On the last Friday of each month, you will be able to get up close and personal with epic individuals in our community and learn more about their area of expertise. Who knows, they may even share their Mānuka honey hacks! To receive the blog directly to your inbox each month, make sure you're signed up to our email list. We’d love your feedback on any areas of expertise you’d like to hear from in the coming months - drop us a line at email@example.com to let us know!
July Sweet Talks
Introducing Jim, one of Manukora’s founding master beekeepers from the wild and remote far north of New Zealand.
We’ve been lucky enough to work with Jim for over 5 years now and love to spend time with Jim soaking up his passion for the bees, taking on tips about best practices for high quality Manuka production and just enjoying the beautiful scenes that his home in the far north offers. This has been an absolutely awesome chat with Jim and he hasn’t held back on spilling his secrets and sharing the elements of his day to day that bring him the most joy. So let’s get stuck in!
Talk us through how you got into beekeeping? We’ve been lucky enough to work with you through almost all of your career as a beekeeper, and we have really enjoyed co-developing ‘The Art of Ethical Beekeeping’ with you (& our other master beekeepers). Can you tell us what motivated you to pursue this old-school, traditional approach with us?
A local from my area who was into beekeeping in a small way asked to put a few hives on my farm and asked if I was interested in learning about bees. Being a massive lover of nature, growing my own garden and fruit trees, and living off the grid in the bush, it made sense for me to immediately say yes.
After only one or two sessions learning about the hives from him, I was fascinated and it was safe to say I was going to have bees in my life in one way or another.
As luck would have it, I was looking to start up a business that would work in my local community and this was perfect, so I got busy investing in my own hives and learning everything I needed to know about bees to make this work.
As I was already into doing things in an environmentally friendly way, from the start, I wanted to adopt an ethical way of working with the bees. After a lot of research and talking with as many beekeepers as I could, I learned that keeping bees locally, allowing them to organically find the best sites where they could access the right amount of natural nutrition and shelter and keeping a tidy dry hive was going to help achieve this.
In the early years I spent a lot of time tweaking this as I learned more about bees and how they worked with nature. Luckily, I also linked up with Manukora not too far into my journey which helped a huge amount, as I had support with my key values from the buyers of the product I was producing.
Sometimes beekeeping can feel very complicated and foreign for our customers. If possible, explain one specific beekeeping method of yours that is beneficial for the bees and why this is important for the production of high-quality Manuka honey?
If I was to highlight one thing that makes a huge difference to purely producing this product and look after the bees at the same time, it would be timing. It is so important to observe mother nature.
When the temperatures and weather are right, I spend the time picking the right colonies that are ready to produce. I then carefully move them from a nearby location if necessary (in many cases where possible, we leave the hives in situ permanently).
The bees sometimes need to be moved short distances as the areas where the Manuka grows doesn’t always have the right diversity for the bees' health all year round. However when the Manuka tree is flowering (over the New Zealand summer), the bees do very well in these locations. For me, their health is the priority, so our motto for any shifting we have to do is ‘time it right and keep it local’. We have delicate methods of shifting that ensure the bees continue to thrive throughout this process.
Your home is one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Can you tell us a little more about the far north, and what makes the Mānuka honey special from this area?
The far north is a very special place. It is wild with nature and has a deep history, with humans living and working with nature there ever since the Māori sailed here from the Pacific Islands hundreds of years ago. It has so many rich cultural stories and sites to go with them.
There is a Māori word “wairua” which means spirit and it is commonly said by the people in this area that the wairua of the land is strong. As I find myself in some of these remote places where mother nature is untouched by man, I believe I can feel this wairua and it’s such a special feeling and an immense privilege.
I believe that this untouched aspect has given the native bush the time to grow the diversity that helps everything natural around it thrive, so this suits our bees very well. Having a “working with nature focus” has taught me that the more we adapt our practices to let nature and bees feed each other, the healthier they both are and the better the product we get. We always make sure the bees come first before we harvest any excess honey. Fortunately for all of us Manuka and nature lovers, we can achieve plenty of excess honey this way by listening to and observing mother nature.
