Honey of a hobby
Beekeepers shooting for a quarter-tonne of the sweet stuff

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Jun 16/00) - After talking to Daniel Allaire, it's little wonder that being busy is symbolized by the bee.

Allaire and fellow Fort Simpson resident Ken Davidge have five hives near Allaire's home in Wild Rose Acres. Each hive starts out with about 10,000 bees and that number will grow to as high as 60,000 by the end of the summer, according to Allaire.

It's hoped those industrious bees will produce 45 kilograms of honey per hive, he said.

"This is the best honey I've tasted. I find now that store-bought honey tastes sour," he said, adding that the flavour retains the taste of the wild flower for four to six weeks after the honey is harvested.

Allaire and Davidge started the venture with four hives last year, buying bees from an established farm in Manning, Alta. Allaire had been trying to grow watermelon and cantaloupe in his greenhouse and hoped the bees would pollinate the fruit. In addition, he's got an appetite for honey.

"I love honey and I wanted to see if it could be done in the North," he said, noting that the bee's byproduct was a big seller at the Fall Fair last September. He already has orders placed for 15 three-kilogram pails this year.

He's been checking the hives regularly since re-stocking them with bees a few weeks ago. A box of bees sells for about $80 apiece, he said.

The one queen in each hive lays eggs at an astonishing rate. The drones impregnate the queen, while the workers fulfil various tasks such as guarding the hive and collecting pollen and nectar from as far as five kilometres away.

"They're quite a complex society," he said.

Each time Allaire sticks his hands inside the hives, he's sure to be wearing a protective bee suit. Generally, on warm, sunny days, the bees are calm and don't mind being disturbed. It also helps to force a little smoke into the hive using a "smoker." For some reason, it calms the bees.

But don't bother poking around the hives on cloudy, rainy days, he advised. He found out how irritable they can be, getting stung on his exposed ankle several times.

"It stings for a little while, but it's not bad," he said of the wounds. "It's not as bad a hornets."

Allaire and Davidge have erected a solar-powered, electric fence around their operation to keep eager bears at bay. One bear was so tempted he made an assault on the fence, busting a post, but still didn't manage to get inside.

"They'll go after the larvae before they go after the honey," Allaire explained.

The honey is harvested two or three times per summer, he said. It's deemed ready when a layer of wax is found covering it. He also salvages the wax to make candles.