We’re proud to be a 100% vegetarian company, with the majority of our products being vegan, too! So, why do we still use honey?
Honey is a superfood and has incredible benefits to the skin and hair. It softens and cleanses while locking in moisture. We use honey in both our skin and haircare products from creamy cleansers like Ultrabland, to herbal shampoos like Honey I Washed My Hair. We also use beeswax to create rich, protective emulsions for lotions and beeswax absolute for its warm sunshiny scent.
For the majority of our honey, we’ve focused on sourcing from local apiaries relative to our manufacturing facilities. A big reason for this is that it allows us regular face-to-face contact with our partners so we know exactly how they operate and how they care for their bees. There is a perception that most, if not all, apiaries view hives and their bees simply as a means to an end for pollinating agriculture and producing honey and wax. That couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to the groups we work with.
Buyer Jesse Pretty, sat down (over the phone) with our supplier Jim, from Coneybeare to talk all things bees and honey.
How long have you been in the beekeeping business?
I’m third generation. My grandfather started around 1920. And he was probably a commercial beekeeper by 1925…he might have even started as early as 1915 keeping and playing with bees. That was my maternal grandfather. And my dad obviously took a shine to my mom and eventually married her and decided he was going to be a nice son-in-law and got interested in beekeeping. And I grew up with it. I was born in the 1960s and I started going out to the bee yard when I was two or three years old.
How long have you been working with Lush? Is there anything that drew you to working with the company as a buyer?
Nine or ten years. Maybe longer. It’s been at least a decade. What’s different about you guys is your approach to things, and how you use the honey in a non-food product.
How many hives do you keep and can you give an estimate as to how many bees are supported in your care?
We operate about 900 hives of bees. Through the winter, their population declines, a hive could have a population of anywhere between 17-18,000 then. But in summer, when they are out foraging and making honey, you’re looking at 50,000 bees per hive, upwards even. So multiple that by 900 and that’s how many bees I care for.
That’s amazing. And how much honey does one hive produce?
That really, really, depends on the weather. If you get ideal weather conditions you can get hives that may average 150 pounds to 200 pounds per hive. Other years you might only average 50-60 pounds per hive.
What’s the biggest threat to bees currently?
Varroa mites. That is a world-wide problem. They feed on the honeybees. And most pollinators. It basically can only reproduce in a honeybee colony and it will attach itself to the body of the bee and weakens it. Honestly, there’s a lot of work that goes in to just looking after the bees.
And how about the Asian Giant Hornet (murder hornets as the media has labeled them)? How are they affecting the bee population?
Well, the hornets feed on bee larvae and honey and essentially tear a hive to shreds in the process. I suppose this may be a problem in certain climates—Southern BC may be a problem with the warmer climate. But, we don’t really know until it happens. We have no idea what they are going to be like until they have been here for a bit.
What is a common misconception people have about beekeeping/honey being produced?
Well, if you were to look at a honeybee now, left on its own, they just wouldn’t survive. And a large part of that is because of the varroa mite. I mean, I provide housing for them, keep my equipment up so that it’s solid for them, provide them with feed, check on the hives every week when we are in season. It’s constant running around to make sure they are healthy and ok. Bees need a healthy brood and a healthy queen to be a healthy hive.
I mean, I don’t think of bees personally as individuals, they’re more of a collective. A hive could be a combination of a population of bees and the queen and with all that you have temperament and attitude that each hive has. That’s genetics. And it varies from hive to hive. The genetic makeup of the queen and the complexity of it. It’s amazing. A queen could mate with 15-30 drones and have a 1,000-2,000 eggs a day in summer. So, you’ve got 2,000-5,000 just from one dad, and each family will have a slightly different genetic tendency. Some might gather pollen, others nectar, others are defensive and some are laid back. I don’t think people know that much about the personality of bees and how to tend to them.
What makes bees so special that we should have a whole day celebrating them?
Well, like I say, every third bite of food can be traced back to bees and pollinators. Honeybees are part of the workforce of that thing. One hive population could be 50-60,000 per hive. Everything from cucumbers to raspberries to pumpkins and watermelons and that kind of thing. Without their aid in pollination there is so much colour and flavour in our food that we just wouldn’t have. People may not like honey, but the benefits the bees bring to other food, you can’t deny.
At the end of the day, honey is important but it’s only one part of the honeybee’s job. Pollination is the bigger picture.
How can people support bees in their backyard, or even if they live in a city?
In the city it might be different in that you’re not getting honeybees in the city. Natural pollinators, in general, are having a hard time finding good forage and habitat. Although I’m a honeybee expert, across the board we just need a healthier environment for insects and pollinators.
Planting wildflowers is a good start. Or just leaving flowers alone. Somewhere in our attitude, in our thinking of what we consider healthy lawn, is a bright green, pristine lawn and I mean if grass is all you want, then fine. But from an insect point of view and honeybees and other pollinators, dandelions are amazingly healthy. And everyone is taught that dandelions are like a sin for a green lawn. And yet there are so many benefits to our insect world with them!
My main point of view is: don’t use chemicals. If you’re going to get rid of them, don’t use chemicals. But going beyond on that, if you want to provide some sort of floral support for honeybees and wild pollinators, that is something you can look up and say that works for me and plant that kind of thing and help pollinators and all insects.
And to farmers? Just don’t blanket everything with chemicals. That’s also killing the bees.
Want to learn more? Our Customer Care team is ready to chat all things bees with you on World Bee Day.