I believe the weather constantly coming in from the ocean in this narrow part of our country and the natural environment being left to thrive is what gives the Manuka trees here the health they need to produce such high grade Manuka.
What's the most fascinating thing you've learned about bees during your time as a master beekeeper? Any surprising discoveries?
There are many things that fascinate me about bees, but I’ll just share three things that come to mind.😁
- Firstly all the worker bees in the hive are females. Males only exist in the bee world to mate with virgin queens from the other hives. They fly out and find a warm pocket of air where the virgin queens from other hives and the drone bees (male bees) meet up and do the “buzzness” required to make the queen fertile. Once this happens the queen bee returns to her hive and can lay fertile eggs.
- Second, is the two different types of bee dances that bees do to let each other know where a food source is:
If a foraging bee finds a food source within 100 meters of the hive it comes into the hive and starts waggling its whole body from side to side, then spins in a circle to capture the attention of the other foraging bees in the hive. When she stops spinning, the direction she is facing is the direction of the food source.
If the food source is further than 100m (and it can be as far as 1.8 miles in any direction from the hive) then the foraging bee will enter the hive and do the same body wiggle facing the direction of the food source. She then runs down the comb and the distance she runs down the comb is the distance of the food source.
Third, is the hexagon that the bees build to make up their hive. This is fascinating and has baffled scientists for hundreds of years. They either forage nectar, store it into a cell to be made into honey, or their bodies turn this into beeswax (which they then use to build up the entire hive). In just one frame there are 7000 of these hexagons and a good healthy queen bee can lay up to 2000 eggs a day!
One of our favorite things about our partnership with you is your ambition to support your local community through your work with Manuka honey. Can you talk to us about your goals here?
This question really means a lot to me, as it’s a huge part of why I wanted a business that could operate and be successful within my remote, small town. We don’t have a huge economy here in the far north and it can be hard for young people who want to stay in the area to find a career or job.
What makes beekeeping different from other businesses in the area is that it does more than support and feed the thriving ecosystem around us. It helps to create employment for younger people and it helps out a lot of land owners in the area who own beautiful native bush, as we can pay them to keep the bees on their property, which in turn supports the preservation of native bush. This also helps Māori Iwi (tribes) in the area, as a lot of the bush is owned by them.
My goal with my business is to grow it so it can help the community and the natural environment in these ways. Even though it’s a small business, I aim to figure out a system to grow it while maintaining the same level of care for the bees.
What makes you a Mānuka super user?
I can definitely be called a Manuka super user. I keep many different grades for household consumption and to share around with friends. I believe it should be an essential to anyone wanting to live a healthy lifestyle. The super high grade I use topically, as well as on animals. I also use this high grade to support my immune system, for which I have a special combination drink I make. It’s an old family recipe my mum used to make me when I was a child. I’ll share it here as I think it really helps:
- A bit of freshly grated ginger root;
- One clove of finely chopped garlic;
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice;
- Tablespoon of high MGO Manuka honey.
Garlic is optional, but it helps give the immune system a good boost and if you use lots of Manuka honey it’s healthy and delicious.
I also use Manuka honey graded at about MGO 600+ to eat daily in smoothies and on toast, and just because I can, I like to eat it with a spoon straight from the jar.
If you could choose one movie/documentary/podcast to recommend to our Manukora community, what would it be and why?
The Joe Rogan episode with Erika Thompson where she explains how bee colonies work.
Erika Thompson is a really awesome woman who is obsessed with bees and really helps educate people on bee health and the problems we face with the bees health on this planet. She also knows a lot about bees and shares lots of fun facts and I’ve found her to be factually correct for the most part. I encourage anyone interested in bee facts or health to give this podcast a listen. She also makes videos of her working with bees on YouTube.
We’re extremely grateful to be partnered with a small network of beekeepers like Jim, who have a deep passion for their land, the bees and the surrounding environment. As you heard from Jim, when these are all prospering, the most potent, delicious super honey, unlike any other is produced. This unique way of beekeeping Jim employs is the standard at Manukora and something that is a non negotiable for us. You can read more about our unique standard we call ‘The Art of Ethical Beekeeping’ here or reach out to us if you have any questions!