Courtney and Joel Wilkinson, co-owners of Bee Whyld Yukon, are proud to show off their bee yard located just outside the town of Watson Lake, Yukon.
Sixty-two of Bee Whyld’s 64 honey bee hives sit on the edge of a hay field surrounded by an electric fence.
The warm spring days and budding leaves on the willows have the foraging worker bees busy collecting pollen.
The emerging dandelions will provide the first source of nectar of the year. Honey made at this point will replace the stores used by the bees throughout the past winter.
The hives will remain in this home yard until mid-June when the fireweed begins to bloom. Courtney and Joel, with help from a few other beekeepers, will move the hives to recent forest fire locations. The prolific growth of fireweed in these burns provides the source of nectar that the honey bees turn into Bee Whyld’s fireweed honey.
Honey bee hives in the bush can attract some unwanted attention by local wildlife. It is true: bears can’t resist honey and the larva in a beehive. In fact, Joel woke up one morning to find a black bear sitting on one of their backyard hives. It was evident by the bear’s swollen face that the bees had done their best to discourage the theft of their brood and honey. Joel scared the bear off and put the scattered hive back together.
To deter bears that may be looking for a sweet treat in the bush, a solar power electric fence is set up around the bee yard. Any bear brave enough to touch the fence is rewarded with a strong shock to its nose. This seems to be enough of a deterrent to keep the bees safe.
Weekly visits are made to all the sites to check on the health of the queen and worker bees, honey production and swarm control.
Friends and family are called upon in early August for the exciting honey harvest. Frames of capped honey (sealed with wax by the bees) are removed from the hives and brought back to the Bee Whyld honey house, located on Courtney and Joel’s property.
During the week-long extraction process, everyone has a job. From removing the wax caps with a hot knife; loading, running and unloading the extractor; filtering the honey through numerous sieves; tapping honey into jars; to labeling. Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey is now ready for sale.
“Our Fireweed Honey is incredibly clear, white, and takes a long time to crystalize, indicating that it is one of the purest you can find,” Courtney explains. Honey connoisseurs commonly referred to fireweed honey as, ‘The Champagne of Honey’.
Back beside the hay field, the bees are enjoying a variety of wild Yukon flowers. Another smaller harvest will be done in late August for the company’s Wildflower Honey. This honey is darker in colour with a stronger flavour. Only a small amount of wildflower honey is harvested, as most is left in the hives for the bees to eat during the long winter months.
A final check is done in late October to assess the amount of honey in each hive. More honey frames are added if needed to ensure the bees have food all winter. The hives are covered with insulated wraps and the long winter wait begins.
“The long, cold, Yukon winters, along with late springs and cooler summer temperatures make beekeeping in the Yukon a bigger challenge than in other areas in Canada,” Joel says. “Our goal is to maintain 60 to 100 hives and keep up with the demand for local fireweed honey.”
Along with two delicious types of honey, Bee Whyld Yukon harvests a small amount of beeswax. This by-product of honey extraction is filtered and made into beeswax candles, or added to salves and lip balms.
Bee Whyld volunteers a couple days every spring to visit classes at the local elementary school. This is an opportunity to provide information and hands-on learning to students about the amazing world of the honey bee.
“One of the best things about running Bee Whyld has been meeting other people with Yukon made products,” Joel says. “The support and help from other entrepreneurs has been wonderful.”
Bee Whyld Yukon’s honey can be found in many local – and not so local locations – throughout Yukon and British Columbia. For more information, or to place an order, please visit www.BeeWhyld.com.