“Are you afraid of getting stung?”
For Paul Kittilsen, that was the question that started it all.
Paul is not your typical farmer. Not one single dairy or beef cow can be found on the Kittilsen farm. What you will find are bees; lots and lots of honeybees.
Paul and his wife Lori own and operate a honeybee farm in Debert. They have three children, Benjamin, Sarah and Ian, who all grew up with a respect for the small stinging insects and a love for honey.
Paul’s journey as a beekeeper started when he was just a teenager. At the age of 16, he began working on the farm of a family friend, Frank Woolaver. Never afraid to get stung, Paul quickly learned that he had a strong passion for the hard-working insects. Paul acquired his own hives at the age of 18 and started beekeeping full time in 1995.
The Kittilsen farm is a first-generation farm, meaning Paul and Lori established it themselves. They purchased their current property in Debert in 1992 and began to build the infrastructure needed to expand their number of hives. Today the farm is a 1,200 colony operation, a federally inspected honey packing facility and a one-acre cranberry bog. There are about 230 active beekeepers in Nova Scotia but the Kittilsens are one of the few full-time beekeeping operations in the province, producing about 75 pounds of honey per hive, per year.
Beekeeping is a year-round task for the Kittilsens and no two days are the same. Paul works full time on the farm while Lori works for the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture in Truro. The Kittilsens employ two full-time employees in the summer in addition to their apiary manager, John Stiles.
Tending to the bees and producing honey is seasonal. In the spring, the bee hives are sent to a number of blueberry fields around the province. The hives are rented by blueberry growers in Nova Scotia and are used to pollinate the blueberry fields. For three weeks, the bees are left to do their job in the blueberry fields pollinating the blossoms. Once the blossoms are pollinated, the bees are transported back to their summer locations.
“We have about 50 different bee yard locations where we keep the bees in the summer,” Paul explains. “Our bee yards are typically located on agriculture land where the bees won’t disturb people and where people won’t disturb them. We do have some bees that we keep on the farm but not many.”
In the fall, the honey supers are brought to the Kittilsen farm for extraction. The honey supers are wooden boxes in which eight to 10 wooden frames are hung. The bees build their honeycomb on the frames and store their honey in the honeycombs. Once the honeycombs are full, the bees seal them with beeswax. The honey is extracted from the supers using an automated machine and placed in barrels for storage to be packaged throughout the year.
Winter is a slow season for beekeeping but there is still work to be done. For the winter months, some of the bees are moved to the Kittilsen farm and stored inside, but the majority stay outside. They are wrapped with black plastic and receive insulated covers to keep them warm in order to help them survive the harsh winters.
“The bees don’t produce honey in the winter,” Paul explains. “They stay in the hive and cluster together around the queen to generate heat to keep her warm and alive. Unfortunately, some hives don’t survive the cold winter.”
During the winter, Paul spends his time packaging honey as the orders arrive. The Kittilsens sell their honey locally, with a few bulk orders extending past their usual locations. They sell to the Masstown Market, Sobeys locations in Truro, New Glasgow and Antigonish, the Local Source in Halifax, the Truro Farmers’ Market and a few other local farmers markets.