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We hand pack our raw honey jars directly from the field. The raw honey is frozen for 2 weeks at -20 degrees. This unique ice honey, sets up in the dark to a luxurious spreadable honey butter. Our raw honey is bursting with unique floral bloom and is sure to please the most discerning honey connoisseur.

Sweet Pure Honey Blog


What's new at Sweet Pure Honey? Read our blog posts below:

https://www.prairiepost.com/alberta/sweet-pure-honey-is-a-labour-intensive-business-beekeeping-more-than-just-hives/article_2b58d5fa-70a3-11eb-964e-4bbda33e316d.html

Many people in southeast Alberta know Stella Sehn, the hardworking and engaging face of Sweet Pure Honey. 

Besides making a lot of the natural honey home-based products such as soaps, cosmetics and spreads, Sehn is constantly marketing, shipping and finding new customers all over the world for the business.

While highly visible, Sehn will be the first to tell you it is a two-person effort and her partner Sheldon Hill is the beekeeper for the operation. A high demanding job, it is far more physically and mentally demanding than one would expect. 

 

It surprised even him. Having been raised and of course working on a mixed grain farm, Hill was not expecting it to be as difficult as it is. For example, he did not know it was going to be as hot as it was. 

“I grew up on a farm and I thought I knew what it was like to work hard,” explains Hill.  “Honestly, this job is not for everybody. It is mentally very tough…it pushes you to your physical limitations”, (it is) ,“too much for some people. …it is so hot., it is like running a marathon. I don’t know how to describe it. It really pushes you physically and mentally. It sees what you are made of. I kinda like that challenge of it (now). At first, it was terrible.”

Sweet Pure Honey has their hives based in Porcupine Plain Sask, which is about an eight-hour journey from their home base in Medicine Hat. Hill indicates has approximately 400 hives which fluctuates depending on the year.

Hill explains they produce about 200-250 lbs per hive during the season, so typically Hill is looking at 80,000-100,000 lbs of just the honey itself. The box weighs 20-22 lbs so besides a lot of the technical work, the physical labour is demanding.  

“So (in the summer) you are lifting about thousands of pounds every day around by hand with a suit on, in the hottest part of the day,” adds Hill. “If the weather is good, you need to be bringing in honey.Like the old saying goes,’ Make hay when the sun is shining’”. You get that odd day where it is rainy and so it is kind of a break so it’s nice. Because you just going so hard for so long.”

  

The season is coming fast for Hill. It all starts in March is when there is an examination of the hives and treat for Varroa mites, make sure they still have enough food. He says this progresses and continues into April. You keep checking to make sure your hives have enough feed and maybe put on a pollen patties. He will generally be unwrapping hives in early May and replacing any needed hives for the new season. 

This continues of ensuring of food, checking the bees’ health, raising Queen cells and nucleus colonies to make up any winter loss. 

“With bees the real struggle is trying to keep your honey producing numbers up. This is your greatest challenge,” explains Hill. “It proved even more challenging with flight restrictions last spring from places like New Zealand and Chile where some of the replacement hives come from to cover winter losses. I am not sure of the actual numbers, but just in Saskatchewan It would be tens of thousands of packages that were expected by beekeepers to cover their losses that didn’t arrive because of the lockdowns. 

“Last spring was very cold and damaging to bees across most of the prairies, the hives just couldn’t get a break, they couldn’t fly, they couldn’t get some pollen and get that queen laying , as a result when the weather finally did change we had more hives that made it through winter and died in the spring because of the cold weather, and if they didn’t die they were small and weak. Being smaller and weaker, this hurts their ability to collect nectar later on, you need lots of bees to produce honey and If you don’t that affects yield.”

The payoff is when there’s honey to be harvested, something he describes as flow. Honey flow usually starts about in the second week of July for them. From that point they are harvesting and extracting the honey from the honeycomb. 

The days are start at 6:30 a.m. and go until 5 p.m. 

“You’re working heavy hard pace. When you’re harvesting honey, lot of moving hive around chasing source your moving hives there is lots of many less glamorous jobs that have to get done. It adds up to a lot of long physically demanding days, a lot of the jobs are still done by hand. Those days are quite hot, quite long. It’s heavy,” explains Hill of his summers. “You’re pushing yourself to the physical limits.

 

“I drink as much as a gallon of water a day. I will do nothing but sweat that out all day, that is how much I am sweating all day. I am literally soaked from top to bottom in sweat. You know when you can feel the sweat running down your calves, it’s a hot day out there. Even the people who want to come and work and you try to explain to them what their job will entail like maybe little things that they need to worry about — like hydration obviously is a big one. Eating well and getting enough sleep is important.”

In each of the hives, consists of nine frames in each box, a good hive will have 5 or 6 boxes of honey each . You get the bees off the honeycombs by encouraging them to move down to the bottom of the hive. You take all of the honey boxes off and replace them with empty boxes. Take the full boxes back to the warehouse to be extracted. To extract the honey, the frames are run through an uncapper to take the thin layer of was off the top of the honey than ran through a large cylinder-shaped extractor. It is spun in circular fashion at high speed and centrifugal force spin the honey out of the frames. The honey comes out the extractor and is pumped to a storage tank and then run into 45 gallon drums for storage, ready for shipping.  

