Today, Marshall owns and manages more than 10 beehives located in Wainuiomata and York Bay in Wellington. The 67-year-old former financial planning company owner is still a relative newcomer to beekeeping, having taken it up only 10 years ago, but he has always had a fascination with the small insects he has come to love.
“The bee is just such an amazing mechanism, in the sense of what they do for the environment. Bees are amazing and they’re smart too – everything they do is for a reason, it’s incredible to watch.”
There are hobbyist beekeepers like Marshall, and there are commercial beekeepers with anything between 500 to 1,500 beehives. Becoming a beekeeper is becoming an increasingly lucrative career path, with manuka honey fetching more than $20 per kilo on the market.
“As a young person interested in becoming a beekeeper, I would look at working for a reputable commercial beekeeping operation and then also look at taking courses offered at WelTec, Massey University and the like,” says Marshall. “There are plenty of opportunities to own your own business, once you have gathered experience in beekeeping as well.”
For the time being, Marshall manages all his hives himself.
“A beekeeper’s primary job is to manage the hive and ensure that it is in the best possible environment and otherwise you just let the bees do their own thing.”
Marshall collects, spins and filters the honey at certain times in the year, before taking it to a certified kitchen to test it for any poisons or contaminants. Once it is all tested and good to go, the honey is bottled and then sold to family, friends and neighbours. When winter comes along Marshall has to treat his hives for the Varroa mite, which can kill the bees and the hives if it is not controlled.
“The best part of beekeeping for me is opening up the hives and seeing the bees in action. You can watch them working and contributing to our environment and economy, it’s fascinating – the way the bees help the environment and interact with each other is what I love about it.”
And despite popular belief, Marshall says that bees aren’t actually aggressive, and they only ever sting when they’re threatened.
“A lot of experienced beekeepers actually don’t wear gloves or even a mask sometimes.”
However, Marshall says he has still had his fair share of bee stings. But as a beekeeper you get used to it, he insists.
“It doesn’t really worry you too much, it’s just another sting and it’s not like they are too painful. If there’s any downsides to beekeeping, I’d say it’s the mess that comes with spinning the honey, but if you don’t mind getting a little sticky then you’ll be right.”
For those aspiring to be beekeepers or even just curious about what the life of a beekeeper entails, Marshall highly recommends going along to a beekeepers club to see if beekeeping is the thing for you. If you decide that this is the career path you want to follow, Marshall also recommends taking a course in how to run a business and gathering an understanding of management and marketing.
“It’s a really lucrative market at the moment – I don’t see why more young people aren’t jumping at the opportunity. Having a love or even just a fascination for bees and the environment is a big part of being a beekeeper.”