photo credit: www.admirestudios.com/
Bees make honey... and can help you relax as well? Shevelle Stephens explains what she means below. She and her husband Glyn, of Koha Apiaries, produce local honey in Leduc County, Alberta. They sell honey, bees, and local queen bees to beekeepers near Edmonton, and offer free honey bee removals (more about that below as well!)
Learn more now about the intriguing world of bees and bee-keeping in my interview with Shevelle! Whether or not you ever consider getting into beekeeping yourself, they are fascinating to learn about.
Laura: Can you describe a bit about how you (and your husband) got started in beekeeping; how Koha Apiaries began?
Shevelle: My husband Glyn and I have always had a keen interest in the natural world. We started our careers as biologists in the oil and gas industry but, for a variety of reasons, we never felt like it was truly a good fit. That feeling, coupled with a series of unfortunate events and the loss of a loved one forced us to rearrange our priorities and reflect on whether we were living a life that aligned with our values and nourished our souls. We spent some time trying to find a path that would cultivate the resources within us while providing us with happiness regardless of success or failure. I remember laying in bed one morning and everything sort of clicked and I thought, “Bees! We’re going to be beekeepers!” It immediately seemed obvious because Glyn grew up helping his parents run an apiary in New Zealand, and we both had the biology knowledge and passion to guide us. It would also give us a chance to explore our interest in the cottage wine industry; producing our own honey would allow us to eventually make ultra-local mead (honey wine).
Two months later we started beekeeping with 4 hives that were gifted to us from a family friend in the Okanagan. We chose the name “Koha” because it means “gift/contribution” in Maori, the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand. It acknowledged the hives that were gifted to us and the beekeeping knowledge that Glyn received from his parents while growing up. “Koha” continues to remind us of all those, living and lost, who provided support along our journey, so it holds a special meaning to us.
Once we got started we were inspired to move forward by the level of excitement and passion that the general public had towards honeybees. We wanted to foster this by providing communities with an insider’s view into the life of bees, and the processes involved in honey production. We’ve really enjoyed interacting with folks in the Edmonton area and feel lucky to be part of a community that strongly supports local businesses. We continue to add hives to the Koha family and look forward to producing mead and cider in the coming years.
Laura: What do you most love/appreciate about beekeeping?
Shevelle: The first thing that really struck me about beekeeping was the almost meditative state that it put me in. Beekeepers are forced to work slowly and methodically around the hives and this encourages the mind and body to release tension and relax. People always laugh when I tell them that because, to them, the thought of being surrounded by millions of bees seems to be quite the opposite of relaxing. I always take the opportunity to teach people that bees are generally very peaceful, and I encourage everyone to try their hand at beekeeping at least once.
Aside from that, there are so many other things we love about beekeeping, including being able to witness how amazing and complex the bees are. We are constantly witnessing new behaviors that make us stop and appreciate the hidden complexities of nature.
photo credit: www.admirestudios.com/
Laura: What has been a unique challenge/difficulty in your experience keeping bees?
Shevelle: If there is a hard way to do something, we did it the harder way. This is partially because we started Koha while living in a townhouse in the city. We drove out to the hives several times per week and spent countless hours working through logistical nightmares. It isn’t easy farming from the city! Luckily, we had a very supportive group of people who allowed us to store equipment and supplies on their properties. Other beekeepers were kind enough to help us with honey extraction. We are forever grateful to everyone who supported us and helped our business grow during those awkward years!
Laura: Bee facts are fascinating. What fun/interesting trivia have you learned or would like to share about bees?
Shevelle: It’s hard to choose! The more we observe the bees, the more we are enamored by them. Here are a few pieces of trivia that seem to make people’s eyes light up:
Bees very rarely defecate inside the hive. Even during winter months, they will hold it until the weather is warm enough for them to leave the hive for a bathroom break. This helps protects the colony from disease.
Male bees are called drones. They are not able to sting. Their only purpose in the colony is to mate with virgin queens. They don’t even forage for food and spend their lives freeloading off the hard work of the female worker bees!
Whether a bee becomes a worker or a queen, depends on its diet during larval development. A larva that is destined to become a queen bee is fed a substance called royal jelly for longer than a larva that will become a worker bee.
Laura: In the past I’ve had inquiries of what to do if people find a bee swarm in their yard. What’s your advice in this situation?
Shevelle: I cannot stress enough that an exterminator is not needed to deal with a swarm of honey bees. Swarms are groups of bees that are looking for a new home. They have recently left their old hive because they either ran out of space or were unhappy with the living conditions. Bees in this state are very unlikely to sting. If someone has an unwanted swarm of bees move onto their property they can call us at 587-938-7474 and we will come remove and re-home the bees for free. We will even offer a jar of honey in exchange!
Laura: If someone asks you “how can I get into beekeeping?” What is a good first step that you’d recommend?
Shevelle: Definitely take a beginner's beekeeping course! There is so much knowledge that is needed to successfully and safely keep bees. Courses are offered around Alberta, usually in the spring. We particularly recommend the “Basic Bee Culture Course” taught by Medhat Nasr and Tracey Smith. Tracy has several years of beekeeping experience and Medhat is the former provincial apiculturist. You can’t go wrong!
Laura: What is the best way to contact you, learn more/purchase your products?
Shevelle: There are several ways to get in touch with us! We can be reached by phone (587-938-7474), email (info@KohaApiaries.com), Instagram (@KohaApiaries or @cidermakers), or Facebook messenger. We’re always happy to chat with folks about bees and wine making at the farmers’ markets we attend. This year we can be found at the Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Market and the St Albert Farmers Market. For an updated list on upcoming markets check out http://kohaapiaries.com/findus/.