Keri and Al Lockhart are the owners of Beaver Valley Gold Honey in Clarksburg, located along the shores of Georgian Bay just north of Collingwood. The Lockhart's' bought the business from Keri's dad, Graham Roberts in 1997. Twenty years earlier, in 1977, Graham purchased the business from the Reekie family who operated the bees for over 50 years. Going into 90 years of beekeeping, Beaver Valley Gold has established a history of beekeeping that Keri and Al are delighted to carry on.
"When we bought the business in 1997 we operated out of the original Honey House located behind Graham’s house. At that time we worked 650 colonies. In 2001, we relocated to a new location on the Main Street downtown Clarksburg. With this move came an opportunity to retail our honey, although we also wholesale. We no longer sell honey by the barrel. We now work around 250 colonies." Al indicated he would like to grow his operation to 300-350 colonies. "The challenge is to expand and keep the colonies strong".
Prior to buying the business, Al spent a year employed by Graham, this is when Al learned about beekeeping. "Graham was a great mentor to me, I have many memories of that first year in particular my first day. I was given the job of looking for the queen. I spent a lot of time kneeling in front of the colony taking stings to the knee. I came back home with so many stings I could hardly walk." Graham had neglected to warn Al not to kneel in front of the colony.
"The thing I like most about beekeeping is the independence. It is just me and the bees, if something goes wrong I am the one to blame and if it goes right, I can take some credit. Beekeeping is very physical work and I'm good with that". Al commented "I really enjoy seeing the benefits of the hard work, once all the splits are done and the honey flow is happening I am always amazed at how much honey the bees are bringing in. I am not very fond to the spring splits and pollination but love to see the honey flow."
When asked to comment on observation of change and challenges Al summarized "beekeeping should be fairly simple and straightforward, however, the situation with Neonicotinoids and the ongoing fight with the mites is a concern". Beaver Valley is a large apple growing area in Ontario. Al seeks bee yards removed from corn and soybean planting. "I have always questioned the idea of putting my bees in orchards considering all the fungicides that are sprayed while the bees are in the orchard" Providing pollination service to fruits, vegetables and field crops is part of the agricultural community. "I do like the cheque I get afterward." Al commented.
After pollination Al gets to work on splitting and afterwards a honey crop. "My splits are in 3 or 4 frame nucs,that I take to a few good mating yards." Al does not raise his own queens but rely on Ontario stock and with good success. "I also do some splits in late April with Australian queens and again with some good success "As far as a honey crop, Al uses queen excluders on their colonies. "I want to keep the queen down where she belongs". At harvest time Al uses a crane and an attachment that latches onto the bottom super, lifting the stack of supers and then placing an empty super and a bee escape, dropping the stack. Two days later "I'm back to load beeless supers."
Al needs to be very careful not to bring too many bees back to the honey house. They are located in the Downtown area and do not want bees all over the place. "Once I arrive at the Honey House I am quick to get the truck inside and load the stacks of supers into the hot room." Al commented.
At the Honey House they have a popular retail store selling their honey, other products of the hive and other things like honey pots, apple cider vinegar etc. "Time and effort are rewarding at the end of the day". Hard work, detailed principles and commitment are the beliefs of their success.
"We have a bit of an educational centre and spend a lot of time teaching people about the beekeeping industry. We have really seen an interest in the bees and the current struggles." Beaver Valley Gold has a loyal customer base returning frequently for their honey products. Being located in a growing tourist area has also benefitted the traffic in their operation.
The extracting room is visible to the public and people seem to enjoy watching honey get extracted. Al and Keri have spent a lot of time and effort to upgrade the extracting line. "We recently purchased a 28 frame Cowen." The extracting room is very spacious and kept very clean.
"My winter losses were fairly high this past winter, around 40%. Some of the survivors were very slow throughout the spring, they were fed patties and feed and along with the stronger survivors are now looking at producing a good crop. As of August 1 the bees and crop look good."
When asked to comment on his biggest concern Al commented, "the ongoing battle with the mites. For the past 10 years I use only Formic and Oxalic Acid to varying degrees of success, there seems to be a lot of variables in the efficiency of the soft treatments. I am considering a hard treatment at one point every second year."
"Over the years I have seen an up and down pattern, with a high winter loss followed by a year or two of fairly good success. Perhaps the high winter loss removes the weak, more susceptible colonies, my hope is to use a hard treatment at the right time in the cycle."
When asked to contemplate the future of beekeeping Al stated
"I think of the past. I recall at meetings we used to talk about production, equipment and methods, now the talk is about treatments, mites, beetles, Neonics and what to do with dead outs."
Sharing family time with their two teenage daughters is a priority. Living near Georgian Bay, Al is passionate about sailing. He struggles with the dilemma "of when the wind is blowing and I have to go to the bee yard". The bees win out!