Marianne Gee, co-owner of Gees Bees and her husband Matthew stumbled across the idea of keeping bees after they discovered the bees had moved in with them. Surette photo
by Tricia Surette
OTTAWA – According to the Canadian Honey council, it takes 556 worker bees to make a pound of honey and each bee gathers 0.8 grams of honey in their lifetime, which is about six weeks. Gees Bees Honey Company, located in Riverside South in rural Ottawa is educating people by inviting them into their wildflower gardens and their hives and by showing them how the bees work and live and make honey.
The bees buzz about the wildflower gardens, where guests are invited to visit, relax and spend time watching the huge variety of bees that visit, do their hard work of pollinating and collecting nectar. In Ontario, there are about 400 different species of bees and Gees Bees aims to care for any bee that visits their property.
“We care for honey bees but then we see all sorts of other bees on the flowers as well,” said Marianne Gee, co-owner of Gees Bees with her husband Matthew. “There’s bumblebees and mason bees, leaf-cutter bees. It was something that came after we got into beekeeping, you know, you start learning.”
Currently they have close to 50 colonies of bees on the property located at 538 River Road, with some additional colonies at other locations but they also have bee hotels for the solitary bees that do not live in hives or make honey. They are important pollinators and so they are cared for by the Gees.
The gardens, the tours, the little shop selling different varieties of honey, all that is Gees Bees Honey Company came about because the Gees bought a house in Dunrobin in 2009 that had a honeybee colony living in the walls.
With no success in finding someone to help them re-home the hive, Matthew took it upon himself to do the job. He donned a rubber rain coat, big winter gloves, wrapped a towel around his head and ascended a ladder to pull the siding off the house. He carefully cut away the combs with an X-ACTO knife and moved them to an old dresser, which was then moved into the woods. They thought that would be the end of that…
Two weeks later, a new swarm of honeybees arrived. Apparently, the smell had gotten around that there was a hot new vacancy in the bee market.
“At that point, we called a beekeeper from Arnprior,” said Marianne, “and she came and she helped us find the queen and move the swarm into a proper beehive. We rehomed the other colony that was in the woods into a proper beehive and then we just started keeping bees as a hobby.”
In 2015, after a couple of years of selling honey at farmers’ markets, they started the full-time business. In 2017, they moved to the farm in Honey Gables, where they now live and work along the banks of the beautiful Rideau River. Their farm is part of the National Capital Commission greenbelt and with the support of Ottawa Tourism they are building an agritourism business which includes the tours, the bee gardens and the honey store.
The tours at Gees Bees are quite popular. They cost $99 and are completely booked through the end of August. Due to the popularity, Gees Bees will be bringing the tours back in summer 2021.
“[People] want to come and see where their food comes from,” said Marianne, “and learn a little bit about bees that are kind of mysterious. It demystifies them a little bit.”
Due to Covid-19, tours are limited to two adults and a couple of older children who make up the same bubble. Marianne recommends children be ten or older to safely enjoy the tour.
Other Covid-19 measures Gees Bees has implemented is the cleaning of the bee hoods that are worn by those who take the tours. They are cleaned with an alcohol based cleaner, as well as steam, and then allowed to sit unused for a week between tours. In addition, masks are encouraged at all times.
Over the summer months, they have moved the store outdoors to make it easier for people to buy their honey without having to be in close quarters with other shoppers. They also have an online store and a curb-side pick up option. Within the city of Ottawa there is free delivery if you spend $35, and it’s free shipping across the province if you spend $75.
The store offers multiple varieties of honey. The wildflower honeys come from their own bees which are harvested once a year in August and September, but they also source unique honeys.
“We also work with Canadian beekeepers that we know, are in different parts of the country that can produce types of honey that we can’t produce here,” said Marianne. “Blueberry honey, for example comes from a beekeeper in Quebec who pollinates blueberry flowers and so the bees know that they’re visiting blueberries. It has a distinctive taste and colour and flavour.”
Bees keep their different honey sources separate in the hives so it’s possible to tell what nectar created which honey.
“What’s interesting is the bees tend to pack the same types of nectar into the frames,” said Marianne. “As you’re harvesting honey, you can actually see light honey, dark honey. Buckwheat honey stands out really strongly in the hive so you can separate [the different honeys].”
Becoming beekeepers has been a journey of learning for the Gees. They are hoping to continue expanding the wildflower gardens and adding more species of plants to attract the pollinators to their yard. Marianne indicated she had hoped to plant giant sunflowers this year but due to Covid-19, the plan had to be put on hold until 2021. They are open year-round for the sale of honey but the tours only run from July to September. Everyone is encouraged to come sit in the gardens during their open hours of Friday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Gees Bees can be found online on Facebook, Instagram and at their web page https://www.geesbees.ca.