Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Spotlight On: Jane's Honey Bees

At just 2 1/2, little Tillie's taking care of business

For Liz Graham and Jay Chandler, beekeeping isn't just a hobby, it's a family tradition. The couple, a.k.a Jane's Honey Bees, started beekeeping in 1999 and have been vending with VFM since 2004. They originally learned the trade from Jay's brother in Alberta, who inherited the business from their stepfather's family. Liz and Jay then made the move to the Lower Mainland in 2001, and have been keeping bees ever since. With the birth of their daughter Tillie in 2009, they've enlisted another little worker bee in the family tree, and have been training her to collect honey comb at the tender age of 2 and a half. Who knew they made bee suits that small?

How many hives do you keep, and how many bees does that add up to?   We usually run anywhere from 500-1000 hives, depending on the year and the time of year. A hive can range from 30, 000 - 50, 000 or more bees.

Where are your hives kept?   Mainly in South Surrey, sometimes also Langley and Aldergrove, just north of the US border. Our bees are kept on rented land, so it sometimes changes from year to year, especially with all the development happening in the area recently.

Do your bees move around throughout the season, and do you loan them out to farmers for pollination?  We do move our bees around for pollination, which is a large portion of our income. We pollinate blueberries in Surrey, Delta, and Abbotsford, raspberries in Abbotsford, and cranberries in Richmond. This helps the farmers ensure a good crop, and allows us to harvest a larger variety of honey.

How much does each hive yield?   Because we move the bees we get a bit lower honey production than if we left them in one spot. We get a lot less honey than beekeepers on the prairies or up in Northern BC. From a good strong hive we probably get around 100 lbs in a season.

How long does the honey season go for?   For us, production season is from May until August. We pull off blueberry honey in early June, raspberry at end of June, cranberry/blackberry in mid-July, and wildflower in mid-August. Then the bees have time to collect some honey for themselves for the winter, and for us to check them to see how they're doing. They get out of the hives most months of the year but when it's cold, they just cluster up in the hive to stay warm.

Have your bees been affected by any of the problems widespread in the US and other places?   We have been affected by the problems bees are having around the world. Varroa mites have been implicated as a contributor to the high bee losses, and we have a significant problem with them in our area. 

What's your opinion on what's happening to the bees? What are the best solutions for saving them?   From what I've read, there are many factors contributing to the problems bees are having. For us, we're going to try to do some breeding of our own, buy local queens that have been bred to do better in this environment and to resist the varroa mite better. With globalization, it seems that even as one problem is figure out, a new one arises. We are expecting a new pest, the small hive beetle, may arrive in BC soon which will be an entirely new problem to deal with.

What's the hardest thing about being a beekeeper?   Like other forms of farming, the hardest factor is being at the mercy of the weather. You can plan all you like, but if the weather doesn't cooperate then things may not work out as planned. Also with bees there is the worry of over winter survival - you can put them into winter having prepared them the best you can, but come spring you never really know what to expect and how many hives have survived.

Any new products we should hear about?   We've started selling our bee pollen, which is cleaned by hand and very time consuming, at most of our recent markets. The supply is limited, but we'll try to have it all summer. Also, we introduced a blueberry honey last week at the Main Street market which we'll have on-going.

Jane's Honey Bees sell a variety of delicious honey, pollen, beeswax candles, and lip balm at weekly markets throughout the Lower Mainland. For more info on their scheduled dates, products, and production techniques, visit their website at, or better yet, check out their blog.

Blueberry honey- the latest offering from Jane's!


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