Nith Valley Apiaries Partner Profile

4 November 2019

Nith Valley Apiaries

Nith Valley Apiaries is a 100+ year-old apiary on Christner Road at the edge of New Hamburg. Their honey & beeswax has been a staple in our soap formulations from the very beginning. Nith Valley Apiaries is operated by husband and wife duo Mike & Erika Roth. Mike oversees the beekeeping while Erika manages the office, including the retail honey house.

We partnered with Mike and Erika early on in our soapmaking venture, and we’re big fans of them and what they do! So we decided to share Erika’s answers to a few questions in our very first Partner Profile.

What do you produce?

At Nith Valley Apiaries we produce honey and other hive products such as comb honey, candles, pollen, and beeswax. We have bees in 20+ beeyards in and around Wilmot township, and we sell our products from our retail shop in New Hamburg.

When did you start?

After college I was working for my parents at Pfenning’s Organic and More loading delivery trucks in the mornings, and that’s when I met Mike. I went off to work at a local organic freezing company, where I stayed for 3 ½ years until I decided I wanted to come back to the family farm. But in that time Mike had caught his first swarm and discovered the joys of beekeeping! After an informal apprenticeship, he bought the apiary in 2011 from the former beekeeper. When I came back, Mike charmed me into entering the beekeeping world and we’ve been keeping bees and producing bee products since 2015. During this time, I've served as the ‘gopher’ doing odd jobs and assisting where needed, kept the books, bottled honey, and made deliveries. My favourite part has been building relationships with our customers; we have wonderful, loyal customers. But it seems the gopher job stuck with me, and now I am raising our 11-month old son while working in the office and just taking on whatever small tasks I can manage. I am learning that child rearing is a big job :)

Why did you start beekeeping?

Mike tells me that he always knew he wanted to farm, but the large initial start-up costs put most farming options out of reach. When the opportunity to start beekeeping came up, Mike jumped at it and quickly learned that he enjoyed working with bees. He even vacations with bees; he spent a one-month working holiday at an apiary in Tasmania in 2017!

What practices do you use to preserve or improve the health of your land and/or the environment?

Like many other primary producers, we take a philosophical approach to what we do. Although we keep bees to make a living, we also keep bees because they play a fundamental role in our ecosystem. Our bees provide pollination to both native and cultivated plants, and we’re happy to support the vibrancy of our ecosystems in this way. In all our business decisions, the environment is a top priority. For example, we don’t use pesticides in or around our home or business. We collect rain water for use in the gardens, although we tend to let the plants struggle a little in dry times because it saves water and encourages deeper root growth! We keep chickens, which we feed on locally grown feed as well as kitchen scraps from my own and my mom’s kitchen. We also give them drone larvae from the hives to eat; chickens naturally eat insects, and it’s also a great help in managing varroa mites – a major threat to bee health. We reuse hive equipment for as long as we can, until it needs to be replaced to keep the bees healthy; any wax is melted out to be cleaned and used in candles and the old wood framework is burned to heat our shop in the winter, when Mike is busy in there preparing for the following season. We have also planted extensive pollinator gardens and trees on and off our property, and Mike has built numerous bird and bat houses that dot our property.

What practices do you use to ensure your bees’ good health?

We love our bees and we need them to be as heathy as possible so they can go about their bee business of gathering pollen, making honey, and maintaining their community! Across our whole operation, we aim to use inputs as minimally as possible and manage the bees as naturally as possible. We observe and respect the health of our hives with every decision made and relate it to our own health, as we are co-inhabitants of the land.

What is the biggest challenge you face today?

The biggest single challenge we face today is the varroa mite, a parasite the size of a sesame seed that attaches to the bees, weakening them and shortening their lifespan. The mites can also infect the bees with several debilitating viruses. They are a pest in beeyards across Ontario and beyond. The chickens do their part, as I mentioned above, which helps keep mite populations down. Mike regularly monitors the mite population and applies only organic (not synthetic) miticides as needed; these are naturally occurring acid compounds that eliminate mites but have no effect on bees, and they leave no residue on the bees or in the honey/wax. Honeybees worldwide are also suffering from poor nutrition caused by widespread monoculture farming and declining numbers due to high levels of environmental toxins; both of these are very significant burdens on the health of the bees. These three issues burden the bees nearly equally, but the mites have the greatest visible impact on bees’ health.

What do you really want people to know about what you do?

We’d like people to understand that the viability of our apiary depends heavily on how the land around our bee yards is managed; bees can travel three kilometers to forage for pollen and nectar, so the individual decisions of all of our bees' neighbours have an impact on our ability to maintain the health of our bees and operate our small business. It is possible to make a difference by creating a habitat of any size that is beneficial to pollinators. We can all take a page from the honey bees’ playbook, as they are an amazing example of individual cooperation to achieve a common goal! We’d also like people to understand that the variability of the seasons and the changes in our ecosystem greatly impact our lives; beekeepers are at the mercy of the weather and the land...and the strength of their backs ;)