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Q + A: Warre Hive Beekeeping with Nick Holmes

To follow our series of interviews with upcoming workshop tutors Kay had a quick chat with Nick Holmes who will be at Koanga in September presenting a workshop about the Warre hive system and Beekeeping:

Kay: Nick, why are you a proponent of the vertical top bar Warre system?

Nick: I have come to realise that Warre hives most closely mimic the hive environment that bees create and thrive in naturally in a temperate environment. In our climate honeybees choose nests in vertical tree cavities. Being a tall vertical hive, the Warre hive has the shape and thermal properties of a hollow tree with the quilt forming an internal roof. Both the Warre hive and method support the bees to express themselves as naturally as possible.

Kay: Why don’t you just follow Langstroth ( common industrial system used by most beekeepers today) systems but be organic?

Nick: The big reason people take up Langstroth beekeeping is because it is easy to get hive ware. Langstroth hives are the main hive type in use in NZ. I began my beekeeping journey by doing a Certificate in Apiculture, learning the Langstroth way. I quickly noticed the hive was large and cold, and the method (as dictated by the hive design) is extremely intrusive and destructive to the colony. Bees are heat organisms par excellence, and heat loss in modern hives such as the Langstroth is four to seven times greater than in a hollow tree. This is a huge stress that is created by a hive design and method of beekeeping that completely ignores the biological needs of the bee.

Kay: Why did you choose vertical top bar hives rather than horizontal top bar hives?

Nick: Horizontal honey bee nests are typically found in humid subtropical climates where bees are not so concerned about conserving heat. The vertical format mimics the choice of nest in temperate climates, and is far more thermally efficient.

Kay: Do you actually mange them without any insecticides ( miticides) or do you find you still have to use the ‘organic’ options of miticides?

Nick: I think people have been scared in to believing the misnomer than we ‘have to’ use treatments to ‘save the bees’ from varroa. There are many examples now from around the world of treatment-free colonies having greater rates of survival than treated colonies.

I initially succumbed to that fear, and although I refused to treat with synthetic miticides, I did treat my Warre colonies with ‘organic’ miticides such as thyme oil and Apilifevar (a gel made of of thyme, camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oils). I have never used the ‘organic’ acids like oxalic or formic. I still had losses, the comb took on the treatment smells and they were very aggressive on the bees, you can just tell they don’t like it.

I have since learnt about the myriad of other organisms that call the hive home, that support and strengthen the bee colony, and so have ceased treatment altogether. My hives now are made from strong spring swarms, and are left to get on with it. I harvest honey from the hives that die out, and leave the hives that are surviving with their stores. This story ( of a 3yr old ‘feral’ colony in South Auckland is proof that bees are surviving in NZ without treatment, and we are seeing this in our hives too.

Kay: Do you think that Warre hives are real for home growers and beekeepers? 

Nick: Warre hives are the perfect option for people wanting to keep bees at home, small organic growers wanting hives for pollination etc.  It is also totally possible to go commercial and do it ‘naturally’ with the Warre, as others around the world are doing.

Kay: How much honey could one expect to get from a Warre hive?

Nick: It really depends on your area and nectar sources, but the first thing to remember is that Warre hives do not ‘stimulate’ the bees to produce honey like Langstroth hives do. Warre colonies simply produce less honey. I see this as a reasonable expectation however – we must allow them to regain their health and strength if we want to continue living alongside them into the future.

It is possible to take a small harvest in the first year from a large swarm, however usually you would expect your first harvest in the spring, or summer of the second year. One box is a good guide, or 14kg per hive per year.

Kay: Do you think it is possible  to maintain 1 hive in a regenerative way.. or would one need more hives to keep the apiary going throughout the years?

Nick: The saying “two is one and one is none” comes to mind. Natural beekeeping in it’s truest sense would not seek to compromise one colony to assist another, like transplanting brood to save a failing hive. I do think at least two hives is a good starting point however, for a couple of reasons. Each hive is different and they can teach you different things. If you really need to (and you could confirm that need with another experienced Warre beekeeper) use one hive to help another, you have the option. 2-5 hives would give a a nice dispersed and ‘dynamic’ apiary – some young swarms buidling, some honey producers and some swarm producers.

Kay: How much does it cost to set oneself up with Warre hives?

Nick: If you are handy with tools and wood you can build a Warre hive for the cost of timber and time. I build the hives for others from naturally durable timbers we mill ourselves for the purpose, and charge $380 per 4-box complete Warre. Material costs make up about half, and time the other half.

Kay: How much time and how often does it take to care for a Warre hive?

Nick: Once the hives are built, it would only take a couple of hours over the year of actual work. I tend to spend the most time just observing – what is flowering when, what are the bees bringing in, activity levels throughout the day, sun on the hives, number of bees fanning.


If you want more information regarding the Warre hive and Nick’s workshop follow this link

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Q + A: Butchery Workshop with Taiamai Corker

Kay caught up with Taiamai ahead of the Butchery Workshop that he will be delivering at Koanga, to get an idea of what participants can expect from the course:

Q: Taiamai where did you learn to kill and butcher your own meat

A: The first thing that came to mind was a photo of Dad and I and  my dog Spot, with Dad in his green overalls i think and  two goats with no heads under the totara tree at home next to the outside bath, and then the next  thought that came to mind was the photo of me trying to fillet the mullet in my home made wool top ( I was 3) , pretty funny….

