The Honey Farm
The floor of the Honey House looks clean but feels slightly sticky, probably from minor bits of wax or honey. Sam and Ernie are wearing rubber clogs in the extraction room so I don a pair as I enter.
Sam joins his dad after school and for a couple of hours the Honey House is a-hopping with activity. Supers, the square wooden boxes which hold the frames, are stacked up inside and outside the Honey House. Inside, first the top of the super is removed exposing the frames. Sam lifts out the frames, which sit vertically in the super, one by one to scrap the wax off. Once the wax has been removed, the frames are placed upright in a rotating stainless steel drum where the honey is whirled out of them. Liquid honey pours out transparent plastic tubing which Ernie directs it into massive metal drums as CBC FM plays in the background.
Besides his own crop, Ernie is extracting for his friends, neighbours and a number of other small operations in the South Okanagan valley so the supers and drums from each extraction need to be kept separate. It also means the phone is constantly ringing with people coming and going and advice offered and solicited.
Ernie’s crop is mostly clover, alfalfa and mountain fireweed, the latter a very popular item. There are small quantities of specialty honeys such as St. John’s Wort. I am surprised when I taste the honey and the propulis, the queen’s special food, that I can distinguish the various flavours. My only prior experience with flavoured honey has been those to which flavour was added. I can appreciate why these specialty versions are so greatly favoured.
Supers which are placed strategically near crops such as mountain fireweed seem to attract only bees feeding on that specific flower with often the colour of the propulis alone making it easy to identify which variety. And this separation seems to occur even if two sources of nectar are located close together.
For a while, when honey ale was popular, most of Ernie's honey went to breweries. Now some of the drums will go to a local granola manufacturer. A portion of the honey will also be sold during the summer at the local Farmer’s Market.
Ernie and his wife have been serious about the quality of their crop and have numerous 1st prize ribbons from the Provincial Fair. Their display of honey and bee paraphenalia is always a crowd pleaser as over the years they have collected stories, pictures, smokers, antique equipment, honey tins and beehive jars.
I leave Ernie and Sam to finish off in the Honey House and head back to the house. The computer desktop is full of articles about use of oxalic acid for mites, comparisons of various organic and non-organic approaches, notes about raising queens and marketing strategies. If I come back later in the year, I will find Ernie and his wife making and distributing their hand-dipped and molded beeswax candles. In the middle of the summer they are off early in the morning to the Market.
Later when his mom, dad and I are talking about a community development project with bee keeping as the income generating aspect, Sam hangs around on the edge of the discussion. On hearing someone mention restitution, he comments, "That's a great word, what does it mean?"
Later over dinner he tells us that his teacher asked them, because it is the start of the new school year, to list their favourite TV shows, celebrities and hobbies.
"What did you list," we inquire.
"I told him, I don't watch TV and celebrities are nut cases," Sam says. "I don't have time for them because bees are my hobby"
"Bees, like most agricultural pursuits, are a full time vocation, year round and totally encompassing", Ernie tells me later, "But I had never considered they might also help me raise my kids."
Photos: Road sign; flats in the super; flats in the extractor; cutting off the wax; liquid honey into the drums,bee paraphenalia & jars in stacks