 Harvest continues until about the last week in August where they start to getting the hives ready for winter. There are disease treatments, picking out hives that won’t make the winter and feeding them enough to make it through the long winter ahead. In late September they wrap them up and by mid October they are finished.
 

“Most people don’t know a whole lot about it, (beekeeping); it is not a very common business,” explains Hill. He says the public doesn’t understand or have been exposed to the industry. “I don’t think they understand much about bees. It is hard to describe the process unless you have gone through it. I have done a lot of jobs in my life, liked worked in the oil patch. I’ve done a lot of physical jobs. I have worked with a company where I dug ditches by hand for 10 hours a day replacing gas lines in old natural gas facilities and had to dig these by hand. Even that, it pales in comparison to this job.”

Dealing with the heat can be challenging,” Hills says it pushing the workers so physically hard that some people just break.” The suit consist of coveralls with a protective hood is over your head. All that heat is being trapped within the suit, restricting how much air flow one can breathe in. If you are nervous about bees it makes it much more stressful.

 “You are getting stung. You’re in the suits and it might be 30 degrees outside and inside your suit it more like 40 degrees and it just pushes you to the limit of heat exhaustion,” adds Hill. “It’s like someone who challenges themselves to their physical limits that’s sort of where we are at, that’s sometimes too much for some people.”

They have a wide range of products besides the raw honey with bath and body (soap, lip balm, scent sticks) and other beeswax products like candles. 

 Hills worked in the oil patch during the bee offseason, but this winter was laid off. A lot of effort is put into the online store.

 It has been a struggle for Hill and his wife Stella Sehn regarding their honey business.  “The last couple of years has been really bad for some people in our industry in western Canada. Personally, two years ago we had the smallest crop I have seen in the 25 years of beekeeping. Last year’s crop in 2020 was smaller yet,” explains Hill. “This year the price increased, but only because honey production was so dismal in almost all of western Canada. The previous four years the price of honey barely covered costs. This is the pressure I have been under for the last five years.”

Hill add it is comparable to any pressure any commodity producer has. “I don’t know if it’s worse now or not.  I think that If you grew up on a grain farm that mental factor is always present and always has been apart of the farming business. I think you are always under some type of stress, things you just can’t control whether it be bad weather or something like that. You are really putting yourself out there. Both physically and monetarily, you are exposing yourself. You are really throwing the dice and hoping it’s going to work out. The amount of money that you put into inputs whether it be grain farming, (apiaries) on a hope and prayer It’s a stressful environment.”

Throw in bee disease concerns and long, cold springs and you have a recipe for tough years. Any stress to the bees will cause their demise. 

“You have a general idea from years past (how it will go), but you won’t real know until you open them up in spring and you see how they overwintered… You do what you can to keep your numbers up. We are honey producers so there is a line there… It kind of fluctuates up and down.”

It is a mentally exhausting industry both from the actual work to the concern of whether or not they can survive from a financial viability standpoint. 

 

There is open discussion about saving small businesses, Sehn describe how they have to save the bee farm. It was a mental strain on both of them. Hill has gone to writing a blog on the Sweet Pure Honey website discussing mental health challenges and thoughts of suicide. Sehn says they are doing everything they can to save their family bee farm.

Sehn points to a big part Hill’s mental decline was due to financial stress over the past four years. The petroleum sector’s crash forced Hill out of his offseason job which helped pay a lot of the bee farm’s costs. 

“We have always worked hard and just need to be paid fairly for our crop to move forward,” explains Sehn. 

She is hoping that people would invest in their special hive gift box package https://www.sweetpurehoney.ca/shop/online-market/invest-a-hive-box-detail.html that goes directly to help cover their spring input costs for their hives. She says they need to sell 200 invest a hive boxes to cover their spring input costs.

Those in agriculture who need counselling help can call Farm Rural & Northern Support Services  anytime (24 hours a day) at 1-866-367-3276.

 

As 2020 finishes, I have optimism for the future. It has simultaneously brought me to my knees and lifted me up to the heavens by the lessons learned during the pandemic.

Six months before the pandemic had started, I lost my winter job. I was well into panic mode long before the worst of it began. To be truly honest, we had been in panic mode a lot longer than that. We had been struggling financially and otherwise for the last 4-5 years before that.

  I had been on the treadmill of life for so long I had been neglecting a lot of things in my life like my wife and partner, my family and friends, my personnel dreams and just the general care of me. I had been burning the candle at both ends for years. The cracks had been showing for some time. COVID-19 came along and brought all those things to the surface. 

    COVID suddenly exposed that I had been living in a shell, a prison of my making, that I had been blaming my circumstances on other people or just the world. I had been putting things on the back burner for another day, thinking, “this will be taken care of", but that time never came.  I was too eager to bury it, it felt like to much work to really take it seriously. The pandemic swept away all the distractions or problems that were too painful to deal with and expose them for what they were. The glacier of COVID swept away all the falsities of my life. What was left was the bone stark reality of the life that I had inadvertently created, and it was a mess. Fear gripped me, I felt like my entire life was up for grabs, that everything that I had been working for was softly fading away. I questioned myself and really beat myself up for all the wrong decisions that I made. My inner voice had turned on me and I was finally all alone. My spark had gone dark, and it was replaced with a black hole that was slowly swallowing up who I thought I was and what I thought I wanted.

