Beekeeping is a hobby I’ve enjoyed previously, many years ago. You could say I’m a fourth generation beekeeper, but my brother Andrew who has been at it himself for quite some years deserves the title at this point, more than I do. Regardless, beekeeping in Canada has been going on in our family for many years.
Admittedly, I’m not positive if it is third or fourth; I have heard stories about how my great-grandfather Stephen immigrated with his family from Scotland – and along with his family I was once told, brought honey bees he had looked after in Scotland to his new country. Whether that is factual, I’m not sure – but I do know that his son, my grandfather Ian Stephen, kept hives of bees, so did my father for quite some time, and I did as well, as a teenager. (See update below this post with more information).
Assuming the story is truth though about my great-grandfather, why would anyone bring honey bees to Canada from the “old country” in the first place?
Simple – and it’s an answer that shocks a lot of people when I tell them: Honey Bees are NOT native to North America whatsoever. In fact, it’s likely they compete with the native bees (that would be pretty much useless for humans to use for the collection of honey) – but no one wants to get rid of honey bees in the USA & Canada. It amuses me to see a bit of hypocrisy among some so-called environmentalists when it comes to certain non-native species including honey bees. Brown trout in North America also comes to mind. But I digress.
From Ontario To Greece
I gave up beekeeping (at the time, it was supposed to be a temporary pause) back in about 1983 or 84. Prior to that, for some years I had my own hive of bees along with my father‘s at a dairy farm located just north of Richmond Hill. It helped that I also worked on the farm, and the owner, Mr. Robert Beynon, was more than pleased to offer us a spot on his land for an apiary. In return, we were to give him about 1/3 of our honey production each year – but in fact, it was too much for he and his family to use.
I ended up selling honey to classmates at school – not at a premium price, but enough to make me happy. But as life would have it, my father had to give up beekeeping due to a serious reaction to some bee stings he sustained, and I was at the age of planning a new career and getting married. But it’s always been in the back of my mind to maybe give beekeeping a shot again, someday, sometime, somewhere…
Here in Greece, I’ve noticed that there are a LOT of apiaries of various sizes – and honey here is very good. Pine honey seems to be the most common, but thyme honey is perhaps more coveted. Then there are other varieties including chestnut honey, which has an amazing unique taste that I really enjoy, but not as easy to find as pine or thyme.
Seeing all these beehives everywhere I travel in Greece has had my mind thinking… and so I did some research and came upon a beekeeping supply shop (ANEL) not to far from Nea Ionia. If I had known just how close it was, I likely would have visited sooner, but the lockdown also got in the way. I had emailed them several months ago, and received a very nice reply that one of their staff spoke fluent English and would be delighted to have me visit and talk about beekeeping in Greece.
Meeting Mr. Christos Charizanis
When I arrived at ANEL, there was no easy entrance to the building; the only door I could locate was locked. However, there were some men out in front, loading up a truck with supplies. I was not sure if they were customers or staff, but I did try to communicate that I was looking for Christos. A few minutes later, a man appeared at the door, and said, “You must be Ian. I’ve been waiting for you.” It was a pleasant surprise – but perhaps there are not many English only speaking people here that are interested in beekeeping and that have been in touch with ANEL recently.
Mr. Charizanis proved to be an extremely helpful and kind man as he lead me up the stairs to where their shop supplies are located, brought me water, and let me wander around for a few minutes while he finished up some work he had to. When he returned, I spent the next hour or so, learning about beekeeping in Greece, and of course, ANEL products. It turns out that beekeeping today is not significantly different than back when I was active in the hobby, but there are some newer options available. 30+ years ago, the only option available for honey bee colonies was wooden boxes and frames.
Mr. Charizanis showed me the ANEL produced plastic boxes and frames, and explained that while they are a bit more expensive, they are more durable, less maintenance is required, and other advantages including being internally insulated which helps to keep the colonies cooler in summer, and warmer during the winter months.
While he did recommend plastic, wood is also available for sale, in two sizes:
I had mentioned to Mr. Charizanis that presently, I’m considering a couple of different places to start a colony of bees in Greece. I was advised that starting with just one is not recommended; instead 2-5 colonies are recommended, with 2 being a minimum. My brother Andrew advised me that there are very good reasons for this including the fact that a strong hive can help balance out a weak hive, which can’t be done if you only have one.
Collecting & Using Other Bee Products
I was so impressed with Mr. Charizanis’ knowledge and willingness to explain things to me. We talked about how often, some will think of beekeeping solely for the honey (which is primarily why we kept honey bees years ago), but that there are several bee products that are quite valuable, so why not try to take advantage of that as well?
