The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August 1, 1935)
Enterprise, full of glamour and variety, characterises the beekeeping activities of Mrs. M. A. Shepherd, whose home—when she is at home—is in Rangiora, near Christchurch.
With four hundred hives in twelve apiaries, in different parts of the South Island of New Zealand, she conducts a widespread honey-gathering campaign each year. Accompanied by her bees she is able to go where the honey flows thickest, for she has devised a novel method of moving her bee-farms. With her industrious henchman Clarry, who is little more than a boy, though an oracle on bee-lore, she goes about with her busy little bees finding honey and a life of romance.
It is indeed a privilege to visit any one of the outposts of this gallant pioneer in a comparatively undeveloped industry.
About two miles from Otira, in the heart of the Southern Alps, she has “broken in” from the wilds, a very attractive summer residence for herself, Clarry and Doug., and her little helpers—the bees. Doug, helps at places like Otira, where much hard work has to be done in a short time. Incidentally, these people know what hard work and long hours mean, but there are many compensating factors in their colourful life.
Some of the hives are shown in the illustration at the head of the article. The shed, seen on the right of the picture (made mostly from beaten-out benzine tins) is a storehouse, and contains the extractor, for removing the honey from the combs.
The flowering rata trees at Otira are world-famous, both for their beauty and for the creamy honey they yield. Rata honey is very fine in texture, snow-white, and has a distinctive taste all of its own.
At the beginning of the season, the whole party, including 100 colonies of bees, goes by rail to Otira to make the most of the profusion of rata flowers.
Each colony—or hive of bees—travels in a benzine tin, suitably ventilated and with a wooden lid from which a piece of sacking is suspended. The bees cluster on the sacking and are thus readily transported by rail. This procedure has been carried on successfully for some years and it will be noticed, as in many other such enterprises, that many useful purposes are served by the humble benzine tin, so plentiful in New Zealand a few years ago, before the advent of bowsers.
On arrival at Otira each colony is transferred into an empty hive waiting in readiness. While the honey flow is on, the bees are left to improve the shining hours gathering nectar to produce the rich cream-like rata honey. In the meantime other apiaries elsewhere are attended to, and at the end of the rata flowering season Otira is again visited.
The honey is then taken from the hives, extracted, and packed into 60 lbs. tins, after which the bees are put back into their benzine-tin travelling compartments. This is a very delicate operation, requiring a little judicious shaking of the frames and much care. By this arrangement the bees are at work only while rata flowers are plentiful and so a very pure grade of honey is gathered, as competition for the bees' patronage by inferior flowers is then relatively negligible.
The apiary, although about two miles from the Otira station, is adjacent to the railway line, and so by a special arrangement with the department, a train stops within a few hundred yards of the bees' summer home, picks up the tins of bees and honey—perhaps seven tons or more of the latter, and takes the little toilers back to the warmer climate of Rangiora for the winter. Photograph (3) shows part of last season's honey stacked alongside the line waiting for the train.
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