Business and Innovation Creativity Science and Technology

Bee-ing innovative

Peter Dodds, with one of his hives at his Otago property.
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A winning beehive venture at a Dunedin school may also turn out to be fruitful for the teacher involved. His innovative metal beehives are attracting bee-keepers.

The teacher, Peter Dodds, says he hasn’t found any other metal beehives, in New Zealand or internationally.

“I think it’s just that no-one’s tried it.”

In 2016, in the Young Enterprise Scheme, Kaikorai Valley College pupils won a national Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Award for their beehive company.

The team of students from this Dunedin school manufactured beehives called Honey Huts from pine and recycled rimu. The team handmade and sold more than 150 hives, which were in demand among apiarists.

Since then, their technology teacher, Peter, has built upon this idea.

The kids inspired me to give it a go. Instead of being the teacher, I’ve become the pupil – it’s my turn to front up.”

Peter says the Honey Huts were successful, however it was becoming more difficult to source suitable timber because of large amounts of logs being exported to China. Early last year, he started thinking that there must be an alternative.

“Having been a panel beater in a past life and metalwork teacher, I thought I could use sheet metal.”

He has designed a beehive made from galvanised sheet metal, insulated with a high-quality New Zealand sheep wool blend.

Peter started work on the metal beehives at the beginning of 2017. He constructs them in his garage workshop, at a picturesque property south of suburban Dunedin.

Some of Peter’s colourful metal beehives post-construction in his garage workshop. Photo: Peter Dodds.

Each hive takes at least two hours to build and Peter makes all the components, other than the standard frames which are also used for wooden beehives. The metal boxes can be personalised and painted in colours or with artistic images, and the resulting hives are colourful yellows, purples, blues and greens.

“They are different; just even the colours themselves.”

The metal beehives have been trialled in Queenstown for more than a year, including two summers and one winter. He says temperatures dropped to – 8 deg C, which usually means some honeybees die.

However, the bee-keeper conducting this trial reported that no bees died in the metal hives trialled at 12 sites. This was seen as significant. In addition, the bees were happy to propolize as usual – to varnish their honeycombs with a resinous substance gathered from tree buds.

The bees aren’t phased by the fact that it’s metal at all.”

Metalworker and bee-hive maker Peter Dodds with one of his hives at his Otago property.

Peter has individually-handcrafted 50 metal hives so far. About 15 are outdoors already, having been bought by hobby or commercial bee-keepers in Otago and Southland. Feedback has been “very good”.

A couple of Queenstown hotels have bought hives so they can produce their own honey for guests, and a new honey tourism centre in Queenstown called Buzzstop will display and sell his handiwork.

Queenstown property developers may include community-based apiaries in their subdivisions. Peter could also sell his colourful creations to orchard and vineyard owners, who could then stop paying to pollinate trees and vines.

He’s pleased that his beehives were recognised at the Southern Field Days at Waimumu in February, winning second place in the Southern Rural Life Innovation Awards.

A high quality alternative

Wooden beehives are dotted around the countryside in New Zealand and elsewhere. Peter doesn’t want to denigrate these, saying they are good. However, he is keen to provide a high quality alternative to traditional hives.

Peter Dodds adjusts a durable transfer on metal hives stored in his garage workshop.

He also wants to share the virtues of his metal ones. These include: ease of set-up, because once completed, the metal hives are ready to be used; their strength and light weight; and the lack of maintenance required.

Peter says bee-keeper friends are frustrated with the amount of maintenance wooden hives need, because the timber expands and contracts according to temperature changes, particularly in Central Otago.

Metal beehives don’t need to be wax-dipped for maintenance, and won’t twist or warp, he says.

Their wool blend insulation is 20 mm thick, and the heat generated in his hives stays static all year round, providing a stable working environment for the bees, he says.

“The weather’s not influencing the temperature in my hives … the theory seems to be working pretty well.”

Peter and his wife Karen realised they needed to be professional about selling their metal beehives, so registered a company called Innovation Hives in mid-2017.

According to national apiculture figures, in 2009, there were 2680 bee-keepers and 357,789 beehives registered in New Zealand. By March 2017, this had increased to 7975 bee-keepers and 825,630 beehives.

“That’s massive,” Peter says.

It’s quite a popular thing for people to get involved in. I think there’s a huge move to try and get as many bee colonies out there as possible … it’s good for everything.”

Many pollen-producing plants bloom at the Dodds’ property, however they don’t keep bees. Yet. Peter wants to train as a bee-keeper.

“There’s no point producing all the hives and not having bees,” Peter comments.

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More information:

To read about the original winning Kaikorai Valley College beehives, click here:

To find out more about Innovation Hives website go to www.innovationhives.co.nz

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