When I heard of an apiary just on the outskirts of Morinville, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit it. I called the owner of Greidanus Apiaries, Paul Greidanus, to schedule a visit. During our conversation about the visit, Paul asked if I was allergic to bees. I thought “uh oh” as I responded no. I was stung by a wasp last summer and that wasn’t fun, so evidently, I felt a tiny bit of uneasiness.
I drove east of Morinville and 2km north of Highway 642 and Range Road 245 to the honey processing facility. When I got to the parking lot next to the facility, there were some bees flying around my car – a little concerning but I took some courage, opened my car door and remained calm – no stings….phew! I met Paul working busily on an extractor among some other coworkers. He gave me a tour of the facility and gave a little bit of history on how he became a bee farmer.
The company’s hives are placed on farms to pollinate crops such as alfalfa and canola – think of interdependence between crop and bee farmers. Crop farmers get pollinators which allow plants to produce seeds and fruit while the bees use plant nectar to make honey. Paul employs seasonal workers, mostly from Nicaragua to harvest the honey because it’s difficult to find local people who are willing to work on the bee farm.
Greidanus produces about 110 drums of honey per day and this year has been an exceptionally good one for them. The dry climate causes field crops to germinate and bud flowers at different points in the summer season. When that happens, bees are able to obtain nectar over a longer period of the season. This period is also extended when farmers delay swathing until their crops have flowered. This means more nectar for producing honey at each bee hive. Honey production per hive can range from 150 to 200 pounds, which works out to about 50-60 pounds of honey per box.
How the bees are kept?
A standard beehive has a bottom board and a hive cover with five supers in between. A honey super consists of a box in which 8–10 frames are hung. Each super contains bees that rear their young and store honey and pollen. Normally, the bottom two supers are brood supers used for rearing the young and storing honey and pollen for short-term and winter use. The top three supers are used to hold the honey crop.
Whether bees come from packages or have been kept over the winter, the bee colony is inspected to ensure that the queen is present and laying eggs; that there is no sign of disease and that the colony has sufficient stores to last until the first nectar.
As July approaches, frames are put in place to hold the honey. When all the frames in a super are filled with honey and one-half of the cells are capped with wax, the frames are removed from the hive and the honey is extracted. Normally honey flows in Alberta slow down in August and the amount of space given to the bees can be reduced somewhat.
Once the honey supers have been removed, the bees are fed sugar and water to ensure that they will have enough food to survive the winter. Greidanus purchases 300,000 pounds of Rogers sugar per year to keep the bees fed during the winter. This feeding is done before the end of September. Towards the end of October the bee colony is wrapped with a tarp to protect the bees from the elements.
If the bees are outside, there is little that can be done to assist them. They will survive even if they are completely covered by snow for a while.
How the honey is harvested?
Harvesting the honey crop involves several steps, all of which require some equipment. The first step involves separating the combs of honey from the bees (pulling the honey). Using chemicals requires a number of special covers (acid boards). The chemical is placed on the underside of the cover and the smell drives the bees out of the honey super. A bee blower is then used to blow the bees right off the frames.
The left picture shows a device with an electrically heated knife that is used to remove the wax cappings from the honey comb. This honey extractor is a motor-driven machine that can handle 100 or more frames. You can also see Paul loading the frames into the honey extractor which spins the frames around in a centrifuge.
Once the honey is extracted, it is strained and then stored in a warm place in a tall tank to allow the fine impurities to rise to the top. At the bottom of the tank is an outlet that the clean, warm honey can be drawn from directly into the honey containers. During peak times, the company can produce 110 drums of honey in excess of its usual 80 drums per day.
The drums are then kept in a storage warehouse until they are ready to be transported to market. Paul was very thorough in explaining how the business works, so I ended this visit very educated about bees and bee farming. If you’re interested in getting some tips on starting a hobby as a bee farmer or want to buy some honey in bulk, give them a call at 780.220.6712. They’re such a happy and friendly bunch at the facility.