Our Family Tradition
When Canadians think of the prairies we often picture vast blue summer skies over a colorful patchwork of fields and pastures, and, of course, long, cold winters. This pristine environment with its extreme seasons is the home of Wendell Honey.
John Wendell purchased his first bee hives over eighty years ago. Since then Wendell Honey Farm has been producing premium Canadian white honey. Wendell Honey is still based on the original site near the village of MacNutt, Saskatchewan, but has grown to become a modern honey producer with over 4000 producing bee hives and more than 50 employees in the peak harvest season.
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Tim and Isabel Wendell
John and Alvera’s son, Tim left his teaching career in 1974 to take over Wendell Honey Farm. Tim’s life’s work and labor of love is all things bees and honey. On the Board of Directors for the Saskatchewan Beekeeper’s Association for 12 years, he also served as president for 8 years. Honey industry conferences around the globe have invited him to share his expertise through talks and presentations. Tim has participated in numerous international research studies, including projects lead by Tom Rinderer with US Department of Agriculture, Rob Currie with Manitoba Queen Breeders Association, Albert Robertson with the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association and Leonard Foster with the University of British Columbia.
Daughter of renowned Manitoba horticulturalist Frank Leith Skinner, Isabel grew up on Skinner’s Nursery near the village of Dropmore, Manitoba. While Tim is busy in the bee yard or attending conferences, Isabel keeps the farm running. Despite managing everything from finance to logistics, employee affairs to taxes, certifications to sales and marketing for Wendell Honey and Wendell Estate, she still finds time to play with the grandchildren and tend to her substantial vegetable and flower gardens.
In recent years sons Nathan and Jeremy have returned from their careers abroad to rejoin the family farm, young families in tow.
Nathan divides his time between beekeeping and office management duties. Following in Tim’s footsteps, he currently serves as President of the Saskatchewan Beekeepers’ Development Commission (SBDC). Unsurprisingly, Nathan’s young sons Elijah and Henry already express a love of nature and a keen interest in bees. You’ll hear Nathan’s voice narrating many of our youtube channel videos. Nathan’s wife, Amy, is the star presenter of our recipe videos
Jeremy spends a little too much of his time behind a desk in the office, but is always happy to get out help out with the farm work. He applies his medical and epidemiology background to researching the health benefits of honey. Jeremy’s wife, Carol Ye Min, a marketing professional originally from Wuhan, China is invaluable in collaborating with our China-side business partners. She leads our marketing efforts, Chinese and otherwise
Wendell Honey Team
We are fortunate to be part of a diverse international team of experienced apiarists.
Jake grew up right in MacNutt, SK. He first started working with Wendell Honey way back in 1994, while in high school and continued working summers while in university. His stubbornness got him through the first summer of long, sweaty hours of heavy labor and bee stings and he ended up falling in love with bee-keeping. Jake left his B.Sc degree at the University of Regina and went on to graduate from Fairview College in 1998 with a beekeeping technician certificate. In the years following, he bought some bee hives of his own to fill what little spare time he has in summer. Jake’s story on going from teenage summer employee to managing partner of the honey farm is here
After gaining an engineering degree, Dan worked as a mechanical engineer in his native Romania. However true passion for decades has been bees and beekeeping. An expert beekeeper, Dan got into beekeeping young, buying his first hives at the age of 14. Dan has been with Wendell Honey since 2001. In 2005 Dan moved permanently to Canada with his wife and two sons and all have become Canadian citizens. Dan is currently a managing partner of Wendell Honey. Living in rural Saskatchewan, Dan honed his skills as a nature photographer – we use many of Dan’s photos on our marketing materials. You can hear Dan’s thoughts on bees beekeeping here
Cyrus EnnsManaging Partner
Cyrus graduated high school in nearby Roblin, MB. He then went on to complete a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Manitoba and worked briefly as an engineer before escaping a career in the office by joining Wendell Honey in 2004. Fascinated by the science of bee-keeping, Cyrus supplemented his field experience by reading all the beekeeping journals he could get his hands on. Steeping himself in the study of bees, he bought some hives of his own to experiment on. A managing partner, Cyrus is our “Chief Efficiency Officer”. Meet Cyrus here.
