by Heather Jones
Insulation and ventilation are the primary reasons why Manzer Apiary’s EZ Hives only lost three percent of their bees last winter in Acadia University field trials while the average Nova Scotia beekeeper lost 25 percent, according to Brian Manzer, who owns the Digby, N.S., company with his brother Owen.
The brothers said the results didn’t surprise them.
Although their company’s Canadian patent was registered in December, the idea germinated 10 years ago as they endeavoured to overwinter Owen’s bees. Brian is a carpenter-contractor. Owen, who works as a janitor for the Tri-County Regional School Board and Lewis Mouldings, has a small mixed orchard in Ashmore. Both are determined and resourceful.
After a lot of research, Owen decided in 2008 to try a horizontal top-bar Kenyan hive. Unlike conventional hives, said Brian, “its 29 top bars are the actual roof and the bees build their combs naturally from the top down.”
The brothers believe the hive’s construction is why it had no Varroa mites – large external parasites that physically damage bees and transmit a number of pathogens in a hive – in the field trials.
As the hive was designed for African weather conditions, “Owen reversed the technology in it so it would work in cold climates and where there is a lot of humidity,” said Brian. He created sliding screen covers for the three vents at the top of the hive and the four entrance holes at the bottom. “The bees cover the screens with wax if they are cold and remove it when they want more air.”
Changing the hive’s design proved to be a challenge.
“If Owen made a change to the hive, he would have to wait a whole year to see if it would work,” said Brian. “And if it didn’t, he had a four-week window to figure out what the problem was, fix it, reload, and try again. Fortunately, the second year it worked. The bees successfully overwintered. Since then it’s just been a matter of tweaking.”
Brian said they “changed the insulation a bit” and switched from the original beehive’s pitched roof to a flat roof. “We wanted something that was more marketable, easier to move around, and easier to mass produce,” he said.
The beehive is constructed from plywood and the bars from pine. It also features an inspection window where the bees can be watched.
Manzer Apiary’s prototype placed second in Zone 3 (Digby, Annapolis, Kings, and Hants counties) in the 2015-16 1-3 Technology Startup Competition, hosted by Innovacorp, Nova Scotia’s “early stage venture capital organization.” The second-place zone winners received $40,000 in cash and services. The brothers used their winnings to help fund the university field trials.
The field trials were held last year in five Annapolis Valley commercial apple orchards. Five Manzer EZ Hives and five conventional Langstroth hives were set up at each location.
“We wanted to place the hives where Varroa was very rampant,” said Brian. “We wanted to see how our beehives would react to it. And we found it. One farm was loaded with them. We fully expected to lose a lot of hives to Varroa, but we didn’t have any in our hives at all.”
The Manzers think that bees have a method to control pests. They say that while conventional hives are made for maximum honey production, they leave a little to be desired when it comes to pest control. “The beekeepers have to add chemical strips to control pests,” said Brian. “We don’t use any in ours. Ours is 100-percent totally natural. We’ve never used any strips.”
Brian said he was impressed with the amount of honey produced in the EZ Hives during the year-long trials. “One of the locations was near a grape vineyard, and the amount of honey that was in those five hives was incredible,” he said.
HARD TO SOURCE BEES
Manzer Apiary has 30 colonies of bees distributed throughout southwestern Nova Scotia. Brian said Owen hasn’t lost a hive in seven years and his overwintering results have been duplicated by Charlie Andrews in Yarmouth County.
But, ironically, sourcing bees is a problem for the company.
As sales manager, Brian attends trade shows and holds buyer workshops. His biggest challenge is finding bees to sell with the beehives. “I never thought marketing would be so hard,” he said. “Farmers won’t give up their bees. They’re hard to find.”
The brothers had considered raising bees but didn’t have the time. Last year, the company imported bees from New Zealand but found that wasn’t viable. Despite numerous rejections, Brian believes a supplier has been lined up for the 2019 season. He said that will help with sales.
The beehives cost $549 each. Brian said sales have increased every year. The company has hives in the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and the Northwest Territories. “We have never had a negative report from anyone who’s bought our hives,” said Brian. “Almost 80 percent of the people that we’ve sold beehives to have come back and bought a second one. We have three customers right now who have 10. That in itself is telling me that they’re working. And we’ve never had anyone complain that it doesn’t work or that they don’t like it.”
Brian said they’ve had interest from hotel chains that would like to put beehives on their roofs so chefs can have fresh honey and beeswax.
He said potential distributors from across the country have also expressed interest in the hives and that option is being explored. “It would be nice for me to know that I can build 2,000 or 3,000 units and they’re gone,” said Brian. “That was all part of our business plan. We wrote the thing up in 2016. I called it a fairy tale when I first read it.
“It’s not going as big and fast as the plan but when I stop and look at the whole picture, it’s actually going in the direction of the plan. Some things that I thought were a pipe dream are actually coming to fruition.”
He hopes the company can introduce their hives to beekeepers a little at a time. “If they needed 20 more hives, maybe they’d buy 10 of ours.”