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Digby bee business about to get buzzing with new Canadian beehive patent

Brian Manzer, left, his brother Owen Manzer and their office administrator Shayna Wagner are all excited about the hive of possibilities their new patent offers Manzer Apiaries.
Brian Manzer, left, his brother Owen Manzer and their office administrator Shayna Wagner are all excited about the hive of possibilities their new patent offers Manzer Apiaries. - Laura Redman

DIGBY, N.S. – Now that their Canadian patent is in place, the Manzer brothers, Owen and Brian, are hopeful their beehive business will soon be buzzing.

It was about three years ago that the pair teamed up for the first time in business – Owen, a janitor with the Tri-County Regional School Board, also owned a small orchard, and Brian still operates his construction company and several rental units. The pair had never worked together before.

But Owen had been experimenting with keeping bees, by trial and error, and in the early days, was mostly struggling. He just couldn’t keep his bees alive in traditional hives throughout the winter. And those mistakes were proving to be costly – each package of bees was costing him $300. And since most of the bees were shipped from New Zealand or Australia, his costs were rising.

But one day Owen stumbled onto the answer to his bees’ early deaths – improved ventilation in the hive.

He redesigned his hives to incorporate better ventilation and was rewarded with bees that survived the winter. His brother immediately knew he was on to something.

“We were walking through the orchard, and he was telling me about it, and I looked at him and I said, ‘You know what you’ve got here, right?’” Brian said.

The pair then created Manzer Apiary Inc., entered the hive design into an innovation competition two years ago, and came in second for the southwest region. Since then their hive has been put through a year of field trials under the supervision of Acadia University and with the support of several farmers in the Annapolis Valley.

“We had three per cent bee loss through that trial,” Brian said. “The average is 30 per cent. So far, this design is proving to be very successful.”

BEEHIVE DESIGN

Their hive is a Modified Top Bar Beehive design, now known as the EZ Hive, and it’s designed to keep bees as organically as possible. It’s modified in several ways from the more traditional box hives – it’s larger, includes a metal, hinged roof and a viewing window, and the interior of their hive mimics a hollow log with angled sides for maximum comb building. It just received its formal patent on Dec. 12, 2017.

The pair now have more than 75 of their own hives in production – 35 in the field behind their main office on Industrial Drive in Digby, about 20 in Ashmore and another 20 in Port Maitland. And they keep Owen busy as the company’s official beekeeper about four hours a day.

“It’s a regular bee highway between here and town in the summertime,” Brian said, adding that the bus company across the road from their offices where a row of school buses were parked couldn’t figure out what the yellow stuff was they kept washing off the buses.

“It’s bee poop,” Brian laughed.

The brothers were able to receive some business start-up support from a contract economic development staff member at the Municipality of Digby, and they said that really helped them with the patent process.

Now, with their Canadian patent in place, they immediately applied for their U.S. patent, but said with the new issues around trade to the States, they’re looking at the United Kingdom as a potential market alternative. They’ve also just reached out to the Ministry of Agriculture to see what funding options there might be for expansion of their hive production.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

Right now, Brian is still building the hives one at a time, but they hope they will soon be in a position to build a manufacturing plant, and they’d like to see that built on the vacant land next to their current office.

Since the first design, they’ve come up with a starter size hive – the PolliPod – and early feedback from consumers and commercial producers has them slightly modifying their initial design and their price point. Eventually, their goal is to be the most affordable hive on the market – all the while offering stand-out results.

“Our hives performed as well or better than traditional hives in all areas of the field study,” Brian said.

They also believe they’ve created a healthier environment for the bees. They described how their ventilated environment works – allowing them to leave the hives outdoors year-round – and how much heat bees naturally give off. They said large producers store their hives inside barns in the wintertime that they then have to refrigerate.

“They have to use these huge refrigeration units in their barns because bees give off so much heat,” Brian said. “That’s how they kill invaders – they don’t sting them. If a wasp flies into their hive, they surround it and burn it up.”

That heating factor has Brian considering other potential manufacturing ideas, but for now the Manzer brothers are thrilled they can start up a massive marketing campaign for their hives and hopefully, in the near future, amp up production, create a factory and local jobs. They’re also hoping, barring any inspection issues, to start selling bees across Nova Scotia in the near future.

“It’s going really well,” Brian said, adding that he’s had inquiries in the last day from both Wisconsin and Illinois. “The word is getting out there. We’re really pleased. We’ll have to see where it goes from here, but hopefully it’s straight up.”

For more information visit: www.manzerapiary.com

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