Eli Graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from UNICEN in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After graduating she purchased her own hives and started beekeeping. She has since shifted her focus to raising queens, previously working in the United States, Italy, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Eli has been an integral member of Wendell Honey’s queen rearing program since 2014 and has recently obtained Canadian Permanent Residency status. Eli’s greatest passion is communing with nature and protecting the environment. Hear Eli’s story here.
Edward learned beekeeping and queen rearing in the Philippines from his cousin. He came to Wendell Honey as a seasonal agricultural worker in 2009 and learned Canadian beekeeping practices. Eventually he gave up his job in the Philippines to move his family (his wife and 2 young sons) to Canada permanently. Edward’s main focuses are raising queens early in the season and then running a honey extraction line in the harvest season. Get Edward’s thoughts on beekeeping and life in Canada here.
Randy followed his cousin, Edward, into the life of Canadian beekeeping at Wendell Honey in 2009. Initially working as a seasonal worker, in 2015 he immigrated to Canada with his wife and 2 daughters. Randy overcame his fear of bee stings and has become a valuable member of the Wendell Honey team, focusing on queen rearing in the spring and early summer and then helping out with harvest later in summer. An incorrigible jokester, Randy’s a constant source of laughs in the bee yards. Meet Randy here.
Sheri is another of local member of the team, living in the village of MacNutt. She started off working part-time in 2007 moved up to full time in 2012. Now she’s one of the senior supervisors in the honey house. Sheri has a wide range of responsibilities at Wendell Honey: she supervises extracting when we’re not bottling honey. When we do bottle honey, she supervises that. In the off season she also works shifts in the village store/post-office operated by Wendell Honey. She loves the physical work at the farm, but sometimes finds she needs to call on all of her patience when supervising.
Ramon Lira Molina
Ramon has been traveling from his home in Boaca, Nicaragua to MacNutt SK to work at Wendell Honey for the summer since 2008. He studied Agriculture and Pedagogy at the Enrique Jose Varona Politecnico in Camaguey, Cuba. He returned to Nicaragua after graduating to grow organic coffee on his own farm. Ramon served as the President of the Nicaraguan chapter of the Movimiento Agricultura Ecologica Latino Americano (MAELA), an international program to support the use of sustainable, non-chemical agricultural practices. He has been coming to Canada to help us during for the past 8 summers. The past 2 seasons his son, Eliezer, has come with him.
Jorel Houle comes to Wendell Honey from the first nations community of Waywayseecappo. He moves fast and works hard, but no matter how hard he’s working, or what the conditions, Jorel’s always quick with a smile or a witty comment.
Beekeeping at Wendell Honey
In the early years, John Wendell would purchase package bees from the United States in the spring. These colonies would bring in the honey over the summer and, come fall, they would be killed as it was not thought feasible to attempt to keep the bees alive through the harsh prairie winters. Increasing diseases among American bees eventually led to the Canadian government outlawing the import of American bees in 1986. Packaged bees could be imported from other countries, like Australia or New Zealand but at much greater expense.
Changes in beekeeping practices with closure of the Canadian border to American package bees and increasing bee diseases encouraged Tim to start keeping the bees over winter. Surviving Canadian prairie winters outdoors requires healthy, well-adapted bees. Tim started raising his own queens in 1980s as part of efforts to increase disease resistance and winter colony survival rates, and to raise nucleus hives to replace winter losses. (The Manitoba Cooperator interviewed Tim for an article on raising bees in Canada here.)
