175 queens and 7 million peasants - Simon riel owns them all
By Manfried Rieder Starhemberg
There is a place on Schweitzer road in Sutton which has a simple sign outside. It says "Miel", honey. But there is a lot of magic once you get to know the owner of this honey making enterprise: There is "Magic", the beautiful dog who will play with anyone willing to thow her stick into the air, which she catches everytime in mid-flight. There is magic in sampling the different sorts of honey produced and there is this incredible beauty of being shown Simon's work.
I have not always been a great admiror in stinging insects, but walking among Mr. Riel's hives, being surrounded by thousands of bees and not being stung once, I just got a huge education about the production of honey and the incredible work that goes into it. Simon owns 175 hives which means he also has 175 "Queens" which can produce up to 2,000 eggs per day, being serviced by roughly 100 male bees every day. Queens cost $ 22.- and will live for three years. They get shipped in small plastic containters and I held one on my hand just to see what is so special about this insect which gives life to almost every fruit and flower we enjoy every day.
Outwardly, the queen is just a little bigger than the other inhabitants of the hive but when Simon installs a new "virgin bee", the little boys out there go nuts and the mating starts. Every hive has approximately 40,000 bees in it, and when Simon took out the individual trays which hold the honey and the wax, we were sorrounded by thousands of bees.
"They are all males, collecting pollen" explains Simon. "Males cannot sting, only the female bees have a stinger and every year, in one single day, they sting to death all the males before the cold weather sets in."
Pretty scary this, considering that 175 hives at 40,000 bees per amounts to 7 million working inhabitants and they are all doing all this hard work just to be nuked on the end of their useful life! A working male will, during his lifetime, produce only about a teaspon of honey. Think about that, the next time you put some on your toast...
Simon makes a variety of honeys and the range from Dandelion to Bull Clover, regular clover, Wildflower, Goldenrod (yummy), Buckwheat and a creamy variety which is stored in a specially air condictioned cold room. "How do you know which hive produces which honey ?" ,was my naive inquiry. Well, the hives are placed in selected areas, none of the bees travel more than five kilometers from their hive and by thus positioning them in selected areas, there is no cross pollination. The bees are so smart, they even have scouts which go out before the swarm, find the best feeding area and then lead the rest of the workforce there.
Simon used to bring up to 100 hives all the way to New Brunswick just to feast in a wild blueberry farm, to create his blueberry honey. "I gave this up" he stated, "I lost almost 20 percent of my bees on the road, because they do not travel well over very long distances".
Now, the making of the honey itself is incredibly time consuming. Every comb gets shaved off wax before it can be put into a huge centrifuge which will extract the honey from that wonderful cell structure the girl bees and the queen had created. Simon uses only approximately 10 percent of the wax to create candles, the rest, molded in elegant bars, is returned to the hives in order to give the bees a head-start on producing honey, instead of fretting about making wax for their combs. The microcosm of this apiary art and the sheer numbers of actors, extras and creative wax artists could put Stephen Spielberg to shame. Think about the epic of the male bees cruising around day after day, to give the present of a couple of milligrams of honey to they beloved queen and her "ladies in waiting". What a story.
But on the end, the beauty about the different colors of the honey, the rich texture of the final product and the loyalty of many local customers after ten years of hard work, and an investment of over $100,000, still make Simon smile."It was worth it", he told me and then he and throws another branch of wood into the air to make sure Magic is entertained.