Chasing the Nectar Flow

Posted on October 30, 2020

The Manuka flow has begun for the season and the activity of the beekeepers in and around Northland is abundant.

It is possibly easier to detect the hive movements during the nights as the companies move from area to area in the darker and cooler hours.

The season starts when the flowers arrive in the Far North and the daytime temperature is warm enough to generate and secrete the flow of nectar into the flower. Nectar is produced by glands called nectaries. Nectaries can be located on any part of a plant, but the most familiar nectaries are those located in flowers (called “floral nectaries”).

In the Manuka flower the nectaries are located below both the stamen (male) and the stigma (female) inside the petals:

The honey bee forage the flowers sucking the nectar up with their straw like tongue and take it back to the hive to be stored.

Mother Nature is not dictated to by commercial operations and She can be rather harsh at times. This Spring, Mother Nature dealt two big Antarctic storms to the Far North and these were at crucial timing. The first storm came with violent wind and rain and even a tornado near Houhora. The storm knocked a lot of the first flush of flowers off the Manuka and the second storm followed about three weeks later and finished the flowering from a commercial nectar flow for the beekeepers. It was a tough start and a reminder that the Manuka honey industry is not for the hobbyists and faint hearted.

The flow has continued south, and the hives are following. The Manuka nectar flow in a broad sense follows a Koru pattern around New Zealand. It starts in the north and flows east and then wraps around the south and back up the west coast and finishes in the Taranaki.

Kauri Park have studied the pattern of the flow and have established a plant selection breeding program aimed identifying manuka cultivars that exhibit high MGO (methylglyoxal) levels and high productivity from each of these regions. The MGO levels in the honey is usually derived from the DHA (Dihydroxyacetone) levels in the nectar of the flower. There are other factors which can influence the DHA levels, but we believe that genetics and large plantings will play the most significant role in the future of Manuka plantations.

The genetics and breeding program are returning some powerful results. Currently we are seeing the provenances in the breeding orchards at Kauri Park flowering the same flowering patterns as the provenance pattern in the wild. The most compelling data is that the mother plants from the wild for genetics selection and the daughter plants in the orchards are both testing the same levels of DHA.

This information supports our vision of creating plantations that can operate with lengthening the nectar flow on a single site by having a longer flowering periods with multiple provenances. Operationally this takes a huge logistical and hive health factor out of the beekeeping season as the bees can stay in a single location for the full flow.

Kauri Park is listening and learning from nature in this exciting journey of the Manuka industry of NZ.