Monday, February 26, 2024

Wellington beekeeper gets a royal nod

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Frank Lindsay in New Year Honours list for services to the industry.
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Frank Lindsay was supposed to be sworn to secrecy about his impending New Year Honour.

But the Wellington beekeeper just couldn’t help letting his 102-year-old mother Jean in on the secret, sharing the news of his Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit award with her on Christmas Day.

“I said, ‘You’ll have to live a bit longer to see me get it’,” he said.

Lindsay received the honour in recognition of more than 50 years of dedication to the bee industry.

Those in the know say he is an unsung hero – a beekeeper, administrator, life member, disease expert and teacher – and the honour is well overdue. 

Lindsay, 77, has owned more than 450 hives throughout the Wellington region over the past 50 years and has held elected positions on the Wellington Beekeeper Association committee for more than 25 years, including four terms as president.

Lindsay’s honour citation said “his skills and expertise have benefited hundreds of new beekeepers that have joined the association”.

He is a life member of the National Beekeepers’ Association, having joined in 1971, and he co-ordinates the Southern North Island Branch of the National Beekeepers Association (NBA), which includes running field days and hosting international speakers. 

It is his expertise and easy manner that make him the go-to on all things about honey bees and beekeeping.

He has presented at conferences in Australia and has been a driving force for New Zealand’s reputation as a leading apiculture country. His expertise was used following outbreaks of varroa mites in Australia and Fiji in 2022. 

Lindsay is relectant to talk up his input.

“I was surprised, yeah. It makes you a little humble, doesn’t it?

“I found out in late October. Like everybody else, you think it’s a bit of a hoax.”

Lindsay’s fascination with bees began as a child when, as a member of a local Cubs group, he visited a honey house.

“I was hooked. I went home and put a pot of honey out in the garden to attract the bees.  It was obviously late in the season because lots of bees starting robbing the honey. My dad got stung and my brother got stung and I was told I wasn’t allowed bees until I got my own home.”

Six months after moving into his first home he had a beehive.

It remained a hobby for Lindsay until, at the age of 48, he took redundancy from his post office job and went full-time beekeeping.

“It was a way of life in those days. You didn’t really make a lot of money but it was good fun. Heavy work but good fun, like normal farming.
“The bees were just fascinating. Commercial beekeeping in the Wellington area is marginal. But there weren’t many beekeepers around and we did quite well until the mānuka gold rush arrived and we got forced out of everywhere.”

He now runs about 60 hives in Wellington, on farm land  between Ōtaki and Johnsonville. 

Lindsay initially joined the beekeepers’ association to learn as much as he could, gleaning valuable information from beekeepers during lunchtime chats.

“If there were five beekeepers in the room you’d get told six different ways to do things.

“With bees you are always learning. You never know everything. You start off being a beekeeper and doing it for honey but then you get trapped by these insects, which are marvelous things.”

Lindsay said the industry has experienced tough times in recent years, as overseas markets were flooded with honey, but he remains confident things will pick up.

The “mānuka gold rush” attracted plenty of people to the industry in search of a quick dollar, but many have now moved on. Recently a beekeeper had to destroy 2000 hives after going bankrupt. No one wanted to buy the hives and they can’t be left sitting around without being looked after. 

“The family businesses are still around but they’ve had to cut hive numbers down to be sustainable. It’s very difficult for beekeepers to make a living, but it will come right.”

As for Lindsay, he is keen to remain in the industry for as long as he is able.

“Until I’m dead, probably. As long as I can continue to lift a bee box I’ll be okay.”

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