Bee-keeping comes so naturally to Phil Veldhuis, it’s like he entered the world with the skills to do so. Having been born into a bee-keeping family, his talent in handling bees was nurtured at a young age and at 16 years old was already working alongside his uncle kept bees near Treesbank, which is where Phil spent most of his childhood. “I’ve been doing this basically for as long as I can walk – nieces and nephews usually get suckered into it some stick around and others done.” Phil continued to shadow his uncle until he started his own venture in Starbuck, where he has been living and running his business now for over 25 years.
He sells his “ordinary delicious” honey through Bee Maid, a Canadian co-op of prairie bee-keepers, and saves his “super delicious” honey (about the top 5%) for retail sales and for selling at the St. Norbert Farmer’s Market every Saturday, where his son also often busks with his violin.
This year, Phil is maintaining 750 hives in 17 locations in the Starbuck area, although last year had been managing 30 sites. Phil manages an average of 1200 hives every year, and still plans to aim for that amount each summer, but he lost a substantial amount of colonies this past winter, the factors of which he measures by symptoms the colony exhibits. For example, if it looks like there are only drones left in a hive, Phil will take that as a sign that the queen has reduced her fertility; the largest number of cases pertain to hives where Phil said it looks like the bees have “just dwindled away” or are “scattered throughout the hive” which is abnormal for a colony. Anyone who meets Phil understands in a moment that he cares deeply about what he does, yet for him bee-keeping has never been political. “Bee-keeping is for a detailed-oriented person, and so talking about it politically is like a forest for the trees.”