When Gui Vilhena turned 17, he took over his uncle’s bee hives in his hometown of Jundiai in Brazil and started to commercially cultivate honey. Once he finished high school, Gui studied animal husbandry at University of Sao Paolo, while continuing to produce honey and study bee genetics.
While on holiday in New Zealand in 2001 he fell in love with the country and came back the year after. Two years later he moved to New Zealand and started to work as a commercial beekeeper in Whitianga (Coromandel). Later he worked as a Biodynamic market gardener and a relief milker at Hohepa Homes. He then got a job as a beekeeper for a queen breeding business before EIT appointed him as Apiculture tutor.
“The most fascinating thing about bees is their relationship with plants. It’s interesting how they move around and pollinate them following an annual rhythm,” says Gui. The insects start by working on early flowers like tree lucerne, willow, then pollinating plums, almonds and peaches. They continue with apples, pears and citrus, followed by kiwi fruit and avocados. Manuka comes last.
“Beekeepers are pollination agents too. That’s because orchard owners contract them to move their bees around to pollinate their trees,” Gui explains. There are so many more interesting facts about the black and yellow insects. Bees for instance manage to keep the temperature inside the hive between 30 and 35 degrees, creating the best climate for the queen to lay her eggs. It takes 21 days for the eggs to turn into larvae and eventually bees.
On a warm day bees fly in and out without resting, indicating the best source of food by performing a little dance for their fellow bees. Gui has been stung many times and says stings should never be pulled out but scraped off with one’s nail in order to avoid releasing the toxin within.
“Bees won’t sting unless you block their way or try to brush them off once they have landed on you. It’s better to flick them off instead of rubbing them against you,” recommends Gui. Bees are very sensitive to pesticides, environmental change and radiation. “They have their own radio magnetic sensors and they are easily troubled by mobile phone radiance.
Another hazard is the varroa mite that can cause the collapse of a whole colony. “To protect them, we have to use treatment”, says Gui.
All apiculture students at EIT have their own beehive. There are 14 hives, each with 40.000 bees on site at the Hawke’s Bay campus in Taradale. Being surrounded by clover, eucalyptus, almonds and many more natives and exotics, the campus bees live within a little paradise. Potentially, every student could harvest up to 60 kilograms of honey each year.
The students started their NZ Certificate in Apiculture in August 2018. Throughout the winter months Gui taught them mostly apiculture theory. “A good thing about being a beekeeper, is that during the winter months it’s pretty easy.” At the moment though, the honey is flowing and the students have a lot to work on. “I like to call bees a pharmacy in a box. They have really everything we need,” says Gui.