June: Sweet Nechako Honey

John AebicherWhen Jon Aebischer moved to Hawaii to attend University, little did he know that the big island would introduce him to his two great passions in life: his wife Susan, and the art of beekeeping.

Jon’s landlord in Hawaii was a foreman at the Kona Queen Company, and with Jon’s childhood roots in his father’s Fort Fraser beekeeping operations, he was eager to apprentice under this well-established operation.

In 1996, Jon was back in the Nechako Valley, starting his own beekeeping operations with Susan. Almost a decade later, Sweet Nechako Honey is producing an average of 20,000lbs of honey a season and supplying both individual customers through direct sales and large wholesalers, such as Elias Honey Ltd. Jon notes that their major customers change from year to year, and he hopes to generate more direct and small-scale opportunities in the future, especially after making a large investment into new equipment this past business year.

Jon feels that the Nechako Valley has a real opportunity to establish itself as leading honey producing region, similar to the Peace River Valley

before its honey industry was decimated by changes to honey bee import laws.

Honey from the Nechako Valley generally has a low moisture content, which allows honey to store for long periods of time without fermenting and developing acidic flavours. The Nechako Valley also offers a narrow range of floral sources for a more refined taste: dandelion, clover, alfalfa, goldenrod and fireweed.

Despite Jon’s successes to date, and the potential of the Nechako Valley Region, even the most established beekeepers still struggle. Honey yields are heavily determined by weather and timing. Beekeepers can work hard all year just for a handful of magic days when the conditions are right. Hot and dry weather is needed to release nectar from flowers and coax honey bees out of the hives. A strong hive can pack in 20lbs of nectar and pollen in a day.

There is symbiotic relationship with many of the cattle operations in the region, though the relationship operates on a tenuous timeline. Forage crops provided vast fields of flowers for pollinators, but ranchers tend to cut their crops when flowers are at only 10% of their

bloom – an optimal time for hay, but less than optimal for the bees. Some farmers do let their fields bloom, but don’t wait long enough for the flowers to extrude their nectar. Combined with changing weather conditions, a period of only a few days can make all the difference in the world.

Outside of the business, Jon plays an active role in the Nechako Valley community with his involvement in the Nechako Stuart Bee Club. The opportunity to interact, to share challenges and successes with others, and to access a pool of collective knowledge makes the club an enjoyable and valuable activity. He hopes that more community members will come to learn the benefits of buying food products locally and recognize the positive impacts their dollars can have when spent within the region.

Moreover, Jon hopes to turn more people onto the health benefits of honey. Many rely on sugar simply because it is cheap and convenient, but honey has so much more to offer. Look for Jon’s Sweet Nechako Honey at the Vanderhoof Farmers market and at Ventin’s Vitamin House in Vanderhoof.