Year of the Beekeeper: T’N’T Apiaries
Owners: Barb Thyr & Dave Tharle
Social info: Facebook
Question: How did you get involved in this sweet industry – what’s your story?
My parents were married just before WW II and had a number of hired men on the farm. Sugar was rationed during the war, so my mother learned to use honey as the sweetener in most everything; cooking, baking, canning, etc. (during this time you could even sponsor a hive or hives). When the war ended, she just continued to use it, because of the texture and flavours of the things she made with it. A trip would be made annually east into the Bassano/Brooks irrigation districts for alfalfa honey or west to Nanton/High River for the clover-wildflower honey produced in the foothills; sometimes both. When I came into their lives, I loved these trips and was fascinated by the whole process. We would take an assortment of 2, 4 & 8 lb. containers (the latter 2 sizes being the traditional tins with compression lids) in apple crates and obtain several hundred pounds while I’d ask the poor beekeeper a million questions. When we brought them home, they were placed in a deep freeze so we could have fresh, liquid honey year-round.
There was a beekeeping section in the Western Producer and when I turned 16, I ordered my first equipment from Henry Pirker, Debolt AB. Mr. Pirker also offered a correspondence course which I signed up for and letters were sent back & forth during the first season. Beekeeping in Alberta was 99% packages at that time. Even though the gophers pack a bag lunch where I grew up, I got frames drawn and made some honey. When I moved to Edmonton to attend University, I joined the Edmonton & District Beekeepers Association and made a point of getting to know as many beekeepers as possible. I would offer to work with them and was regularly called upon in spring to help shake packages (because I was young and still had a back). During this time, I continued to expand my hive numbers, working with an established hobbyist. We ran our hives mostly along Hwy 14 east from Sherwood Park and built a 14’ x 26’ (garage package) extracting plant in the hamlet of Bruce. We ran 250 hives through it at the peak using a Maxant Chain Uncapper, a 60 frame Hodgeson, an OAC sump and a 1000lb settling tank.
In the late 70’s & early 80’s I spent some time during summers as an Apiary Inspector for Alberta Agriculture, working for both Roger Topping and then Doug Colter. Eventually I decided that I wanted to do beekeeping full time and moved to Grimshaw to work for John & Bev Woodburn’s Polar Bear Honey. After a couple of seasons in the Peace my wife and I decided to relocate to Cold Lake, Alberta and have been here ever since. At this point, she joined me in the bee yard and T’N’T Apiaries was born.
Question: What’s a typical day like for you?
I’m a morning person. During bee season, I’m usually awake by 5:30 – 6 and doing paperwork, etc. in the office. I try to be in the shop by 7am and one of the great things about beekeeping is there really isn’t a typical day. You can cross half a dozen trade lines (electrician, plumber, mechanic, excavator…….) in a single day.
Question: What is the most satisfying part of being a beekeeper?
Bringing hives to their full potential and then producing a quality product that people enjoy.
Question: How have things like new research, sustainability, innovation, and technology influenced your beekeeping?
They’re always influencing it. Thankfully Barb is more reluctant to jump on the latest band wagon and I think we’re able to make good compromises about what things we adopt into the business.
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?
We’re really fortunate in this region to still have a significant amount of pasture and hay lands mixed throughout grain and oilseed fields. We’re mostly concerned about whether or not the location works year-round.
Question: What is one of the biggest challenges you feel the Alberta beekeeping industry is facing and what would you like to see changed?
I think our biggest issue is, and will be for some time, Varroa. A close second (this likely won’t surprise those that know me) is labour. Not everyone in government realizes (or perhaps accepts) just how reliant we are on TFWs. I look back 20+ years and see the advancements which have occurred since Grant Hicks and I would beat our heads against the wall over some of the policies and procedures we used to jump through, but it could still be so much more straight forward for us and the Government.
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?
Preseason prep and hired Labour! Barb and I used to try doing everything ourselves, thinking that having employees’ cost you money, but once we hired staff, we found out how much more honey/money we could make with basically the same resources.
Question: What is the strangest beekeeping question you have ever been asked?
Although not really a question, one of my all-time favorites was being told they couldn’t eat our “creamed” honey, because the dairy in it was bad for their cholesterol.
Question: If you were to describe your honey in four words, what words would you use?
Most years: Light, sweet, smooth, aromatic. Not so sure in 2021. Lots of darker product this year.
Question: What types of honey do you sell, and do you sell other bee related products?
When Covid derailed her graduation plans, our daughter started selling flavoured honeys made with our honey, and beeswax candles.
Question: Where can people buy your honey and products?
At our farm gate or from Micwellas.com
Question: What are you happiest doing when you are not working?
When beekeeping became my job, I started doing dog agility as a hobby.
Many years ago at Convention a gentleman from one of Alberta’s beekeeping dynasties (grew up keeping bees and was well into his eighties) shared the following advice: “If you think you understand everything about bees, you’re a damn fool.” Words to live by here.