Huron Honey project in Central Huron builds towards fall/winter
BY LISA B. POT
It was an exciting night for members of the Huron Honey club on Aug. 10 as group members extracted their first batch of honey from the seven healthy hives established on Central Huron Mayor and Huron County Warden Jim Ginn’s farm outside of Clinton.
The brainchild of Angela Smith, Central Huron’s Community Improvement Co-ordinator, the club has become a successful venture for the students who joined to learn about beekeeping.
“Before I started I knew nothing about bees,” says Sheridan Van Altena. “I figured the hives would do their thing and we would get the honey. But it’s been so much more, with hive checks and expanding the hives.”
The hives arrived from Hive ‘N Hoe in Kincardine in the spring and were set up on the Ginn farm, chosen for its accessibility. Ginn also has a prairie meadow of native species rich in nectar for the bees to harvest.
Originally, the plan was for Smith to establish the club with a professional apiarist to come and teach the students how to raise bees. Then COVID-19 hit and suddenly Smith and the kids were learning as they went.
“We watched a lot of videos from the University of Guelph’s bee program and we have learned together,” says Smith.
For instance, discovering that honey flavour depends on the pollen the bees collect was something Van Altena found fascinating.
Lindsay Stoecker belongs to the University of Guelph’s Apiculture Club and has been able to share her experience with the group. During extraction night she helped lead the charge on the sticky honey frames, teaching how to slice off the wax caps before inserting the frames into the manual extractor for a good two-minute spin on each side to release the honey.
Later, four members of the group brought the emptied honey frames to the hives. It was dusk and the bees were bearding (clustering) outside the boxes. The girls suited up and managed to get some frames back into the honey supers but the bees were not pleased at being bothered. One girl got stung and soon the bees were circling and bumping, with another girl receiving multiple stings. It was a painful situation the group took in stride. Toothpaste was applied to the burning bites and the task of returning the remainder of the frames was left for the next day, when sunny skies meant the bees would be out foraging and less likely to focus on protecting the hives.
It’s all part of the process for the group. Smith says they’ve learned to distinguish queens from worker and drone bees and have even requeened a hive.
One of the members, Neil Haas, has his own beehives and has been happy to share his experience with the group as well. He cut a section of wood out of a hive and replaced it with plexiglass so club members could see the internal workings of the hive.
Every member brings a different skill and interest to the club. One member has taken on the marketing via social media. Another has designed labels for future Huron Honey products. Emma Lidkea is approaching beekeeping from a cooking perspective.
“At culinary school, honey is used as an ingredient but in this club, I am learning just what all goes into what I used to see as just an ingredient,” says Lidkea.
She’s also keen on the community engagement aspect of the club and its position in the artisanal bracket. Personally, she’s developed a healthy respect for the bees. “The first day out, I was so nervous. Definitely intimidated. But once you get up close and personal with the bees, you realize they are quite calm and it is just such a neat experience.”
The bees are excellent producers, as evidenced by the heavy frames, laden with honey. While scraping the frames and spinning the extractor, the high school, college and university students were planning how to jar and sell the honey and make candles and tube lip balm. It was cool to witness the collective energy and creativity buzzing through the group.
That energy and commitment is exactly what Smith was hoping for. Her job is to engage youth in the community to promote youth retention in Central Huron.
“If students are engaged in their community before they leave for post-secondary school, then retention is higher,” says Smith. “This beekeeping club ticked all the boxes.”
As the club progresses, there are hopes that if any of the members want to establish their own beehives, Central Huron might be able to supply a beehive and bee suit for the potential entrepreneurs.
Until that happens, the members still have a lot more honey to extract, bottle and sell. The learning will continue as they manage the beehives into fall and winter.