Hum Of The Wild
When we catch up, it’s a stinkin’ hot afternoon and Louis is out in it, dipping honey boxes - a process using natural wax to preserve the honey frames. Born and bred in Mangawhai, Louis had ten acres to roam and run on as a kid and his cousins were neighbours along the same estuary. His father ran a local sawmill, helping to imbue in him an appreciation for hard work. Mangawhai’s air is in Louis’ blood - keeping him working outdoors, on the land, breathing it in. He has always liked jobs that have been out in nature, “One of those country calendar jobs - it’s a nice lifestyle, hard work, outdoors, you can be your own boss and go surfing when you want.”
So while training as a builder around seven years back fate, it seems, stepped or rather flew in.
His friend, who was a practising beekeeper, caught Louis a swarm of his Italian bees to put into a hive and keep. When worker bees need a new queen, they nurture selected larvae in a way that triggers the development of queen morphology. Swarming is when one of these hatched queen bees leaves the original hive with a large group of worker bees to create a new colony elsewhere; a fine example of nature at work - creating and flourishing! With his initial swarm of bees, Louis learned the beekeeping trade from his friend and his uncle over the next couple of years, steadily building his bee numbers and “bouncing ideas and trying stuff out, because ninety percent of the time bees do what you expect, but ten percent of the time they don’t,” he says. Louis’ first swarm’s maiden flight was about seven years ago. In 2015 he founded Mangawhai Honey and today he has 100 hives and counting - but has no aspiration to ‘get massive’. When beekeeping small-time he says, “the bees aren’t being moved around the country from place to place getting worked hard like they do commercially.” Mangawhai Honey is authentically Mangawhai collected. Louis tends to his bees barehanded,“...socks tucked in my pants, a t-shirt, and my veil tucked into my top.”
Yes, it’s certainly the cooler option during Mangawhai’s hot summer months, but this way of handling means unencumbered interaction and demands an extra level of gentleness and care. Working barehanded is also a choice which could be seen to reflect Louis’ values around being as non-commercial as possible; he gets to check on his hives personally, truly knowing what’s going on, getting to decide where and when to put his attention as keeper. This quality of care can certainly be tasted in his excellent honey - sweet of course, and bursting with flavour.
Customers can choose from a Manuka Honey or a Native Bush Blend. Each year, at this time, all the manuka flowers are in bloom and are the main focus of the bees. These manuka blocks are harvested early December and from that harvest onwards, the mixed native bush blend is produced. Visit their website for a list of stockists, and while you’re there check out the lush boutique style gift boxes that have been put together for us in time for Christmas!