Ben and Leah Mee are the owner/operators of Southern Alps Honey in Canterbury.
What got you started in beekeeping?
Ben has always had an interest in bees and their honey. As a child, he would kick the honey supers off the top of the hives that were on his parents’ farm and help himself to a frame of honey! Never mind a few stings here and there. On returning to New Zealand from working in Australia six years ago, we planned on purchasing up to six hives, for a hobby. We did this and enjoyed working with the bees. Then we met John Syme who talked about his beekeeping operation that he had sold two years before. We made the decision to purchase another 300 hives and grew from there with John mentoring us along the way.
How big is your operation?
We have approximately 1200 hives. Our apiary sites are situated in the Rakaia Gorge and from the foothills of Mt Hutt to Staveley, where we are based. Staff members include one full-time and five to six casual staff during the months we are extracting honey.
What do you find the most rewarding thing about being a beekeeper?
We both grew up on farms so have a natural affinity with the outdoors. We live in a beautiful country and having access to tend to our bees in these stunning areas is pretty special. We enjoy the animal health aspect to beekeeping, and managing the honey from hive, harvest, extraction, packing, marketing and sales, keeps us busy. Hearing back from customers that they love our honey and other products is also pretty cool!
Do you have a particular highlight from your time beekeeping?
Winning gold and silver awards for our honey at the annual ApiNZ conference, two years running is a definite highlight. We have also met a lot of great people through beekeeping and at the ApiNZ conferences who have provided support and networks for our business. This has been especially important this year, given the tough season we have had.
Sustainability is an important part of your business – why is this so important to you?
Sustainability is important for a number of reasons. If we look after our bees, the environment we live and work in, and provide a positive impact on our community, we believe our business will have a greater chance of long-term success.
What are a couple of things you do differently as a result of your focus on sustainability?
I’m not sure we do any single thing different to other beekeepers but we have goals regarding sustainability and continuously work towards achieving them.
Some of the things we do are:
- All hives are located a minimum distance from other sites, preventing the spread of disease. They are in close proximity to a source of nectar, pollen and water and positioned for maximum sunshine year-round.
- We run an extensive wasp baiting program and have planted additional trees for bees along creeks near apiary sites. We’ve also fenced off existing natives to keep domestic livestock out.
- We do not use any plastic frames, only wood. Hive brood boxes and supers are all made from pine and paraffin-dipped to prevent rotting. All boxes and frames are repaired/recycled, reducing the environmental impact and creating long term use of our hive-wear.
- We provide education to local groups, pre-schoolers and school groups with shed tours and school visits with the glass hive. Epipens have been placed in strategically on farms where our apiary sites are located, and immediate medical help is unavailable, to protect the public from medical emergencies caused from beestings.