Dennis Edell is a hobby beekeeper, and father of our team member Anna, located in Jordan, Ontario. Situated in the Greenbelt, the Niagara region of Ontario is known for it's fertile soil and is populated with farms and vineyards. Dennis is an active member of the Ontario Beekeeper's Association and a vocal advocate for the banning of bee-harming pesticides.
We love using Dennis's honey in our facials, and we asked him some questions to find out more about his bees and the benefits of honey:
How did you get started with beekeeping?
My bee hobby started when I was a back to the land hippy on an old farm on Prince Edward Island. Bees and and honey were my first thought. I loved to eat honey and it was a good cash crop that was harmonious with vegetarian organic farming. And so, after reading all I could about beekeeping and getting some help and advice from local beekeepers, I bought two packages of bees and became a beekeeper. Fortunately our bees did well the first year and there seemed to be lots of honey.
So I set up an extractor in the loft above our kitchen, which required me to haul heavy honey supers up a ladder. I remember how delighted I was to see honey pouring out of a 2 inch pipe. The novelty quickly wears off as there is just so much honey you can taste and soon everything in the room is coated with sticky sweet mist of honey. Which is a problem when you don’t have running water.
We then expanded to over 45 hives and a proper honey house and honey became a reliable source of farm income. As part of a new breed of young Island beekeepers we were the first to successfully overwinter hives on PEI and to move bees to blueberry fields. Stan Sandler, my neighbour and fellow beginner beekeeper also started out with the same number of hives. Stan kept at it and today runs a very successfully beekeeping operation with over 3,000 hives - Yikes!!
What is the most important thing you've learned about beekeeping?
You can’t just add bees and wait for the honey. All beekeepers whether they have one or 1,000 hives share the same responsibility to themselves and to other beekeepers to ensure their bees are cared for and healthy. You have to look after them, protect them from disease and pests, make sure the queen is vital and productive and prepare them to survive our long winters. There’s a lot to learn and we never stop learning how to do things better - all aimed at keeping our bees/hives as healthy and as strong as possible.
What's the best way to attract bees to your garden?
Bees need nectar for energy and pollen for protein. There are many flowering plants, shrubs and trees that produce high quality nectar or pollen and will be visited frequently by honey bees, bumble bees and wild bees.
What are the health benefits of raw honey?
Honey, like any sugar, needs to be consumed in moderation. Honey is a more complex carbohydrate then processed sugar and therefore will metabolize more slowly with less stress on your system. Raw honey contains some trace vitamins and enzymes and if not finely filtered will contain small amounts of pollen. Some people believe ingesting the local pollen in local honey can desensitize you to the pollen that causes typical pollen allergy symptoms.
Can you tell us more about the bee population in Niagara?
As a major fruit growing area of Canada, the Niagara region depends on wild bees, honey bees and bumble bees for adequate pollination. In fact, ninety percent of the fruit and vegetables grown in Niagara depend on bees for pollination. Honey bees work the apple and fruit orchards in spring. Bumble bees are used extensively for greenhouse crops. Wild bees are definitely the hardest workers, you’ll often see them on flowers hours before the honey bees get going. But only honey bees overwinter as a colony and therefore are motivated to produce the excess honey we put in jars and enjoy every day.
What's the biggest threat to bees in Ontario right now?
Neonicotnoid pesticides have been linked to high bee mortality rates and in 2013 Europe declared a moratorium on the use of neonics on field crops. In Ontario, recent high overwinter losses of 2X - 3X the rest of Canada, record number of failing queens and many outright bee kills have been traced to the overuse of neonics on corn and soy.
In the past 10 years, corn and soy acreage has increased dramatically in the traditional beekeeping areas of southern Ontario abetted by subsidies on ethanol fuel. This expansion has meant that marginal areas that harboured wild flowers and other bee-friendly flowering trees and shrubs are now in crop production. Up until this year, 100% of all corn sees and 65% of all soy seeds were treated with neonics that are highly toxic to bees (10,000 x more than DDT). The world’s best selling pesticide has systematically been overused as crop specialists indicated that only 20% of Ontario corn actually needs this pesticide protection.
In 2014 the government of Ontario passed legislation requiring corn and soy farmers to actually demonstrate the need for neonic pesticides before they could use them. The target is an 80% reduction in neonic use by 2020. We’re hoping we can achieve this goal making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to act to reduce the use of neonics.
How can we (non-beekeepers) help the bee population?
1. Support your local beekeeper. Buy local.
2. Substitute honey for sugar in all your recipes
3. Plant bee-friendly plants in your garden
5. Consider becoming a beekeeper. There are several courses and workshops every spring.