Fall is a special time in our family. That’s because fall is honey harvest time.
For those who don’t know, my husband, Stuart, is a hobby beekeeper and has been for half a dozen years. He was “stung” with the bee bug, so to speak, after being introduced to it by a friend.
As a wildlife conservation artist who likes to work with endangered species organizations, “helping the bees fits well with my psyche,” he likes to say.
Bees are one of those endangered species. They’ve been under threat for some time, mostly because of the devastating effects of pesticides, but also simply because of climate change.
“Bees can handle steady cold weather, it’s these drastic fluctuations that we have where one day will be 5 C and then it will plummet to -20 C. Those fluctuations are the ones that are really killing off my bees,” Stuart explains. “They’re still active in the winter and they just can’t get rid of the humidity. If they can’t get rid of the humidity, they’ll freeze to death.”
As major pollinators of many of our food crops (as well as the crops that are used to feed livestock), we’re dependent on bees. “If the bees die off, we’ll follow,” he says.
Stuart currently has 11 hives, eight of which he owns with others, including The Opinicon lodge, which likes to offer fresh local honey to its clients.
He keeps the hives at our cottage on the Rideau system and in the height of summer there can be 60,000 to 70,000 bees per hive. Yes, it’s a lot of bees buzzing around, but we don’t really notice them. They’ll forage for nectar in the forest around us (being in an area where much around them is natural makes for a nice flavour to the honey).
Stuart admits he gets stung “pretty much every time I go up there.” He wears a full bee suit and cannot understand those who don’t. “I honestly don’t know how they don’t get stung like crazy,” he says.
While there’s a bit of a busy period in the spring getting things going for the season, summer merely requires checking in on the hives. Fall is the big season, when it’s time to harvest.
This year, thanks to poor summer weather, the crop of honey to harvest was much lower than usual, taking just a couple of days to collect and another couple to process. Stuart does everything naturally, so while the honey is double hand filtered, it’s not processed at all, maintaining many of its beneficial nutrients.
He never has trouble selling his harvest, including to me – his biggest client!
Anyone can be a hobby beekeeper and you don’t need a rural apiary like ours. Backyard urban hives are common, and setting them up on rooftops is gaining in popularity. Bees will find what they need wherever they are.
While Stuart admits he is still learning, he has picked up a lot of great information at various sites online, particularly at the Ontario Beekeepers Association (all beekeepers must register with them) and an online community forum called Beesource.
Why not give it a try?