For most people, spring means the usual seasonal transitions, like planting new seeds and storing away the heavy coats. For beekeeper Jerry Jerrard, he is getting ready to sell starter beehives, known as nucleus colonies, or ‘nucs’ for short, to those who want to become the owners of buzzing, furry, honey-producing bees of their own. He produces hundreds of nucs each year.
As the owner of Kawartha Lakes Honey just south of Bobcaygeon, Jerrard told the Advocate that people reach out to him frequently these days about becoming hobby beekeepers themselves, putting their own hives in their yards in hopes of owning their own bees to produce their own honey.
More people are interested in doing this because of renewed focus on environmental issues and the role bees play in pollination — not to mention wanting more self-sufficiency in food production. While many are excited to get started, most underestimate what is involved, he said.
Beekeeping was not always Jerrard’s dream job. He wasn’t sure, growing up, what it would be. He was, however, a kid fascinated with “nature and creepy crawlies.”
“I was a kid who always showed up to school with snakes and frogs.”
Then about 30 years ago, while working at a factory, a workmate of his said his grandfather had to sell five hives he owned. After Gerrard decided to buy them, he took them home and fell in love with bees in the process. His wife, Theresa, was a little incredulous when Jerrard said he wanted to do beekeeping for a living, but three decades later it’s clear things have worked out.
The year after he began, he was up to 120 hives. The next year, 300, and he is now up to 800 hives and hopes to bring the total to 900 for this summer. He said the number of operable hives fluctuates, up and down, so when winter returns, it is expected he will be operating between 800 to 900 hives in several locations throughout the region.
Jerrard says 95 per cent of the beekeepers out there are hobbyists with only two to 20 hives. When asked what the most difficult part about beekeeping for beginners was, Jerrard said it was “bee biology.”
“There’s so much information you have to learn to become a beekeeper. Being able to understand the different types of bees in the hive and their functions, keeping them healthy by making sure they don’t get taken over by pests or parasites, making sure your hive always has a queen. There’s just so much information. Pesticides are significantly troublesome for bee health and continue to be a problem for the entire beekeeping industry.”
The beekeeper says it would be wise to spend a day with an experienced beekeeper with first-hand knowledge, read all there is on the subject, and take beginner beekeeping courses. He also recommends looking into becoming a member of the Central Ontario Beekeepers Association. It can be hot, heavy work but it can also be very gratifying Jerrard says.
While Jerrard prepares hundreds of nucleus colonies and is also keeping up with the other products he makes, like beeswax, lip balms, wood finish, and, of course, honey, they have been doing their best to work with what life brings. COVID is changing people’s attitudes, he says, when it comes to food production.
“The virus has made people want to be more self-sufficient. “Maybe we can produce our own honey.” “Maybe our garden can produce more food and we don’t have to be totally dependent on the grocery store. Over the last two years, that has grown significantly.”
Main revenue sources have changed too. Farmers markets, shows and fairs have not been operating as they usually do so they haven’t been able to sell their products there, but there are other new services like online grocery delivery businesses, and their honey is always in stores throughout the region.
“Grocery store sales have actually gone up,” says Jerrard, “because honey is also considered a survival food. It’s the only food known to man that will not spoil.”