I have picked up bits and pieces over the years starting from catching fish and learning how to fillet them with my parents to then learning to raise, kill and process chickens and ducks also with mum and dad…. and then around age 4-6    learning to hunt goats  first with my father and my dog, and then with my brothers, always with the idea from the start of going out to get some food for the family weather it was goats, eels, fresh water crayfish, rabbits and turkeys and at times some of these were also pests in the garden,
Q: This is the 5th time you have taught the butchering workshop for Koanga.. they have always been full and very successful.. your students rave about the workshop afterwards…..what inspires you to teach this workshop to others

A: I enjoy showing people how they can work with meat to get a home grown animal processed into many things that they themselves can enjoy, for it’s about knowing your animals and enjoying them while they are alive and looking after them as best you can, and when you are ready, being able to kill the animal in the best way you can. and then really being able to  enjoy making something from the animal and respecting the animal from paddock to plate…. using all the bits…. I take great pride and enjoyment in helping people to learn these skills

Q: You are currently in Germany learning traditional butchering skills from a traditional butcher.. what exciting things can we expect to be hearing about in your workshop this September

A: Germany well it’s all about pork, pork pork pork pork pork. I think a blood sausage or German black pudding will be on the cards, as with everything i have seen so far there is no grain and no fillers in these traditional German products, also i think a ‘skin off’ dry cured ham from the rump of the pig, so nice and small and easy to get through but also eaten raw, not cooked and only taking a few weeks from start to finish,  we will also talk about liver sausage and the bratwurst, two exceptional products and all of this with not wheat flour or rice flour.

Q: Can we have some weekly feed back while you are in Germany , we’d love to hear more about the things you are learning

A: In the first week it’s all been about watching… well it will be the whole time, and also finding a way to communicate as I work with three guys, one speaks no English, one speaks a little and one had great English but he goes on holiday at the end of next week so that will be interesting. The machinery they use is crazy ( $75,000 sausage filler )  and the list of gear I have never seen goes on, from skinning every pig they buy and also using the skin to make other products and a huge list of cooked luncheon sausages that even have cubed ham in them or whole eggs, it look pretty fancy when sliced on the sandwich, also the butchery building is over 300 years old with an awesome selection of cured meats hanging in the attic.

You can sign up for Taiamai’s Butchery course at Koanga here!

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Q + A: Grazing Workshop with Jodi Roebuck

Kay caught up with Jodi Roebuck ahead of the Grazing Workshop that he will be delivering at Koanga, to get an idea of what participants can expect from the course:

Q: Can you earn a living doing this or is it just for homekill meat.

A: That’s the context and scale bound but yes many farmers are making their incomes grazing holistically with improving landscapes.

Q: Jodi who is this workshop for?

A: Anyone who wants to graze on any scale while improving pasture diversity, lowering inputs and buffering extremities such as drought/runoff. Novice to rancher

Q: Do you have to be a farmer already?

A: Not at all, I’m proof of this

Q: Is it a useful workshop for existing traditional farmers?

A: Absolutely

Q: Is it a useful workshop for those who dream to become farmers but do not own land?

A: Yes I’ve explored the access to land relationship in depth, for us it was the only way to increase the size of our farm without a mortgage. A local farming mentor/friend has 20 leases yet owns no acreage

Q: Do you see this as useful for people who own lifestyle blocks, or larger farms.?

A: Both, the principles & patterns are scalable. I regularly work with farmers in brittle (dry) climate who farm 5000 acre, yet I also value the learnings/feedback that come from a small mob managed tight

Q: Does it apply to all kinds of animal management?

A: Esp sheep and cattle but also done with goats

Q: How did you get into farming, when we met you were a gardener?

A: We had to do something with our outer acreage so first I learnt to fence then came the grazing which has fascinated me. Herbivores have developed grasslands as have humans developed cultivars

Q: What inspired you?

A: Salatins ideas such as access to land which led me to follow Greg Judys work documenting the restoration of his farms ecology and finances

Q: Who did you learn from?

A: Local farmers Bruce Andrews and Matt Denson, Darren Doherty Joel Salatin Bruce Davison Of Candelo Salers.

Q: Is this kind of farming you are doing and teaching about, a realistic proposition for other young people today?

A: Can you earn a living doing this or is it just for homekill meat. Thats context and scale bound but yes many farmers are making their incomes grazing holistically with improving landscapes.

Q: You are very passionate about everything you do but what is it about Holistic Management that get you buzzing?

A: Darren Doherty pushed the import and find out a few things about his knowledge and fascinationstracking down farmers in VIC, NSW and CA that were grazing holistically. The pattern I witnessed was restoring grasslands despite drought, creating calm, shiny animals in great condition and farmers who still worked hard but had quality of life, not to mention they were also in control of all the on farm decisions. I like the relationship of using timed grazing to restore grasslands while mimicking natural patterns. Independence from fertilizer companies, seed companies & vets appealed to me also.

Register for the Grazing Workshop with Jodi Roebuck