When the brothers grew up, they wanted to be beekeepers too, and today River, 21 has been working for the family business, Buzz Apiaries Ltd of Katikati, for five years, while 19-year-old Corban has been involved for three years.
“It’s hard physical work and at times long hours” says Corban, “but I enjoy caring for the bees. It’s like managing any livestock, except there’s thousands of them.”
River is also fascinated by bees and well aware that without the intervention of beekeepers, honey bees probably wouldn’t survive. The hours can be long, especially with the need to travel to honey sites or move pollination hives. “But properly managed, you can still enjoy a good lifestyle and time out for the other things you want to do” says River.
Alongside staff members Lochie Hart and Blair Cooney, the pair are the hands-on time for the company which is the first beekeeping business to ever enter the Bay of Plenty Balance Farm Environment Awards. In doing so, the brothers are following a family tradition.
In 2003 their parents David and Julie Hayes won three category awards in the inaugural Bay of Plenty Balance Farm Environment Awards for the kiwifruit orchards they own.
Buzz Apiaries was launched by David and Julie when they bought 100 hives in 2003 to bring diversity to their business. Now the company has more than 1000, providing pollination services to kiwifruit and avocado orchards, as well as producing top grade honey.
As delighted as they are that their sons have joined the business, David and Julie say there was never any pressure for them to do so. “It’s what they really wanted to do,” says David.
Increasingly River and Corban run the beekeeping side of the business, leaving David and Julie more time to concentrate on honey extraction and processing at their purpose-built high-spec facility in Katikati.
There they extract honey from their own hives as well as 22 other beekeepers’ hives from around the North Island. The Hayes honey and bee products are sold under the brand name BeeNZ.
Meanwhile, Buzz Apiaries, under the management of the young team, have shown productive growth and increased honey production.
There’s a strong focus on the environment in and around the hives, with wooden hive boxes used instead of plastic and close liaisons established with orchardists, spray contractors and landowners around the applications of sprays which may harm bees.
“We’ve really noticed a big improvement in the understanding about when not to spray,” says Corban.
Like all beekeepers, Buzz Apiaries is faced with managing the verroa mite which infects hives. River says the use of oxalic acid strips for the control of the waste is performing well and leaves no waste.
Keeping pollination hive healthy, especially in green kiwifruit orchards where flowers offer little food for the bees, is a challenge.
“We feed pollen and AgriSea’s Bee Nutrition product to keep the hives strong and healthy,” says River.
A big focus for the company is the relationship enjoyed with landowners who allow the honey hives to be placed on their properties.
River, Blair, Lochie and Corban all take responsibility for ensuring their landowners are considered and respected. Hives are placed well into the property for security for the hives.
“The landowners are awesome,” says Corban, recounting how on a very hot day at one farm they visited “a lady came out with cold drinks for us and filled our water bottle with ice”.
To ensure a great source of nectar for their bees and to help landowners with riparian plantings, Buzz Apiaries had established a small Manuka nursery to provide plants to farmers and they community. It’s part of the company philosophy to consider what you leave behind both inter-generationally , and here and now.
Health and safety is a significant consideration with “toolbox” meetings every Monday morning so all team members know what is happening for the week.
All vehicles and equipment is modern and in top condition to minimise maintenance costs and down time and night work is never carried out alone.
David and Julie have a succession plan involving their family, with the intention of ensuring Buzz Apiaries and BeeNZ have a long and sustainable future providing essential pollination services to the horticultural industry, and high quality honey to the consumer.