By Lori Graham, Master Gardener
I was fortunate to get a chance to visit a honey farm this summer: Mike Grysiuk Honey Farms Ltd. and Grysiuk Honey Farms Ltd. Located outside of Neepawa, they are one of the largest producers of honey in Manitoba. Owner Mike was nice enough to give me a personal tour.
There are about 550 to 600 beekeepers in Manitoba who run around 100,000 plus hives. A commercial beekeeper would normally run a minimum of 150 hives.
Hives and replacement hives
The farm I visited has 5,000 to 6,000 hives with 2,000 replacement hives. This farm produces 800,000 to 900,000 pounds of honey and up to a million pounds in a season. It has a processing plant where the honey and wax are separated from the frames. The honey is then poured into 45 gallon drums weighing 655 pounds. Manitoba exports approximately 85% of the honey produced in a season.
Processing room where honey and wax are separated from the frames
Honey and wax being separated and filtered. Next step honey goes into barrels (not shown).
The honey is shipped all over the world. Canada, the United States of America, Europe and Japan, to name a few countries, receive Manitoba honey, certainly something to be proud of. The wax that is separated from the honey is sold to a wax broker and then sold to women’s cosmetics companies such as Maybelline and Revlon.
Mike supplies hives to 80 to 90 farms including farms in Neepawa, Gladstone, Minnedosa, and Brookdale. Farmers welcome the bees to pollinate their crops and Mike is able to produce honey from those hives, a good pairing for both.
Hives in the field
This farm has no retail honey for sale. They sell honey to the processors who in turn package up the honey for retail sales. Mike mentioned that Bee Maid is one of the processors that uses his honey. You may find a Grysiuk brand of honey at craft sales and farmers’ markets but that comes from Mike’s brother.
Mike’s father started the Grysiuk farm over 47 years ago. Mike, his father, an-other brother and Mike’s son all work at the farm along with 8 employees from Nicaragua. The same crew from Nicaragua comes every year from March to November. This arrangement works out best for all involved as new employees don’t have to be trained annually.
The hives are inspected regularly allowing the beekeeper to determine when to harvest a hive. The beekeeper uses smoke when inspecting a hive. When bees sense danger, they release an alarm pheromone from a gland near their stingers. Smoking a beehive masks this pheromone, which keeps the bees calm, allowing the beekeeper to safely perform a hive inspection.
Beekeepers checking the hives
The bees born later in autumn can live up to 6 months; these bees make it through the winter months. Some hives are wintered outside covered with insulated blankets. Mike winters some hives in a warm room. The temperature in this room can reach 42F with heat produced by the bees alone. Mike can add heat to this room if needed. The ideal winter is cold with lots of snow. In spring Mike feeds his bees a sugar syrup mixture until the flowers arrive; he feeds them again in the fall when the flowers are gone. Mike used to buy his queen bees but now is able to raise his own right on the farm.
Now for some information on Mike’s non-salary workers, which is good for Mike as they number in the thousands: the honeybees. I now understand the saying what ‘busy as a bee’ means. The bees’ whole purpose in life is to collect pollen to bring back to the hive. The majority of the bees are female: the workers, scouts, guards and nurses; the nurse bees take care of the young. Worker bees are female but not capable of reproducing; they do all the work in the hive. Their jobs include housekeeping, feeding the queen, the drones and larvae, collecting the pollen and nectar, and making the wax. The male bees are drones which mate with the queen bee. After mating the queen will kill the drone. There is only one queen bee per hive. She will lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day – a pretty busy lady. The hive cannot function properly if there is no queen bee. The worker bees live 3 to 4 weeks in the summer; they take cover in the rain and some sleep outside the hive, under cover also. The biggest enemy to the bees are mites. Mike’s biggest enemy are bears and some hives are surrounded by electric fences to keep the bears out.
Mike mentioned this hot and dry weather was hard on the bees this year. The pollen flow will be a lot less and a lot less honey stores in the hive means less nutrition for the bees.
There are killer hornets found in BC and Washington State that are killing the honeybees there. I asked Mike if he is concerned about the killer hornets coming to Manitoba. He said the killer hornets cannot survive in our climate. Let’s hope with climate change it stays that way.
Honey is the only food that has no expiry date. Never eat pasteurized honey as all goodness the bee put into the honey has been taken out. This visit was so fascinating and educational; I was so glad to have this chance to see how a honey farm works.
*Editors’ note: Bee Maid is owned by the Manitoba Cooperative Honey Producers and the Alberta Honey Producers Co-operative.
All Photos by Lori Graham
Published: September 2021