Luckily for me, I was in an industry that was not restricted during the lockdown, so I could go to work and not have to think about the frightening aspects of the pandemic, its unprecedented territory for this generation. When it first begun, I could spend my nervous energy working my body, not having to think about my future and the greater fear we were all sharing. As I went about my day, I realized something.  That I was in a place that made me feel good and I was doing something that I genuinely loved. At that moment I experienced genuine gratitude, I saw something that I once had taken for granted with new meaning. It made me feel a little better.

I not going to lie to you. The clouds did not part and sun rained down and everything was awesome from then on. Even as I write this, I am still piecing together my life and suspect that never really ends. There have been many dark times between, but as I sorted through my life’s wants because finally, I had to choose and no longer could I put it off. Each decision was less anxious, the unknowns were being answered, piece by piece.

I needed to do a lot of things better. My relationship with my wife and kids, if I valued it, I had to show it somehow. If I wanted to remain doing what I loved, I had to make that continue. To get it right, I had to be kind to myself. Let all the mistakes, the bruised ego and all that fed it behind. I needed to open up to the ones I trusted with my feelings. Mostly to grieve what was my old life plan, release that grief and embrace the possibility of a healthier me.

I go out of 2020 feeling grateful for my life and loved ones, family, and friends. The future, I look to it with optimism rather than fear and anxiety. Being kind to myself is easier, and I look for my positives and accept responsibilities for my negatives as a fair, balanced look at myself. Simultaneously, 2020 is the end and the beginning of my story. I will welcome 2021 as the future of better things to come. 

 24 Hour Mental Health Support:  Canada Suicide Prevention Line 1-833-456-4566  Mental Health AHS 1-888-7854284  Mental Health Help Line 1-877303-2642

To celebrate and raise awareness for EARTH DAY we offered our Bee Beeswax Food Wraps at 50% OFF the retail price. Sales from the beeswax food wraps will go directly to feeding our baby bees and supporting our hives this spring. My hope is to offer a substantial discount during this challenging time so clients and customers could invest in alternative, plastic free, food wrap without worry of financial strain. Giving back is woven into our small business and we are still operating directly because of your purchases.
 
SPH beeswax food wrap 50 off
 
 
Our bee themed beeswax food wraps are hand crafted with 100% Cotton, 100% Pure SK Beeswax from our own hives and 100% pure JoJoba Oil. They are natural ecofriendly alternative to single use plastic.  These breathable food wraps help reduce food waste by helping to keep your fruit and vegetables fresh for longer.  It takes a while to remember to use your food wraps. Placing them out in the open, on the counter helps remind yourself to reach for them.  
  • How to clean beeswax food wrap: Wash in cold water with eco friendly mild soap. Let air dry.
  • Avoid hot temperatures, microwaves, and raw meat.
 
Our new bee themed food wraps will be 50% off for the entire month to celebrate Earth Day April 22 - April 30/2020.
 
Every small change you make to reduce waste in your home now adds up to create improvements in our climate action.
 
sph wraps 2 for web
 

   bee on dandelionThe recent news from the Alberta Beekeepers Commission reporting the honey crop in Alberta was down by as much as 50%, did not come as a shock to me. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/honey-bees-beekeepers-environment-1.5488447  Friends in the beekeeping industry in Alberta had already shared that information with us last summer. We were slightly better at 33% less than average, on par with 2018 which was the worst crop in my 27 years as a beekeeper. With a persistently low price for Canadian honey over the last 4 years, and large hive loses in the 2017 and 2018 crop years has put many honey producers at risk, including our bee farm.

   Highs and lows are normal for farming, but this is different beast for the beekeeping industry mainly because the increased pressures from the Varroa mite persist and a dwindling average honey crops in the last 10-15 years were already making things more difficult. With the cost for labour, fuel, and building skyrocketing, the price of honey has stayed largely the same since the early 2000’s.

    These increased pressures together with disasters of the last few years could bring some producers to their breaking point. Beekeepers that are thinking of retiring and see little to offer the next generation’s future could throw in the towel. Some of these family farms are multi-generational beekeepers. Their loss to the beekeeping industry and the rural towns in which they operate will be devastating.  

    What can you do if you want to help? The best action is to buy honey directly from the producer. Purchase honey produced in Canada, the producers name and bee farm will be listed on the bottle.  You are supporting the producers directly and indirectly supporting the price of honey for the entire Canadian honey industry.

    Social media is a strong tool to help others know what is happening right now in Canada.  Not many people are aware of the plight facing honey producers. Please share, post and encourage your friends to buy honey from Canadian producers.  The power is in your hands.

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Sweet Pure Honey mailing address  Box 483 Porcupine Plain SK S0E 1H0

Sweet Pure Honey telephone  (403) 594-4254

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