Wendell Honey’s queen rearing program is a key component to our success as a honey producer. Although we do share some Wendell queens with our Organic Honey partners or other beekeeping friends, Wendell Honey is not in the business of selling queens or package bees: we raise our queens for use on our farm, to make up for winter colony and/or queen losses. Although our average winter colony loss is well below the North American, Canadian and provincial averages, it is inevitable that some colonies die off each year, usually during the winter. The queens we raise hatch out into a mini-hive called a hive nucleus, or “nuc” for short. These nucs are started in late spring or early summer and by the following spring are mature hives with young energetic queens ready to replace any winter losses.
Breeder queens are selected for several important traits: suitability to the local climate, productivity, non-aggressive nature, hygienic behavior and natural disease resistance. Successively breeding many generations of queen bees combined with selective cross-breeding with other strains has gradually resulted in highly-productive, disease-resilient bees that are well-adjusted to our local environment and gentle enough that we often work with minimal protective clothing. Tim’s research connections come in handy when sourcing outside genetic stock with desirable characteristics helpful in maintaining hybrid vigor. In addition to Tim’s 4 decades’ experience breeding queens, Zulema, Dan and Eli, Randy and Edward have combined experience of over 10 decades raising queen bees in South America, USA, The Philipines, Mexico, Europe and Canada. Watch the Queen Team in action here.
Careful breeding and constant attention to the well-being of every one of our thousands of hives has meant that even while many beekeeping operations suffered catastrophic losses due to colony collapse disorder, our thriving hives survived the Canadian prairie winters outdoors and each summer continued to produce honey crops easily exceeding the Canadian and Saskatchewan average yields. (if you’re interested, you can check out this documentary on colony collapse disorder here or here)
We care deeply about the health and well-being of our bees. To start with, apiary (bee yard) locations are carefully chosen to provide the bees with the optimal environment. Consideration is given to shelter from the winter winds, sun exposure, proximity to a clean water source and availability of pollen sources early in the spring when it is most critical. Any apiary in which the colonies fail to thrive is moved to a new location. Our team of beekeepers begins checking the condition of every single one of our 4000+ honey-producing colonies as soon as the weather is warm enough that opening the beehive will not cause harm. Each colony is examined for queen status, bee population, food supply (honey and pollen), disease and hygiene. Until harvest begins in July the team continuously checks and supports the colonies: cleaning hives of debris accumulated over winter, treating any survival-threatening diseases, supplying honey or pollen to colonies with inadequate supplies and providing queens to queen-less colonies. Each colony is examined at least 3 times prior to harvest. From harvest until winter any hive which shows signs of failing is checked.
With short prairie summer of long sunny days and abundant blossoms, our harvest season is intense. A single healthy beehive can produce up to 15 kg of honey on a good summer day. We harvest this honey from July until the beginning of September. We employ minimally invasive harvest techniques: the queen/brood chamber is not disturbed. We do not use any chemical repellents to force the bees from the honey supers, but rather allow the bees to fly out on their own and then used forced air to remove the few remaining bees from the honey supers.
The field teams bring full supers of honey in from the field to the “honey house” where the extracting and bottling facilities are housed. The next day the extracting crew scrapes the wax cappings off each honeycomb and then the honeycombs are loaded into a centrifuge that spins the honey out of the combs. Depending on the qualities of the honey it is then pumped either into the bulk canning tanks and into large drums for bulk sale to honey packing companies, or, if it meets our Wendell Estate standards, the honey goes directly into the Wendell Estate storage tanks. The liquid honey passes through a couple 80 mesh screens to have larger pieces of wax removed and then is bottled fresh on the farm. Our honey extraction and bottling facilities use only Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)-approved, food-grade stainless steel equipment.
Harvest winds up around the end of August and the next couple months are spent getting the hives ready for winter: making sure they are healthy and have adequate food stores. Finally, the hives are pushed together in groups of four for warmth, wrapped with insulation and left to hunker down and keep warm by eating and metabolizing honey until the next spring