In 1973, Stefan and Ann made a life changing decision to move to the country and raise their children away from the madding crowd. Escaping with two babies and two beehives in May of 1974, they arrived at their homestead in Restoule anxious to embark on their new life. Naïve and full of dreams of a self-sufficient rural life, they quickly discovered they had a lot to learn. Over the next 40 years, the bees became – and continue to be – important teachers on this adventure.
As fate would have it, Stefan took a winter job as a ski school director. His boss had a friend who was selling bees, and he suggested to Stefan that it might make a nice summer business. It did, and by 1978 the Boards had 20 hives. In 1980, they expanded to 100. Last year, they overwintered 220 colonies at their 13 bee yards in Northern Ontario’s Almaguin/Nipissing Region.
In 2002, believing there was more to bees than just honey, Stefan pursued an interest in apitherapy – the use of bee venom, honey, pollen, and royal jelly in healing. He studied to become a certified apitherapist, and today his apitherapy business provides guidance to people who are seeking an alternative to mainstream allopathic medicine.
Stefan uses apitherapy in the treatment of allergies; suggests propolis as a natural antifungal, antiviral, and antibiotic; and recommends royal jelly for hormone therapy and fertility treatments. He also uses bee venom to help break down scar tissue, and to help patients manage pain caused by arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The swelling and autoimmune reaction to the sting activates the body’s immune system, sending white blood cells to the area to begin the healing process. In cases involving spinal injury or nerve damage, the swelling from a wellplaced sting relieves pressure on compressed nerves by expanding the space between the bones. Treatments are given every few days, and can involve as many as 40 stings at a time.
In addition to apitherapy, the Boards also offer educational programs for schools, guided tours of their bee yard and honey house, and candle-making demonstrations. They’ve even retrofitted an old school bus to serve as an interactive learning centre where children and adults can get their hands on the different parts of a hive (minus the bees, of course). The family also offers workshops and courses for people interested in keeping bees, or just learning more about them. The honey shop, gardens, forest trails, and play yard provide opportunities for visitors to have fun and relax, and the farm has become a popular attraction in the region.
Their newest venture is into bee breeding, something that daughter Jaimie has taken to heart. She began last year with 37 queens, wintered 27, and plans to produce 100 this spring for use in their operation. She’s working with a variety of bees, including Italian, Buckfast, Carniolan, and some Russian, and is planning to sell 40 nucs a year. Jaimie emphasizes that they’re lucky in the North, where their bees are blessed by minimal use of neonicotinoids.
Although they used to travel to shows and markets in Ottawa and Toronto to sell their products, when Jaimie started her family they decided to concentrate instead on farmers markets and customers within a 100-mile radius. Their biggest challenge, Jaimie says, is finding enough labour to support their continuing growth. As any commercial beekeeper knows, the seasonal nature of the job makes it difficult to retain local workers; however, they have been fortunate to hire local summer students to bridge the gap. “Beekeepers are over-achievers by nature,” Jaimie says. “The bees never sleep. It seems that we figure we shouldn’t either.”