The Bee Farmer – Helen Kennedy, Arlos Honey in South Kelowna. ( Helen Kennedy in photo)
s farmers continue to deservedly attain celebrity status these days amongst communities involved in the food revolution and/or the eat/shop local movements, there is only one type of farmer that holds the key to our existence: the bee farmer.
A strong argument exists that if bees became extinct, our food supply will shut down and in a mere four years humanity would cease to exist? LISTEN. This is serious stuff – especially when we are learning that our bee population is diminishing due to our involvement with genetically modified crops. We need to band together to educate our world about the importance of this buzzing little honey-maker to ensure its survival in a natural world.
Thanks to bee farmers (bee keepers or apiculturists) like our local advocate Helen Kennedy in Kelowna, British Columbia, who are working hard to drive this distress message into the masses, some progress is being made. People are becoming alarmed and are beginning to ask questions. Why are dead hives being reported in the news? One of the biggest issues today is the discovery that many of these hives have been proven to have been feeding on GMO crops.
Helen explains, “it is not the adult bee that is the only concern, it is the hive. The nectar and pollen being brought back by the worker bees from the GMO crops is incomplete therefore causing malnourishment of the eggs and affecting the 2nd and 3rd generations resulting in the collapse of the hive. It is like feeding the baby bees garbage.”
(GMO crop farmers have been said to respond that ONLY 15% of the honeybee population is dying as a result of this “poisoning”. This is an outrageous statement to make about this crucial species to our life cycle!)
I recently visited Helen’s beautiful farm and participated in a proper tour – which included getting suited up in a bee suit to be able to get up close to the hives! It was fascinating, inspiring and incredibly educational. Some cool bee facts that I learned:
– The average honeybee only makes 1/12 tsp of honey in its lifetime. This is why where are an astounding 60,000 bees per hive!
-Bees fly at about 24 km per hour. Apiaries like Helen’s farm try to heavily plant the area with heritage plants that their bees can feed on so they won’t venture out. The farther they have to fly, the more honey they will have to use as fuel.
– Wasps and hornets are carnivores and are known to attack hives (I saw several bee attacks during my visit and am happy to report that I slaughtered 4 or 5 wasps). Because of this problem there are guard bees stationed outside the hive to protect against intruders. There is a “rotation of duties” within the hive so guarding is not a lifetime occupation.
Helen and her husband Rick Appel together nurture 70 hives of Apis Millifera bees (also known as the Western honeybee species) on their farm. These bees were originally imported from Europe and are crossbred with other bees to strengthen the hive. Helen’s introduction to the world of beekeeping came about by accident. A gentleman arrived at her farm asking if her could keep some hives there. It didn’t take long to convince her – it was serendipity at work – and soon she ended up inheriting a community of hives.
It has always confused me when I have seen different names on honey packaging ie. Clover Honey, Elderflower Honey, Lavender Honey – how the heck do they know which bees are feeding where? Helen explained that it is through tasting each frame of honey that they can determine the different flavours and aromas that would have been imparted by the particular plant. Our local expert “nose” Chef Mark Filatow of Waterfront Wines Restaurant, who is also a sommelier, helps Helen detect the different nuances. He has affection for the Elderflower honey, which he features on his menu.
Helen also operates a booth at the local Kelowna Farmers Market where she sells a variety of honey and honey products, beeswax candles as well as produce from their farm. Helen and Rick grow a wide variety of vegetables and berries on the farm for the bees to forage on as well as for themselves and for sale. They are actually the only asparagus growers in the area and grow over 30 varieties of garlic.
Please book a tour at your local apiary today, buy local honey and help spread the word about the immediate dangers that are facing our bees and our futures.
I will leave you with Helen’s valiant manifesto: “We are not bee keepers – it is the bees who keep us”. Word.
Book your tour at Arlo’s Honey Farm in beautiful South Kelowna today!
Phone: 250-764-2883 or go to www.arloshoneyfarm.com
~ Jennifer Schell