Full Story

Belonging to him or her

Nāhana is a Maori word that means ‘belonging to him or her’. It is a concept of stewardship that forms the foundation of what we do at Nāhana Beekeeping and why. As a family living off the land we are acutely aware that we are not the owners of what we have but the caretakers of it for the benefit of our community and the next generation.

Mike learnt this as he grew up on his family’s sheep and beef farm and pursued his vision to provide the same way of life for his own children.

A Young Man

When Mike was 23 years he began leasing the family farm. Over the next six years he invested all of his time and energy, and with that his heart, into developing the land and the quality of stock it supported.

He always looked for opportunities to share what he had with others – whether by involving friends in fun farm jobs or inviting others to enjoy the plentiful hunting, fishing and camping adventures to be had in such a remote and beautiful location, or regularly giving lamb and venison to fill the freezers of the people in his life. This generous approach to the land and livestock he owned came from a deep conviction that the purpose of our daily work is to bless others.

While Farming

While farming, Mike unexpectedly met Tanya when she joined a friend to visit Mike at the farm in 2011. As it turned out they made a great team so a couple of years later Mike began searching for a way that the land he grew up on and loved could support the growing numbers and needs of their multi-generational family. Knowing the rugged Mānuka-covered ranges of the farm, beekeeping was a natural and complimentary choice.

First Hives

In 2013, we got married, bought our first 50 hives and moved to the warm climate of Whangamata where our hives could thrive year round. We called our new beekeeping venture Nāhana as an ever-present reminder that we are simply stewards of what we have, working to bless our community now and leave an even better legacy for our children in the future.

Learning the Ropes

New to beekeeping, we learnt everything we could from several experienced beekeepers and worked long hours to build up our hive numbers and fully utilise the acres of untouched Mānuka at Mike’s family farm in the Makakahi Valley near Mt. Ruapehu, as well as the bounty of New Zealand native bush of the Coromandel ranges surrounding Whangamata. 

From the start we knew that we wanted to work with others to greater enjoy the journey and also share the rewards of our new venture. Starting based at their avocado orchard, Mike’s uncle and aunt, Nigel and Sue, helped us immensely as we grew our business and our family. Their son, Brodie, began helping us when he was 10 years old and he continues to be one of the first people we call when we need an extra hand.

Sharing the Journey

It is hard work building a business and we definitely would not have enjoyed the journey nearly as much if it were not for our neighbors and old family friends, Mike and Donna Cooney and their four children. Now beekeepers in their own right, the Cooneys made our first few years of beekeeping an adventure to be shared and enjoyed – from building and painting boxes to working with hives on hot summer days to long nights of transporting hives. Without the finances to initially invest in machinery or an extraction plant, every box and beehive had to be loaded and unloaded by hand and for many years we used a friend’s extraction plant to spin our honey at night. This meant long hours of heavy labour and it is the help of many such friends and family along the way that made Nāhana possible.

Ever-Supportive Help

Our families, in particular, have been an ever-supportive help. Mike’s parents, John and Meagan, continue to run the family farm in the Makakahi Valley and help us in whatever way they can. John is always ready to help load and unload hives at any hour of the night with both John and Meagan getting into a bee suit to help with the labour intensive job of harvesting the honey and preparing the hives for their return to Whangamata. In addition to help with the practicalities of beekeeping, John and Meagan have always been a great sounding board for the decisions we’ve had to make along the way, sharing with us insights and learning from their own life experiences.

Another great source of life experience and entrepreneurial knowledge, we have the privilege of living close to Tanya’s parents, Lena and Kevin. Kevin is always happy to get involved in a project and often becomes the driving force behind the project reaching completion. Along the way both Kevin and Lena have given us invaluable business advice and have been an integral part of making it possible for us to continue beekeeping with our three children.

