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  • Norfolk Farms

How Sweet It Is: An Interview With Cool Creek Apiaries Owner Roy Allemann

For many beekeepers who begin dabbling in the art, two hives become four, which become eight and ongoing. The same was true for Mount Pleasant apiarist Roy Allemann who began with two hives just over 20 years ago to sweeten his own daily cup of tea, and now keeps 120 hives regularly.

Believe it or not, 120 is a small commercial operation, but for this semi-retired purchasing and project manager, it is the sweet spot, selling Cook Creek Honey primarily to small business and farm stores like Little Brown Cow, The Windmill, Townsend Butcher and Bun Shoppe Bakery. Allemann knows these small businesses appreciate the value of quality local smaller batch seasonal honey. He has ten bee yards from which he extracts separately 4-6 times per year resulting in wonderfully unique flavour variations. Allemann explained that extracting more frequently than the typical once or twice per year allows for a less generic honey.

Over the years Allemann has discovered what works best, and uses slightly modified Langstroth style hives which he believes aids in ease of management and results in lower bee mortality. Allemann has evolved to breed his own Queens, but does also buy or trade Queens with other Beekeepers to ensure the best genetic diversity within the operation, and assesses each hive individually breeding only the best stock based on personally cultivated criteria.

Experience also means that Allemann rarely needs to sugar feed, which is the practice of supplementing colonies to keep them alive throughout the winter. Although it is occasionally required, Allemann is not generally a fan and only uses it when absolutely necessary which ends up happening with only about 10% of his colonies.

More than twenty years of experience, however, does not mean that Allemann is immune to the difficulties most beekeepers have been experiencing in recent years. In the past ten years, Allemann has seen a 30-35% loss per year, but he reports that some operations have even higher mortality numbers. “The fall/winter of 2021/2022 was particularly bad, where we lost at least 65% of all the bee colonies in Ontario.” explains Allemann, “Before that 15% would have been a bad year.” Although Allemann admits not being himself a researcher, he has formulated theories based on personal experience and a wealth of information he has gleaned speaking with other apiarists and researchers and believes several factors are to blame. Firstly, he says that “There is an over-reliance on the use of chemicals in agriculture.”

Although the mind goes to pesticides, Allemann says that fungicides and herbicides play a role as well and highlights spraying chemicals during the hot sunny days as posing an especially concerning risk because honey bees, as well as hundreds of other native pollinators, mistake sprays as dew drops. Allemann isn’t down on farmers, but has hopes they would consider timing for the cause of pollinators: “My family has farmed land in the past and the recommendations I make to people who care is to use less chemicals and if you have to spray, do it in the evening when our beneficial insects are not as active.”

Secondly, Allemann points to changing weather patterns as a bane to the pollinator. He noted that 2022 exhibited more normal weather patterns and, perhaps not coincidentally, the bees fared better.

Allemann also knows that there is an over-reliance on imported bees which have a higher failure rate. “I would love to see a day when we become more self-reliant again.” says Allemann.

Many beekeepers will speak with disdain about something Allemann also attributes to the struggles of the bees: Varroa Mites. He doesn’t feel that it is quite the issue that it has been made out to be because “Beekeepers have been dealing with them for about 30 years and there are many good strategies to control them.” He points to new beekeepers wanting to raise honey bees organically not using controls as an ongoing struggle, because not only is there very real risk of personal hive loss, but neighbouring colonies can bring mites back with them, so Allemann recommends having a solid strategy for assessing mite loads and a control plan in place from year one.

Allemann had plenty of additional sweet tips for budding beekeepers: “Research, research and more research. Whether you consider honey bees livestock or pets, they will be the most complicated, interesting and sometimes frustrating creatures that you will ever raise. I highly recommend reading one or both of Beekeeping for Dummies and The Backyard Beekeeper, taking a training course (The Ontario Beekeepers Association has some links – For people that like videos, the Honey Bee Research Centre based in Guelph has some good ones. Allemann continues: “Join a local association. Find a local mentor. Beekeeping can be a highly rewarding hobby and is a good fit for people who love problem solving.”

In addition to raising chickens and pigs, Allemann says that beekeeping keeps him very busy. Like many farmers, the dawn-until-dusk days are from May through October, but the remaining months are busy with sales, paperwork, planning, refreshing equipment and, of course, checking on the hives during warmer spells.

Allemann is grateful to be in the Mount Pleasant area because it “has a lot of alfalfa fields, pastures, deep ditches and creek/river beds that have a significantly good variety of forage plants for bees.” He uses his personal stash of honey in tea and baking as a substitute for refined sugar.

When asked what he wished consumers would know about beekeeping, he had much to contribute: “Buy local and expect to pay more. Support your local farmer. Understand where your food comes from. Get involved and get your children involved. If you have any land - even just a tiny backyard - put in a small vegetable garden. Buy the book ‘Square Foot Gardening’. I have seen a large surge in people becoming more interested and involved about where their food comes from. I think that this is incredibly important and I hope that it continues.”

For this beekeeping veteran, the sweet stuff is simply in his blood, having relatives in Switzerland who keep bees. And Allemann is in it for the long haul: “I’ve been doing this for a long time and the day I know everything about bees (which will never happen) is the day that I will quit and find another profession.”


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