ANEL has created nifty attachments for their factory produced boxes including a pollen collector and a sort of “screen” for increasing propolis production.
In Mr. Charizanis’ opinion, pollen is a very nutrient dense food, containing minerals and compounds essential for creating seeds of life – seeds that flowers will eventually form. He mentioned that those allergic to pollen might want to be cautious about consuming it by mouth, but for others, it could be a very healthy way to get extra nutrients in their diet.
With the system that Mr. Charizanis showed me, collecting pollen is quite simple – a pollen collector is easily snapped onto the hive entrance and collects some of the pollen that the bees bring back to the hive. A bee keeper would leave this attached for several days, then remove and empty it, and attach it to another hive.
With regard to increased propolis production, it was explained to me that breezes passing through a hive can make the bees a bit angry – and they will want to seal up any spaces, with propolis. So, to increase production, a special screen with even adjustable tabs can be placed between boxes that slightly open up space and the bees will want to seal that.
This makes it easier for the beekeeper to produce and extract propolis, which can then be chewed and eaten, or made into healthy tinctures, and other products.
Beekeeping Supplies, But What About The Bees?
I explained to Mr. Charizanis that back when I had bees, and helped with my dad and my grandfather’s bee maintenance and honey extraction, we would order bees with a queen (some readers may remember Cooks Bee Supply in Aurora, Ontario). New hives were started with bees and a queen that would be shipped over from Italy. I believe things are much different now, but that’s how we used to add new hives to our apiary.
I discovered then that ANEL can supply both queens or a colony of bees – they actually have colonies that they start and maintain, beside their building. Later, before driving away, I went and checked and saw several active colonies. ANEL is located in a suburb of Athens, but they have quite a bit of open space on their property, and although there are residences very close by, its not an issue to have an apiary. I recall that when we used to keep bees, there was some regulation that required that any bee hives be kept some distance (I believe it was 200′?) from any fence line, which pretty much eliminated any possibility of legally having bees in a residential area.
It was good to know that there are no such restrictions in Greece, and if I go ahead and decide to take bee keeping up again, I can get both the supplies and colonies of bees from the same place, and from really knowledgeable and helpful people!
Score! Honey, Pollen, And More
I can’t say just how much of a pleasure it was to spend time with Mr. Charizanis – he obviously has both a deep knowledge and an excitement for everything about bees.
Before I left, I was provided with several of their products including a bottle of pine honey, thyme honey, fresh pollen (which is really tasty to my surprise, with a slight sweetness), a small bottle of propolis tincture, and a healing skin salve.
“Fifteen drops a day, and you’ll never get sick,” Mr. Charizanis said as he handed me the bottle of the tincture. A few minutes later, we’d both have a small glass of water, each with 15 drops of the propolis tincture, and after “Cheers!” and “Yia mas,” down the hatch this liquid went. I’m on my third day or fourth day, and I can promise you I have not been sick yet! It must work 🙂
Both the pine and thyme honey are wonderful, but I especially like the thyme.
I’m pretty excited about the idea of getting back into bee keeping. I have a few possible options as to where to set up a small apiary – but in the meantime, Mr. Charizanis offered me the opportunity to make an appointment when he is working with his hives, and I can come and help and observe to get myself “back in the swing” of keeping bees again.
Did I mention Mr. Charizanis was great and very helpful?
I really enjoyed my time at ANEL – and hoping there will be some bzzzzzing around my head while wearing a bee veil in my future, soon. Bees fascinate me and they are such an interesting creature when you take the time to watch and observe their activity.
After reading my post, my brother Andrew sent me the above image, a scan from a page of the Canadian Bee Journal, July 1946. That is our mom in the photo. Andrew also wrote,
“So I had a conversation with mom when I was first beekeeping.
I said to her, “I guess I’m going to be a 4th generation beekeeper.”
She said, “No you’re not.”
I said, “sure I am….look at this photo.”
(It was a photo of grandpa Stephen’s father making frames for his beehives and his brother (grandpa’s uncle) was helping him)
I’m was like, “Yes, that’s grandpa’s dad.”
So I said, “well that makes me 4th. This is grandpa’s dad, then grandpa, then your generation through dad, and now me. So that’s 4.”
She smiled and pointed at the photo and said, “Well your mistake is that you didn’t know that HIS father did it in Scotland before the family even came to Canada, so no, you are not 4th generation, but a 5th generation beekeeper.” 🙂
So, a correction to the generations in our family that have been beekeeping!
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