She’s the queen bee of home honey-making in northern B.C., and her beeswax candles light the way to a productive family-run bee homestead.
Claudia Pavon has been an apiary maven for more than 20 years, bringing her entrepreneurial and beekeeping skills from her native Argentina to British Columbia more than ten years ago.
Showing off her wares and creations as a vendor at the 62nd All Native Basket Ball tournament is just one of the many business stops, merchant stalls and farmers’ markets that she attends annually.
An advocate of bees to the ecosystem, it is clear when she explains her products and processes to make them just how much she respects and loves the winged fliers.
Located on a quarter section, 160 acres, in Vanderhoof, Claudia runs Clover Fields Apiaries full time. At the same time, her husband Ezekiel works partly in manufacturing over the winter when the bees are “sleeping” and partly on the farm in the summer when the buzz of hive activity is at its peak.
“Bees have a really important role in our family. We owe everything we have to bees. We love bees. We love to eat healthily and try to help other people,” Claudia said, adding everyone in the family has an individual part to play on the farm.
The business is all hands-on for each family member with active roles in the business. Claudia’s 18-year-old daughter Iara looks after digital online marketing, sales, advertising, and videos on their Youtube channel called ‘Bee’s are funny’. Fifteen-year-old Malvina looks after production and product assembly. Igor is the ten-year-old son who helps with labelling and stocking.
Before her children were born, Claudia and Ezekiel completed a beekeeping course looking to make some additional income. However, they enjoyed the high quality of personal homemade products and soon implemented them into their daily lives.
“Beekeeping opened the door for us to come here,” she said.
Their specialized skill set, combined with Canada’s need for apiary experts, opened the door for the family to obtain permanent residency to immigrate. At their first opportunity, four years later, they became Canadian citizens.
The busy season for the family starts as early as April, with a harvest in August. Most years, Claudia said they could get two harvests. One year they managed three harvests.
“Every year is different. The weather makes a huge difference, too,” she said. A warmer and drier climate is best for the bees as the moisture from a damp climate will settle on the bees’ wings denying them the ability to lift off and fly.
Claudia said Clover Fields Apiaries is not the largest in the North, but they have products in some grocery stores and boutiques that they produce at home from 150 colonies. A healthy, strong colony can provide 80 to 100 lbs of honey per season.
A colony is commonly known to be housed in a white wooden box.
“In a full system there are between 80,000 to 100,00 in one of those boxes between July and August,” the bee lady said.
After winter hibernation, a colony may start off at a little more than 20,000 bees in the springtime. As they start to multiply, the colonies will be separated.
In each wooden box, there are ten trays. On those trays, bees will build a hive starting with a sheet of beeswax. She explained the bees excrete the wax blobs at a time, moulding them with their mandibles and saliva to make perfect hexagon shapes. The hexagon hives are not the honey, she said.
During the season and once a tray is full, they will be replaced two at a time. From 100 colonies, the apiary can collect just over 10 blocks of beeswax weighing up to 20 kg each, she said.
Beekeeping is the type of job where a keeper must learn hands-on and through their own experiences. Claudia suggests that a beekeeping course is beneficial for anyone thinking about an apiary as a hobby or an occupation, followed by experimentation to find what is right for the individual and colony.
“The most important thing about bees is keeping them healthy … you need to know about all the diseases … and you need to know how to apply the right medicine for them,” she explained further that medicines need to be rotated because bees create an immune system resistance to them.
The bees do sting, she said. The family wears safety gear when handling them, but the bees in Canada are not as aggressive as the bees in South America.
“Here in Canada, we have really good various types of bees with different genetics. We have a mix of bees … so they are very gentle. In the summer you can go without any protection and they won’t sting you.”
However, that depends on how the bees have been managed.
“As a beekeeper, you learn how to treat your bees,” she said, specifically mentioning always approaching the colony from behind.
“You always open with gentleness. Sometimes you can use smoke. It all depends on the person, and you learn how the bees react.”
K-J Millar | Editor and Multi-Media Journalist
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