Grass Esposti believes hands-on learning with an experienced beekeeper is paramount when people are considering having a hive

A utopia began beetopia

by Ann van Engelen

Grass Esposti fell in love with bees the moment she opened a beehive some seven years ago and appreciates honey of all types that is available from the Deep South to the Far North

“I had a utopia moment when I saw these hard-working insects in their hive and was surprised how serene and calm they were,” says Grass.

Grass and her husband Anthony opened Beetopia NZ Ltd in July 2018 with daughter Michelle and the support of Francis and James of F&J Honey NZ.

“When we relocated from Italy to New Zealand, we received the wonderful opportunity of managing lifestyle properties and decided to learn about pollination and bees to improve our orchards’ health and productivity. We have since started an Airbnb and were recently chosen as the first Honey Tasting and Bee Experience in New Zealand.

“Our Airbnb experience is unique and includes learning about bees and tasting 30 different varieties of honey from the Far North to the deep South, Great Barrier and Niue. You get to taste what clover tastes like throughout New Zealand. It does not always have to be about manuka. There are so many other delicious types of honey that need more of our attention — in fact, our tasting includes rewarewa, pohutukawa, kamahi, beechwood, and kanuka.”

Grass believes joining a local beekeepers club is important and provides the opportunity to learn hands-on with an experienced beekeeper.

“This helps build confidence and is fundamental when you are a beginner. Depending on the strength of a hive it can house between 10,000 to 80,000 bees in spring and summer. During autumn the numbers reduce and in winter they can drop back to 10,000.

“A strong hive depends on a good queen and good hive management. In New Zealand, we have the active and lively Carniolan black honey bee and the Italian strain, which is an amber colour and more docile to work with.

All bees are hard-working, but in winter depending on external temperatures and weather conditions they start work later in the day when it is warmer. They forage for floral resources such as gorse, which is extremely high in pollen.

“The foragers explore continuously looking for nectar and pollen and often die of exhaustion. Nectar is released from flowers when it is above 20 degrees, but this year winter was mild, so the nectar has flowed, and we are getting honey.

The foragers cast their bounty back to the nurse bees who store it and feed the growing larvae and brood — thus the cycle continues.

“The queen bee’s scent determines social behaviour, maintenance of the hive, swarming, mating behaviour, inhibition of ovary development in worker bees, communication, orientation and defence and much more.

“The drones are male bees, and their primary function is to mate with virgin queens of other hives, they are only found in hives in spring and summer and do not have a stinger. The worker bees are females that lack reproductive capacity and have many roles within the hive — cleaning, making wax, nursery duties, water gatherers, pollen and nectar foragers and guarding the hive.

“It is definitely the best hobby I have ever had and people everywhere can have bees. It is exciting when you finally reach your utopia, and my utopia is bees.”