Bees: good for more than just honey

Jodi Schellenberg
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Although he is only months into it, Lorne Hradecki already loves beekeeping.

Hradecki has started up a honeybee business, Honeycomb Industries, just outside of Meath Park near his grandmother’s farm.

He got his bees the second week in June and quickly set them up in four hives on his property.

“I went through a training course prior to me getting the bee colonies and before that it has just been research for the last two and a half years, just trying to understand everything about the bees,” Hradecki said.

His interest originally stemmed from the concept of getting into specialty crops -- in particular buckwheat.

“It is an organic crop and it is also gluten-free and one of the special things about buckwheat is it flowers its entire life -- from about three weeks old to frost -- where normally a canola crop will only flower for three weeks,” he explained. “Buckwheat will keep flowering its entire life and its honey is sold at a premium and that is what got me into bees actually.”

Bees will help increase the yields of any crop -- they can increase canola yields from 20 bushels per acre to 60 bushels per acre.

Not only do farmers increase their yields, but if they are bee farmers as well, they can collect honey and other bee products from the hives as well.

When the Daily Herald went out to the bee farm, Hradecki let this reporter get up close and personal with the bees, while wearing a white beekeeping suit.

After donning the suit, Hradecki lit a “smoker.” The smoker is used by beekeepers to keep the bees from getting mad at an intruder and stinging them.

He explained it tricks the bees into thinking there is a fire, which instead puts them into survival mode, trying to collect as much honey as they can before the fire gets too close and they have to flee.

When Hradecki took the hive apart, the bees were buzzing around, but none were out for blood.

The top part of the hive is where the honey and wax are made, he explained. The bottom part of the hive is where the worker bees, who are all female, make homes for the larva and feed them.

“They are the ones that feed the queen and produce the wax,” Hradecki said. “They are the ones that have the stingers. They basically do everything in the hive and out of the hive too. They go to the flowers, they collect the pollen, they collect the propolis, they collect the nectar, they do all the work.

“The drones, those are the males, their sole responsibility is to mate with other queens in the area,” he added.

The drone will congregate on hot days, waiting for a queen to come along. Once a queen is there, she flies high into the atmosphere and the drones follow, he said. The strongest will survive and get to mate.

Each colony has only one queen and if there is more than one they will fight to the death.

The only time there is more than one queen is if the bees are getting ready to swarm -- then the queen and about half the bees will leave the hive to create their own colony.

Hradecki’s first summer with the bees has been very interesting.

“There are a quarter of a million bees there and I worry about every one of them,” he laughed. “Sometimes it feels overwhelming.”

Hradecki has a mentor in Saskatoon, where he currently lives, who has been a beekeeper for 41 years.

“For someone who can tell you everything you need to know about how to make sure they are healthy, how to check for the varroa mites or other things that could go wrong with the colonies -- there are several things -- it is also helpful having a mentor available,” Hradecki said. “He is always there whenever I call and he can answer all my questions.”

Although his mentor can help with the bees, the one thing he can’t help Hradecki with is the specialty products from bees, such as venom, royal jelly and propolis.

“One day I was sitting there thinking, ‘How do I get venom from a bee?’” he said. “I thought you would have to milk it similar to a rattlesnake or something.”

He started researching it and discovered a way to create a device that would collect the venom but not kill the bees.

“Once I started researching into the venom, you start figuring out that all these products that the bees also produce that no one really collects are actually more sought after because of their health benefits and they are more valuable,” Hradecki said. “Of course, it takes more work to get them.

“It is definitely a learning curve for sure. It is hard, especially since I work during the week in Saskatoon and then I have to come out here on Friday.”

In order to collect propolis, he uses a propolis mat. Propolis is used instead of wax in smaller spaces in the hive. It is now being sought after for medical uses, such as an antimicrobacterial.

Another interesting product is the royal jelly, which is fed to queens instead of honey.

“You have got to take the queen out the colony -- otherwise, unless there is some specific reason, the bees won’t generate queens,” Hradecki said. “You take the queen out and they no longer have that hormone in the hive that the bee produces and then they think they don’t have a queen, so they start feeding these cells we have already made for them and filling them with royal jelly.”

Royal jelly is being used as a dietary supplement for people, due to high levels of B-complex vitamins. It is also used in some skincare and beauty products.

He will collect pollen as well, which is marketed as a food product.

“Pollen, you collect through a device that when the bee goes through it it knocks the pollen, because they have it in these pollen baskets on their legs,” Hradecki said. “As they crawl through the colony, it falls into the basket. On a rainy day, you can’t do it because moisture will get into it.”

The last products he collects are the wax and honey.

“Most people collect wax just from the cappings,” he said. “Usually people just cut it off and it is the wax you use. You render it, so it separates the wax from the honey, and it is pretty interesting all together.”

Since he is just getting into the process, Hradecki said it is overwhelming, not only because he has a lot of learn, but also because there are a lot of things he has had to purchase for the hives.

“It is one day at a time -- one purchase at a time really,” he said. “I go to great research to make sure it is the right thing I need so I know I have the best value of anything you can buy.”

He hopes to expand from his four hives he currently has, but he doesn’t know if it will be this year or next.

“I am interested to find out about the two hives, whether they are a weak colony and might not survive the winter,” he said. “Those other two are much stronger. We will see what happens.”

Last fall, Hradecki bough the railroad that stretches from Meath Park to Albertville and hopes to put colonies on the railroad bed.

“The thing with bees is they go out three miles from their hive -- on average, three miles radius,” he said. “Everybody benefits from it because they go and pollinate the crops, so everyone gets better yields.”

Many people have started showing an interest in his bees.

“People are very interested in the bees and it seems like people are in the know of the issues the bees are going through in the world today, with the major deaths, disease and for the most part what is called colony collapse disorder,” Hradecki said.

There is no confirmed cause of the bee problems in the world, although people are pointing fingers at pesticides or mites.

“Bayer Crop Science is actually showing it might not be the pesticides, there are also other factors out there that might be the case,” Hradecki said. “In time I think it will be shown what the real problems are.

“Right now, everyone is just assuming and pointing blame at each other, which is an unfortunate thing because it is important to have these bees, not only honeybees but other pollinators.”

He said it is important to create awareness and let people know how much people need bees in society.

“Philanthropy has been a big part of my life and people like Brett Wilson and Richard Branson for example, they are people to follow,” Hradecki said. “They are very interesting and have made big strides in their lives for the great good.”

Although some people are interesting in the world issues with bees, others just like to watch them. Hradecki said his grandma, who also helps with the colony, finds it calming to watch them and even his daughters have shown interest.

“My girlfriend has been a huge help too,” he said. “She is really running with it.”

Organizations: Honeycomb Industries, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Meath Park, Saskatoon, Albertville

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