Thursday, January 19, 2012


On Friday, December 30, the hills were alive with the flowering of manuka and Times-Age chief reporter Don Farmer came into work and asked me to do a story on the manuka crops and the benefits it would have for beekeepers.

"Call Joe Sweeney," he said, and two and a half hours later I had on a full beekeepers suit complete with thick gloves that made it nearly impossible to work my camera, and my flatmate's blue floral gumboots.

In my 19 months as a reporter, I have donned big white gumboots and a hair net for a tour of the Premier Bacon factory with former Governor General Anand Satyanand, a wetsuit and lifejacket for a tour of the Ruamahunga River with Green Party co-leader Russell Norman, and a massive pair of gloves to hold up the 2011 Melbourne Cup when it visited Greytown to celebrate the town's 1954 winning racehorse Rising Fast - all of which have photographic proof hidden in Times-Age photographer Lynda Feringa's "Blackmail Folder". So this was nothing unusual.

It was raining when I went to see Joe's hive, the worst type of day to open up a hive, as bees are not fans of the rain and don't do alot when it's wet or cold. But, to Joe's surprise, the muggy heat meant the bees were particularly well behaved and had built up a substantial amount of honey, more than expected.

Before putting on the suit, he showed me the hive without opening it and said "if you're game, we can suit up and I'll open the hive for you", so in the spirit of trying new things, I didn't hesitate and ended up feeling quite at home in the big white suit.

You would think it would be kind of scary standing in amongst a swarm of bees when your mum is allergic and you've never been stung so you don't know if you're the same, but from the get go, I told myself "you're in a beekeeping suit, they can't sting you" and stood still, respecting their territory and their work.

I've never been much of a honey eater, not because I don't like it, but because as kids my brother and sister and I were offered vegemite, jam or peanut butter for our sandwiches and the honey was for the adults.

When Joe scooped up a little blob of honey for me to try, the risk of opening up a couple of buttons on my bee-tight suit was totally worth it to taste the smooth, sweet golden goodness of manuka honey. I'm now a honey eater.

Joe has invited me back on a sunnier day to teach me to ropes of beekeeping and, in the spirit of the new year, a time when you promise yourself you are going to "be more adventurous" and "try new things", I agreed, so stay tuned for the next installment of my beekeeping lessons.

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