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Let’s Eat: For the love of bees (10 photos)

Local beekeeper Barry Tabor talks about his fascination with bees.

Barry Tabor, owner of Bears’Bees and Honey, says “it was a love of bumble bees” that got him into beekeeping. “It’s not economical to raise bumble bees; there’s no real market for them,” he explains. “So honey bees were the next best.”

“Next best” doesn’t mean Tabor is not a dedicated beekeeper. He has been doing it for 25 years now and has about 45 honey-producing colonies.

The bees’ season starts in spring, usually late April or early May, when Tabor takes them out of the specially designed “bee room” at his house, which is kept at 5 degrees Celsius throughout the winter. For the first part of the season, he moves the hives up to the top end of Lake Nipigon, where wild blueberries are plentiful. “They pollinate the wild blueberries and we get the blueberry blossom honey from that,” he says.

The first honey extraction is usually the first week of July, and Tabor extracts honey about once every two weeks per hive.

After the blueberries have blossomed, he moves most of the hives to the Kakabeka Falls area, while leaving a few north of Lake Nipigon to make “Northern mix honey.” In the Kakabeka Falls area, the bees collect nectar mostly from wildflowers such as Joe-Pie weed, clover and goldenrod.

Last year was a good year, Tabor says, averaging almost 200 pounds of honey per colony. This year’s hot and dry weather, combined with some damage to hives from bears, has resulted in about 120 pounds per colony.

Bears’Bees and Honey is a small family business, where everything is done by hand. Tabor spins the hives in an extractor and strains it through three layers of cheesecloth before packaging it.

The business also makes and sells a variety of beeswax and bee-related products. “My wife makes all the beeswax wraps and the bee balm. Our daughter makes the candle products. And I do the propolis tincture. It’s a family operation,” Tabor explains.

He has been a full-time vendor at the Thunder Bay Country Market for about three years now, and has noticed a higher demand for local honey since the pandemic started. “Consumers are educating themselves about buying local,” he says.

In addition to the market, Bears’Bees and Honey’s products can be found at about 10 retailers in town, such as the Cheese Encounter, George’s Market and Celebrations, and Bogdala’s Smoked Meats.

Tabor loves working with bees. “To watch them, work with them, it’s amazing. See how they can structure a hive, all get along together, how they work, they all have their own duties in the hive,” he says. “It’s nice to see how democracy works.”

When asked what his favourite way to eat honey is, he laughs: “Right out of the hive!” He continues, “when you open up the hive, you’ve got all that nice fresh honey. And there’s a thing called bridge comb - pieces of comb above the frame - you scrape it off and throw it in your mouth. That’s the best way. It’s all nice and warm from the hive!”

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