Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
Dave Cameron spent his early years growing up on Sunny Cove Dairy Farm.
The family-owned farm taught Cameron the joys of hard labour and working with family members to produce something unique, almost magical.
It was on this farm that Cameron grew a keen interest in bees.
About six years ago, while looking around his Little Harbour property, Cameron decided to care for a couple of hives as a hobby.
Shortly thereafter, the Department of Agriculture enlisted local beekeepers to assist in a blueberry pollination program where beekeepers could apply for government funding to expand their operation.
That is when Sunny Cove Honey was born. Working with a blueberry producer, the Camerons were able to turn their hobby into a hive of activity.
Mommy, where do bees come from?
April begins the busy season for beekeepers. This is when the bees start to become active and prepare for swarming season in order to reproduce. Swarming, however, weakens the colony, so to prevent this from happening, the Camerons feed the bees a pollen substitute and sugar syrup mixture until the dandelions begin to appear. Once the dandelions are in bloom, the bees come off of their pollen substitution and get to work feeding off of wild flowers.
Cameron says the main streams of revenue for Sunny Cove Honey are blueberry pollination, selling nucleus colonies, and selling honey and bee-related products.
For the nucleus colonies, a portion of bees are taken from the established colonies and are paired with a queen. The Camerons use Saskatraz queens, bred by a Saskatchewan native who moves to California in the winter months to breed them, and then continues breeding the queens in Saskatchewan during the summer months.
“These particular queens weather the winters well in Atlantic Canada,” explains Cameron. “And they are good honey producers.”
Once these nucleus colonies are ready, they sell them to other beekeepers to grow
Then, at the end of May or first of June, it’s blueberry pollination season. The bees don’t typically fly at night, so once they are in their hives for the night, the Camerons will transport about 80 colonies to blueberry farms, where the bees will stay for approximately three weeks.
Once blueberry pollination season is complete, the Camerons bring the bees home and harvest the blueberry honey.
By mid-July, the first big nectar flow takes place. This is where the bulk of Sunny Cove’s honey comes from. This is also when the bulk of the work takes place. With approximately 100 hives, consisting of 60,000 to 80,000 bees, the Camerons must do daily checks to ensure the queen has enough room to lay eggs. If she is not happy, the bees will try to find a new home.
This is also when the Camerons have to add boxes (honey supers) to the hives to store all of the honey being produced. In April the honey supers might be two boxes high, but by the height of summer they can be up to six feet tall.
There is a bit of a lull in August and then in the fall, the bees have a golden rod honey flow to end the season.
Once the season is over, the Camerons treat the bees for mites with organic compounds and essential oils to avoid the use of antibiotics and pesticides. Then the bees are fed and insulated for the winter months.
Cameron says that all beekeepers must be registered and there are regulations under the provincial government that include refraining from feeding the bees during the summer months as it would result in the production of a product that could not be labelled honey.
And beekeepers must ensure they are good neighbours, of course.
Cameron says abandoned Nova Scotia farmland makes some of the best homes for bee colonies because of the wild flowers. In fact, Sunny Cove Honey has very few bees on their property, instead they have agreements with landowners with abandoned farmland to house their hives during the honey flow seasons in return for honey.
That mite be a problem
The largest threat to bee colonies are mites. Mites carry diseases and, when they get into bee colonies, can devastate the hives by feeding off of the bees protein in their fatty stores, killing off the hive.
To prevent this, most beekeepers treat their hives with antibiotics and pesticides, but Sunny Cove Honey uses organic compounds and essential oils to prevent the use of pesticides or antibiotics.
Dave Cameron says that most beekeepers get stung daily, multiple times a day.
“If you get stung, it usually means you are rushing,” he notes.
When first starting out, beekeepers will use gloves to handle the bees, but gloves mean that you can’t feel the bees under your hands and you often crush them, sending an alert to the other bees, which agitates them and causes them to swarm. Bees die after they sting, so it is typically a last resort when they feel they are under attack.
So now, the Camerons refrain from using gloves and have gotten used to the stings.
“We used to swell a lot when we first got stung, but now we don’t. I guess we just got used to it,” says Sarah Cameron.
Dave Cameron adds, “If you put honey on a sting it seems to hurt a little less.”
Flavoured by the flowers
The flavour profile of honey depends on the wild flowers they feed off of. The abundance of honey comes from goldenrods, but there is some blueberry honey which has a distinct taste, and the summer honey has a much lighter colour than the fall.
But between the honey flows, Sunny Cove Honey typically gets 5,000 to 5,500 pounds of honey.
While not certified organic because of the plastic shelving in the supers, Sunny Cove Honey is as close as can be to organic.
Recipe: Honey Taffee
Boil honey down with water until it reaches its cracking stage, about 300 °F. Once it’s ready, pour it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to cool. Once it has cooled enough to touch, pull it apart like taffee.
Honey also makes a wonderful sweetener substitute in banana bread.