Year of the Beekeeper: True North Apiary
Owners: Barbara and Justin Sorenson
Location: Calmar, Alberta
Question: How did you get involved in this sweet industry – what’s your story?
Answer: Our bee farm began in 2012 when I started hobby beekeeping with two packages of bees. After having success over several seasons, I decided to increase my colony numbers and to give beekeeping as a business a go. In 2016, I enrolled in the commercial beekeeping course at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC. Also at this time, my youngest son Justin was beginning to get very interested in beekeeping as a business and began studying everything beekeeping. In the spring of that year, my son and I purchased 20 hives from a local beekeeper. During that summer I completed my practicum working for Barrie Termeer and gained experience in a commercial honey operation. When I was not working at Barrie’s, my son Justin and I learned how to make queens. Throughout this time we also realized the importance of locally produced queens and overwintered bee stock. The following summer, we purchased 30 colonies from Barrie, began to increase our numbers and implement a sustainable beekeeping model. By the fall of 2017 we had grown our operation to over 100 colonies and were ready to be self-sufficient. Since then we have been successful in running a sustainable apiary by producing hundreds of our own queens and nucleus colonies every year, as well as running several hundred honey production colonies. Our honey has won several awards and our locally produced queens and nucleus colonies have been a huge game changer for us.
Question: What’s a typical day like for you?
Answer: I seem to have two types of work days: field days and shop days. On field days my day starts around 8:30 AM when I load up the truck in the morning for the day’s tasks. Then I head out to the beeyards for the day. Sometimes the field days are short and I can then prepare for the next day. The daily tasks depend on the time of the season. On shop days I get started at 9 AM and usually build new equipment, make repairs and also prepare for upcoming field tasks. I try to end days around 5:30 PM, but it is not uncommon to work into the evening.
Question: What is the most satisfying part of being a beekeeper?
Answer: I find beekeeping has many satisfying aspects. Grafting queens and successfully getting them mated is close to the top. When the honey harvest is complete is also very gratifying.
Question: How have things like new research, sustainability, innovation, and technology influenced your beekeeping?
Answer: All of these things have been an important part of my beekeeping. Being able to connect with other beekeepers online and their willingness to share their experiences has assisted us in building our systems and becoming more sustainable. Also, being able to easily access past and present research by scientists and beekeepers has helped us be more successful in trying new things.
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: I look for locations that have some untouched, natural areas as well as farmland in foraging distance. This provides more diverse resources throughout the season. Having good access and distance from other beeyards is also beneficial. Google Earth has been great for mapping forage and understanding the land.
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: The biggest challenge I see in Alberta is the lack of sustainability. Most beekeeping operations rely on imported queens and packages. In the past this has worked good for many, but it has also made the industry vulnerable and unsustainable if imports are restricted. There is every reason to believe importing bees will become harder in the future, rather than easier. I would like to see the Alberta beekeeping industry start to transition away from imports and become more self-sufficient. This will make our industry more resilient and the local bee stock better suited to our environment. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has shown us to expect the unexpected and that we need to be more prepared.
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: By having good systems in place. This includes a flexible schedule of tasks. Some of these tasks are vital to healthy hives. During the honey harvest family members are a big help. It is also common to put in long days when needed.
Question: What is the strangest beekeeping question you have ever been asked?
Answer: Two questions stand out. The first one being: If I start a colony with just a queen will it build up to survive the winter? The other is: Why do you not just put a virgin queen in a box with some drones to mate your queens?
Question: If you were to describe your honey in four words, what words would you use?
Answer: Pure, Sweet, Fresh, Quality
Question: What types of honey do you sell, and do you sell other bee related products?
Answer: We offer liquid, creamed, cinnamon creamed and in good years, cut comb honey, as well as beeswax and beeswax products. We also offer overwintered nucleus colonies and queens.
Question: Where can people buy your honey and products?
Answer: Our products can be purchased from our website or picked up from our location in the town of Calmar. Purchases can be placed online, by phone or email. We also sell some products on Etsy and Ebay.
Question: What are you happiest doing when you are not working?
Answer: Spending time with my grandkids.
I feel the beekeeping industry in Alberta has a bright future with a more diverse group of beekeeping operations starting to emerge. In saying this, there are many challenges that will only be solved by the beekeepers themselves working together. Happy beekeeping everyone!