Honey Farms Making BC Buzz

Some people practise meditation and yoga. Others listen to music, take long walks in the woods or partake in recently legalized substances—all to reduce stress and stay calm. Scholars spend years studying conservation and companies hire experts to learn teamwork. Artists look to their muse for inspiration. But beekeepers get all of that from one source: honey bees.

“I can relax, eat my lunch and play tunes surrounded by honey bees,” says Ed Nowek, Planet Bee founder. “I compare them to a horse or a dog—they can sense your comfort level and smell fear. They don’t want to sting (a honey bee dies when she stings), they want flowers.” And the team work their little hearts out to make honey.

The Okanagan's honey bee colonies can produce up to 90 kilograms of honey in just a few months.
The Okanagan’s honey bee colonies can produce up to 90 kilograms of honey in just a few months.

Ed Nowek’s infatuation with honey bees started in 1969 during a high school summer job in northern Alberta. “After two weeks of hard work I started to appreciate what they can do. Then I discovered how much honey a bee colony can produce in just a few months (over 90 kilograms),” says Nowek. “I worked on honey farms in warmer climates and was amazed at how adaptable bees are and how they provide commercial opportunities worldwide. But the best honey in the world comes from Canada.”

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Nowek finally settled in Vernon where he and his wife Taosha created Planet Bee. In 2019 it was approved as a Biosphere Committed Entity, which is a pretty big deal. (They are currently working toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.)

Arlo's Honey Farm.

About 50 kilometres down Highway 97 to Kelowna, Arlo’s Honey Farm features ”Bee Educated,” like an outdoor bee museum complete with production hives and guided tours to learn the life cycle of these pollinators. While Sandy St. Laurent focuses on the store, daughter Sandy is the beekeeper, the “bees knees.” She has a demanding career in tech but mornings and evenings Sandy works with the hives and slows down. “The bees make you calm. The collective hive fascinates and teaches so much, like how to care for each other,” Sandy says.

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Honey bee farms aren’t just for kids. Who wouldn’t want to see bees “waggle dance?” Nowek says bees communicate by jiggling their tails then shaking and waggling in a figure eight pattern. At Planet Bee, visitors can also walk through the bee-friendly garden and in the glass observatory see thousands upon thousands of Apis melliferas crawling through tunnels. In the learning garden there are signs where you scan the QR codes and get an experience tailored to your interests.

If You Go

Both Planet Bee and Arlo’s Honey Farm offer customized tours—think social distancing. Big gatherings aren’t encouraged. And the store might have a lineup but it’s worth the wait. Buying local raw honey creates a ripple effect by supporting a thriving bee ecology that means more food can be grown locally. And there are health benefits. Because raw honey is not pasteurized (versus liquid honey that looks pretty but is heated and rendered into a sugar), it contains antioxidants and traces of bee pollen that helps with allergies—honey bees have their own pharmacy.

How Can We Help Bee Conservation?

Change our gardening habits: avoid poisonous sprays and limit pesticides and plant for a wider array and a longer season. Provide a natural nesting habitat by setting aside about 100 square feet in the corner of your yard and let the leaves pile up. Buy organic and ask at the grocery store or market what sprays they use.

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