Year of the Beekeeper: The Gull Lake Honey Company Inc.
Owners: Lorne & Alida Prins
Location: Gull Lake, Alberta
Social info: Facebook
Question: How did you get involved in this sweet industry – what’s your story?
Compared to many of the people reading this we are relatively new to the beekeeping scene. This is our 4th season as a commercial operation and 2nd season running out of our own extraction facility. Beekeeping on a commercial scale was not something we had ever really thought about prior to 2018 – we were both employed full time in the construction sector; Alida in administration, and Lorne from a background of trades and international construction management. It just so happened that when we were exploring employment options that would bring us back to Lacombe County where Lorne grew up, two local beekeepers (John Luymes and Howard Oudman) were downsizing and made hives and established yards available, as well as provided valuable mentoring needed for us to get the ball rolling. We took the challenge and jumped in with both feet. We went into the first winter with around 500 hives and have been adding about 500 hives per year. We anticipate a few more years of growth.
Question: What’s a typical day like for you?
Answer: Depending on the season, as a growing operation we spend our winter days building equipment and planning and strategizing for the upcoming year. Along with caring for our 10 month old son, Alida is full time in the honey House, running the store, packing honey, pouring candles, giving tours, responding to our retailers, and dealing with the multiple vendors that are selling local products at our store. Lorne coordinates field activities and spends as much time in the hives as possible. He has also started a queen grafting program, with the hopes of producing our own queens for replacement and expansion needs.
Question: What is the most satisfying part of being a beekeeper?
Answer: Do we have to choose just one?
- checking mating nucs (and finding high success rates)
- filling barrels with honey
- Hearing someone say “I never knew that!” when you explain to them one of many amazing facts about honey bees
- Meeting local landowners that really love having bees on their property.
Question: How have things like new research, sustainability, innovation, and technology influenced your beekeeping?
Answer: The IPM sessions have been a really valuable source of information, and have influenced our mite control and hive nutrition programs.
Question: Finding great sources of nutritional forage for your bees is an integral part of crafting delicious, pure Alberta honey and supporting pollination and biodiversity. What are some of the strategies you use to when selecting apiary locations for your hives?
Answer: Our most successful yards are the ones in short distance to standing water and with a good mix of green space and cultivated land. Yards with good early forage, like willows, really seem to help with hive buildup, and protection from Northwest wind in the winter also helps with reducing winter loss.
Question: What is one of the biggest challenges you feel the Alberta beekeeping industry is facing and what would you like to see changed?
Answer: As the countryside becomes increasingly populated with small acreages and subdivisions, access to land for bee yards has been more difficult to secure. Ongoing public awareness and education on the benefits of honeybees as pollinators as well as honey producers will help increase interest and support.
Question: With such a short beekeeping season in Alberta, how do you manage all the work required to support and maintain the health of your hives and harvest your honey?
Answer: We do a lot of running.
Question: What is the strangest beekeeping question you have ever been asked?
Answer: We have been offering honey house tours and activities for homeschool families – so we get a lot of elementary aged guests. One inquisitive boy wanted to know if its true that boy bees explode after mating.
Question: If you were to describe your honey in four words, what words would you use?
Answer: Better than Tees Bees
Question: What types of honey do you sell, and do you sell other bee related products?
Answer: We sell a variety of raw honey, pulled from different times of year and different locations with different forage. We also sell creamed honey, as well as a cinnamon creamed honey which is a fan favorite. We sell a lot of pure beeswax candles and beeswax by weight. We also sell bee pollen, lip balm made from beeswax and reusable beeswax food wraps.
Question: Where can people buy your honey and products?
Answer: We have a farm store attached to our honey house that is open Monday-Saturday each week. Alida also sells some of our products at the local farmers market in Bentley AB.
Question: What are you happiest doing when you are not working?
Answer: Is there ever such a time?