Beekeeping is a way of life for Sam Pegg, but the man behind Grafter’s Honey knows it’s not a job for everyone.
Caring for millions of bees around the wild and windy hills between the Kapiti Coast, Hutt Valley and Wellington brings its share of challenges, but Pegg wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I get stung every day, all day,” he said. “It’s a great job on a great day but on a miserable day bees don’t like being dealt with.”
And of course they come out swinging. “You can imagine, if someone ripped the roof off your house on a miserable day, you’d come out a bit grumpy.”
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An interest in growing fruit first led to Pegg starting a home beehive “about 20 years ago”, when he had ideas of becoming an avocado farmer and needed his little yellow and black coloured friends for pollination.
He soon discovered that making honey was a less costly endeavour, and with the help of his late father and “best mate”, Sheryn, they started a couple of hives.
What began as a hobby blossomed into a fledgling business in 2012, and together with his partner Vanessa Lang, Grafter’s Honey now produces native bush honeys and varying strengths of premium Manuka Honey.
The couple’s Wainuiomata farm serves as the bees “base camp” while they also maintain hives at other sites across the region.
“With bees spread a little further, you get more diversity in the flavour,” he said. “And it gives you a few more options weather-wise whereas if you are just in one place, you’re quite limited.”
True to his company’s name, honey making is hard graft, with beekeeping a full-time job that keeps Pegg busy seven days a week.
Long hot days wearing a protective suit makes already hard labour even more difficult, while he is well accustomed to facing the bees’ wrath several times a day.
“It’s so full on. It’s that hot you’re just sweating. You can drink eight litres of water in a day,” he said.
“I put one of those Camelbak’s that Mountain bikers wear on my back, and I might only stop for a pee once or twice a day.”
He concedes the local weather conditions are less than ideal for beekeeping, while diseases such as Varroa mites pose a constant threat to his hives.
“They’re like little vampires. They jump on the bees backs and just suck the life out of them. It’s a worldwide problem.
“Wellington is very marginal country for beekeeping. That’s all to do with the weather.”
Bee stings are an obvious workplace hazard, but that doesn’t stop Vanessa from getting stuck in, despite her allergy to bees resulting in urgent hospital trips, after a single sting twice sent her into anaphylactic shock.
“The first time I said, ‘come on, get up – we haven’t got time to muck around’ before I realised it was really happening,” said Pegg.
“She has to carry an EpiPen around everywhere. She’s been on a bee venom programme for years to build her immunity up slowly and since then she’s been fine.”
The honey season recently finished, however poor weather impacted the bee’s production, leaving around half of the 20 tonnes of honey that Pegg had hoped to harvest. “It’s not great, but it’ll be enough to pay the bills,” he said.
Despite the testing nature of his profession, Pegg is in his element caring for his bees and can’t imagine a life without them.
“I love what I’m doing. I’m very passionate about the job and I absolutely love working with the bees and being outdoors in the sunshine.”
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