FOCUS ON QUALITY

The generational knowledge handed down from our parents combined with Mike’s learning from his previous farming experience has greatly shaped how we care for our hives and, subsequently, the quality of honey they produce. From his years of farming, Mike knew the importance of good genetics and attention to detail to grow our hive numbers as well as the strength, and hence, productivity of each hive. With this goal in mind, Tanya learnt the skill of queen rearing. This enabled us to ensure each queen, and therefore hive, was selected from the top line of genetics. Mike’s particular nature and subsequent attention to detail has set a high standard of beekeeping practices when caring for our hives. And the result is pure, quality honey that is ethically produced by hives that are always sustainably managed. The difference between a good quality and top quality product is in the details.

Twice Blessed

In our 4th year of beekeeping our twin boys, Konan and Chasin, arrived and as our family grew so did our beekeeping team. Tanya continued to rear our queen bees but, with most of her time and energy now focused on raising our two boys, friends of ours helped Mike until Josh joined our team in 2017. By the following year we had outgrown our base at Nigel and Sue’s avocado orchard. Fortunately, Mike’s sister Rachael and her partner James, offered us a great new home for our family and our bees on the large farm they manage nearby, where we still live and work. With 1,000 hives and a larger base to operate from we continued expanding our honey production and pollination capabilities over the next three years.

A significant step came in 2019 when Tanya’s brother, Daniel and his partner Inge, built a honey extraction plant to work alongside us and offer contract extraction to beekeepers in the surrounding area. This was a very welcomed addition to our operation and a huge step towards fulfilling our collective vision of supplying our high-quality honey directly to the consumer.

Opportunities

We wanted to further develop the resources we had to create more opportunities for our family and our community, and knew this would require extending beyond our expertise in honey production and extraction to include marketing and product awareness. So Mike’s sister, Cushla, and Tanya’s cousin, Gavin, joined the team to help advance this new frontier of our business. Growing our team has resulted in growing opportunities to personally engage with our consumers and continue to operate as a family business. This is paramount to us as our children are a key part of our family, and so we greatly value being able to grab every possibility to integrate our work and family life. Now almost five, our boys love helping us with the daily beekeeping jobs – stacking gear, sorting frames, learning as we work with the hives near our house, and their all-time favourite job of extracting honey. And always trying to keep up with her brothers our youngest, Nahla, is not far behind!

A passionate love for honey is a great motivator for already enthusiastic helpers and goes a long way when you belong to a beekeeping family.

coastal

Our family loves the coastal opportunities Whangamata has to offer, and so do our bees. Spring starts early here with the bees stirring out of their hives in August to harvest pollen from the heavily flowering Wattle. This signals the beginning of the beekeeping season as the queen of each hive begins laying eggs at a phenomenal rate. She does this to increase the bee population of her hive in preparation for the splendour of flowers that adorn the array of native New Zealand bush species along the coast and surrounding Coromandel Ranges each summer. 

Native New Zealand Bush

From late spring through December the days get warmer and longer and the greatest challenge becomes keeping up with the hives as the bees fill box after box with native New Zealand bush honey. This is also the time of year when kiwifruit and avocado orchards rely on our hives to pollinate the flowers and guarantee a heavily fruiting crop.

As the Rewarewa, Kanuka, Mānuka and Kamahi flowers begin to wane and we harvest our Native honey around Whangamata, the ranges of highly-active Mānuka at John and Meagan’s farm in the Makakahi Valley begin to flower. Over several nights we move the majority of our hives down to Mike’s family farm for the bees to forage on the vast acres of pure Mānuka.

SHOW ME THE HONEY

For the next couple of months we divide our time between our home in Whangamata and the family home in the Makakahi Valley. By February all of the honey is harvested, our hives are back home and the long nights of driving are behind us with the work of finishing honey extraction and preparing the hives for the winter ahead of us. At this time of year there’s always a feeling of satisfaction mixed with excited anticipation as we fill our drums with another season’s yield of nature’s raw pure goodness and know that a slower pace of life to enjoy family and friends is around the corner. 

We hope you enjoy our honey knowing all the love and care that has gone into producing it and the fun our team has had along the way.

The Team at Nāhana