Surrounded by the golden spoils of productive healthy hives, I sat down with Dan Hefferman of Heff’s Hives to learn more about 21st century bee-keeping.
Heff’s Hives is a local honey house, beekeeping equipment supplier, and benefactor of local contract beekeeping. I got the full introduction to the ethos behind Hefferman’s approach to bee-keeping, and even got perfunctorily stung once in the process – A mark of my attempts to bee-friend the insects.
“Bees are relevant right now. No matter where you go, everyone knows that something is going on with the bees,” Hefferman says.
Bees. You know, those fluffy yellow things your cousin is allergic to and never fails to mention frantically whenever they see one. You may have heard of them – they’re the recent insect celebrity that’s going through a hard time right now.
Aside from all the digital pleasures and 89 cent Mr. Noodles modernity brings, the 21st century hosts a particular kind of malevolence towards the ground that supports it.
Unfortunately, bees are no exception to that brutal rule.
CCD, colony collapse disorder, is the leading cause of the recent dramatic hive loss and the current challenge to hive health that bee-keepers are combating. In the winter of 2007, Ontario’s apiarists lost about 23,000 of their 76,000 hives alone. A loss of about $5 million.
Hefferman believes that CCD isn’t as mysterious as we want to believe. He believes that the disorder had has taken hold because of our agricultural, pharma-cultural, and monocultural practices.
“I think a lot of science doesn’t understand what it is,” Hefferman sighs. “They’re all looking for the answer, when the answer is right in front of us and we choose not to see them.”
To Hefferman, CCD is reflective of a trend in single-sourcing our food, our use of systemic pesticides, and overall habitat loss. We’ve got a knack for producing food that we like – but our God complex in agriculture comes at a cost.
“We believe we’re just as good as nature– we’re not,” Hefferman explains. “We’re lousy at it and now we’re so bad at it we can’t stop.”
Heff’s Hives passive bee-keeping methods are a welcome upswing to the trend of human intervention, where he works with the natural instincts of bees to harvest the extra of what they naturally produce.
It’s a happy coexistence between man and nature, one with consequences as sweet as they are sustainable.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how Heff’s hives came to “bee?”
“I was the director of sales and marketing for a chemical company. For the last 13 years I’ve been travelling a lot for work, and it was a bunch of things that aligned to get me here,” Hefferman tells me.
One of those forces was Hefferman’s daughter.
“She was watching the Angry Planet and saw something on bees and said, ‘Dad you think you can do something for the bees?’ The next day I went to a bee yard and got stung by a bee. I loved it,” Hefferman laughs. “I bought a bee hive the next day.”
The growth of Heff’s Hives came naturally after that. A passion which Hefferman pursued and made his full-time commitment.
“That was in 2015. I had 13 hives a year later and 100 a year after that. Today, 6 months later, I have about 150 hives, have quit my former job, and am a full-time beekeeper.”
Currently, as well as his hives, Hefferman provides many services to bee-enthusiasts and novices alike. These services include live tutorials and courses, hive rentals or purchases, pest management, hive maintenance, and honey harvest supports.
What is bee-first care and Heff’s Hives “bee guardianship?” How are these approaches important for the health of the bees?
“Bee guardianship is essentially about putting bees first,” Hefferman explains. “My first slogan in beekeeping was ‘it’s not about the honey, honey, it’s about the bees.’ I want to propagate healthy bees, so honey was the happy byproduct of healthy colonies.”
Part of his bee-guardianship care includes the use of more passive methods of hive maintenance and honey collection.
“In big business we see profit over people. I didn’t want to translate that thinking to my livestock. I don’t think of my bees as livestock, despite the fact that that’s exactly how they’re classified,” he says. “It’s a bee-first approach to it, I want to take the best practices with the bee’s best interests in mind at all times.”
Part of Hefferman’s passive “bee-first” approach is his use of probiotics to stimulate good gut health and grow a robust colony, as well as working with the bee’s natural instincts to collect the honey in the hives.
One such passive care method is something Hefferman invented that he calls the “deluxe bee escape.”
The contraption is essentially a one-way door that sits on the top of the hive that uses the bee’s own flight paths to Hefferman’s advantage when he harvests the honey.
“Bees don’t make right 135 degree turns very well. So, it’ll take them a couple days to figure it out and get back in, but I’ve long since been there and taken the honey out,” Hefferman explains as he shows me the device’s angled doorways.
The positive of passive care? Healthy happy hives making honey.
“I didn’t start this to sell honey and put smile on people’s faces specifically, that’s just end result,” Hefferman says.
You offer contract beekeeping services like the “rookie bee” and “bee guardian” packages, and promote urban apiary initiatives. Why endorse urban hives? Is this where you see the future of bee-guardianship going?
“I think bee hives in the city are magical,” Hefferman laughs. “I think they belong here. Studies reflect that urban bees do well, typically better than rural bees. There’s less toxin loads per acre in a city than there is outside of town. There’s more nectar outside, but the trade off would be less nectar though with less potential toxin load from pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.”
Urban bees aren’t as affected by the chemicals used in the agricultural industry that are damaging the health of rural bees. While these chemicals are meant to kill pests, they don’t discriminate between bees and other insects, and are ultimately killing bees and other pollinators.
Hefferman describes one such pesticide, something called neonicotinoid. “Neo Nic” is a systemic pesticide he calls the “DDT of today,” and has been banned in Scandinavia for over a decade.
“The bee is the canary in the cage,” Hefferman explains. “The bee has said en mass in their mortality that there is a problem, and we have ignored it or whitewashed it. The use of DDT was very prevalent in the ’70s and was banned outright because it’s a systemic pesticide. Neo Nics are the DDT of today, it’s systemic, and it’s more powerful than its predecessor – but its got a different name.”
The chemical is currently legal, however, the manufacturer made a 70 per cent voluntary reduction in production since last year. Although this is a first step, Hefferman believes this doesn’t adequately address the issue.
“If in Scandinavia they’ve banned this ten years ago why are we still investigating the efficacy of the voluntary ban? We all know the same facts, but they act upon it.”
If we’re to see real change in systemic pesticide use, Hefferman believes that that motion begins at the top of the agriculture industry.
“Today lobbyists and big business rule the roost, and that’s why they haven’t been banned,” Hefferman tells me. “But as far as I’m concerned, from a bee-keeper’s perspective, they should be banned unequivocally.”
Urban hives breed healthier bees and have a buzzing place in a city’s makeup, which is why Hefferman works to share his skills with other urban bee-enthusiasts. Skills, that he says, he’s always trying to improve.
“I’m far from perfected,” Hefferman laughs. “I still get stung, I still squish bees, I’ve starved bees, I’ve cooked bees. My second slogan is “I want to take the sting from bee-keeping,” and that’s the goal of this company. I want to raise healthy bees and share this skill with others to help them through the obstacles. Whatever your barrier to entry is I want to help you overcome that.”
For Hefferman, beekeeping is a skill to be shared and practiced with the bees in the forefront of the mind. A modern and sustainable approach that isn’t just sweet nothings.
You can learn more about Hefferman’s services and hives on his website. Check out his bee-yard at 7024 Kilbourne road, unit B, to buy some of his amazing local and organic honey.