talk about bees, a gentle hum in conversation about the weather, flowers and sky. It’s a relaxed hobby, like panning for gold.

And like gold, there are those who enjoy the business, and there are those with the Fever.

The crazy eye. Darting tongue. Shaky hands. The big M.

Manuka is where the money is at and where the bad blood starts. Don’t look at them, just keep walking. If you do get stuck talking to one, DO NOT ask them where their hives are in case they take you as a thief after their gold.

Anyway. That's all I know. Jethro and Mike have done most of the beekeeping. I'm more of a moral support worker. Conceptual and thoughtful.

Start asking around. Call up your flakiest friends with too much spare coin and recommend they give beekeeping a go today.

There is a free course at EIT Tairawhiti and the Tairāwhiti Environment Centre runs courses from time to time.

Story & photographs by Jack Marshall

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