by Deirdre Howard
Pure Honey Products is a family-run commercial apiary based in West Creston, B.C. operated by Dee and Tadhg Howard, along with their two children. They manage approximately 120 colonies offering training, pollination services, live bee sales, and exquisite locally produced honey.
The family’s journey began when Dee developed pollen allergies right around the same time their first child was born. An unorthodox beekeeper recommended she try eating local honey and miraculously it worked! On their travels, the couple would buy and taste honey and eventually Dee could tell when it wasn’t locally produced, as her allergies would return. They spent a lot of money on testing honey, some of it offensive and some fantastic.
The struggles bees are facing across the world has been well publicized. The Howards decided to try and solve some of the issues faced by the Western honey bees (Apis mellifera) and produce a true local honey.
As it turns out, the problems honey bees face are massive and global, but not unsolvable.
Through their research, they found that one of the biggest problem bees face is… beekeepers. Their resistance to change and dependence on quick fix medications and poor business management forces shortcuts in order to make money. Monocrop agriculture has a huge part to play too, with the dependence of modern farms on pesticide application and genetically modified plants.
Environmentally, bees face many other issues, the most significant is the Varroa mite, a parasite that attacks and feeds on bees and their larvae. These mites are a huge vector of disease and controlling this pest is the single most important part of modern apiculture. Scientists have devoted many hours to solving how to kill the mites with little success. Miticides have been developed and vaporized acids used but the mite continues to be the main cause of colony collapse. The Howards used all of these methods with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, these efforts still led to lots of ruined honey and the deaths of some perfectly healthy colonies.
After a couple years of battling and following the recommendations of master beekeepers, the Howards were almost broke and most of their bees were dead. They decided to throw away the books and end their memberships with all the organizations and hit the road. First, they travelled to Ireland and met with innovators, then to the United States to meet with engineers, then to New Zealand to drink a lot of wine with bee breeders, and on to Germany and Poland where they talked extensively in broken English with designers. Eventually, the Howards developed their own way of looking after bees in Canada.
The Germans had discovered that the Varroa mite cannot regulate its own body temperature. When exposed to extended periods of heat, the enzymes in their bodies revert, ultimately killing the mites themselves. An American engineer used this information to build a simple machine to heat the hive without harming the bees.
In Ireland, one of their colleagues found that if you leave honey in the hive for winter instead of feeding sugar syrup, the survival rate quadrupled. Then in the spring, the bees built their hives back up faster and stronger.
In Poland, they had developed an insulated hive that not only helped the bees during the cold of winter but also meant the colony stays cool in summer allowing them to produce more honey. This insulated hive also promotes the use of the heating system to more effectively control mites.
Pure Honey combined all of these researched methods to produce world class honey, right in the beautiful Creston Valley.