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Oxford Honey and Supplies owner finds beekeeping a true honey of a hobby

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Bee-keeping is a true honey of a hobby

John Van Blyderveen got into beekeeping 20 years ago in 2004 as a create your own business project. Today, Oxford Honey and Supplies near Holbrook has two components, a line of consumer goods including four varieties of honey (liquid, buckwheat, creamed and cinnamon creamed) along with honeycomb, pollen and beeswax candles and cosmetics.

Oxford Honey also offers beekeeping supplies beginning with the bees themselves as well as the full range of associated material including hives or hive-building components, protective gear and collection, extraction and processing equipment.

Van Blyderveen’s hive system is the Langstroth, an expandable collection of enclosed boxes stacked on top of each other popular among beekeepers. Named after Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth who patented the system roughly midway through the 1800s, the boxes are filled with removable frames holding foundations (plastic in modern times) bees build honeycomb onto. Cells within this honeycomb host honey, young bee production, pollen and nectar.

Van Blyderveen says ideally, manmade hives would be circular or tubular in nature, mimicking the shape of a hollow tree. However, that isn’t a form human beekeepers are able to conveniently work with, hence the square approach.

In broad terms, he says the purpose of a hive’s activities are twofold: firstly to produce enough food stores (honey) to maintain viability through the winter; and secondly, to expand in numbers enough bees to ‘swarm’ or split off into an additional hive along with the original queen.

“Cats have kittens, dogs have pups, bees swarm,” Van Blyderveen explained.

At that point, a new queen takes over control of the critical mass left behind and begins mating and laying eggs to repeat the process. “That’s what we’re manipulating,” said Van Blyderveen.

‘Manipulation’ takes the form of continuing to add boxes or space to the hive, which the existing bees will strive to fill rather than ‘swarming’ and leaving to create another unit as they are inclined to do once their existing space is full. Some beekeepers will insert a queen excluder into their design, ensuring the queen remains inside specified boxes, for example at the bottom, meaning top layers of boxes will be dedicated solely to honey production rather than reproductive activity.

In either case, beekeepers will harvest a portion of the honey produced, careful to leave enough to ensure the hive’s survival through the coming winter.

In broad terms, bees fall into three categories, the queen, who lays all the eggs associated with the hive; worker bees, females without a reproductive system because they are not fed royal jelly (those who are can become queens in their own right) who do all the work and defend the hive; and drones, males who essentially lay around and are fed until required for reproduction, after which they die.

Since a single queen lays all the eggs responsible for producing all the hives’ bees, her health and survival are crucial for not only its success, but existence.

Hive boxes are described as either ‘deep’ or ‘medium’, descriptors tied to a logical indication of size. Deep boxes will tend to be at the bottom of the pile, with mediums placed on top. Three ‘mediums’ worth of honey should be adequate to feed a ‘good, functional hive ‘ of 20,000 bees through the winter says Van Blyderveen. Those numbers building toward between 40,000 to 60,000 are an indication the hive may swarm, with roughly half that number and the existing queen leaving to a location scout bees have identified. Should that happen, her departure must be offset with a new queen to ensure the original hive survives.

Van Blyderveen ballparks the cost of getting started as a beekeeper, buying hive boxes, filling them with bees,acquiring safety gear association with hive maintenance and collection at around $1,000.

He believes new hives must be created or founded before June 21st, the longest day of the year. In practice, a nucleus colony or ‘Nuc’, small colony created or captured after swarming from a larger unit, is introduced into a new hive. Having compiled and placed their structure in an appropriate location, perspective beekeepers can source what essentially is a box of bees complete with queen from Van Blyderveen. Having left a number of the wooden frames out of their new unit, they simply open the provided box and carefully pull out frames covered with bees and cautiously insert them into their new home. From there the new hive immediately begins moving forward, illustrating the basis for the old saying, ‘as busy as bees.’

Sequentially adding boxes encourages the hive to keep expanding, both in numbers and in terms of honey production. Although Van Blyderveen feels the full beekeeping experience requires a hive’s survival through the winter until the second year, a prospect which can be challenging for a variety of reasons, keepers can expect reasonable production in their first season. He anticipates a hive featuring four boxes could produce around 30 pounds of surplus honey by early September.

“Of course, that is all subject to weather conditions and genetics of the hive, but that’s an average result you can expect.”

Beyond the special flavour of fresh, local honey or the satisfaction and enjoyment of producing it oneself, he also finds joy in a deeply natural and intimate experience.

“It connects you with nature like you wouldn’t believe,” Van Blyderveen concluded.

John Van Blyderveen of Oxford Honey and Supplies illustrates some of the gear required for getting into beekeeping, a hive, smoker, protective gloves and in the background, bee suit.

Beekeeper Craig Cook inserts a framed section of the nucleus colony (Nuc) into its new home inside a new hive.

As the saying goes, this crew is ‘busy as bees’ producing honey to both sustain and grow the hive.

In conjunction with adding a second box, a check of this first-year hive illustrates the work done by the new nucleus colony (Nuc) in a short period of time. 


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