Chinook Honey Company offers a sweet learning opportunity
Four years ago a local tourism campaign went viral online with the accidentally amusing slogan “there are a number of things to do in Okotoks.” But one of the main ones in this fast-growing community a short trip south of Artesia literally draws a lot of buzz and attracts visitors like, well, flies to honey.
Its story of success is no laughing matter!
Chinook Honey Company began a quarter century ago with just two hives as a bit of a hobby for married couple Art and Cheri Andrews, who appreciated having honey bees (apis mellifera) around to not only pollinate their garden but also provide a peaceful distraction from their stressful airline jobs.
But after retiring and looking for a plan B, their modest mom-and-pop shop eventually blossomed into a veritable hive of activity in the foothills outside of town, which now features industrial-scale facilities, an educational classroom, a retail boutique with a wide range of artisanal products and “apitherapy” items, a tasting room for homemade mead, and much more.
“We would probably get only a handful of people stop by in the early days,” says Cheri with a laugh. “But more and more now we have school tours, seniors groups and even tour busses coming by and they are all wanting to experience and learn about the process of making honey.”
Most people don’t know a lot about honey bees apart from that they help flowers to reproduce and play a crucial role in agriculture given that roughly one-third of the human food supply depends on bee pollination.
And that it’s no fun getting stung by them!
But a visit to this bustling apiary provides a (literal) window into the complex societies of these helpful insects, which aren’t native to North America and were first brought over by European settlers wanting to use beeswax for candles and, of course, delicious honey.
We took part in the Backstage with the Bees program and highly recommend the educational and fun time.
Beekeeper Jessie Smulders gave us some fascinating insights into what these busy bugs get up to in and out of their individual hives, which consist of a single queen, a few hundred male drones who exist solely to fertilize their queen, and thousands of female worker bees who do all the heavy lifting with cleaning, nursing, storing food and foraging. Worker bees have a long, straw-like tongue called a proboscis that helps them suck up nectar from blossoms they then bring back home to store into honeycomb cells, where others will furiously beat their wings above this syrupy liquid to fan out the moisture and thicken it before eventually capping the cell with beeswax, sealing the finished honey for use later on.
Jessie says honey bees also have an incredibly complex language system and communicate with each other using an elaborate “waggle dance” to share the location of food or water sources up to several kilometres away. It’s a bit like an interpretive dance version of Google Maps, but it works for the bees!
We suited up in protective suits for a hands-on experience with these colourful characters and pried apart a hive for an up-close look inside in order to try and identify the queen.
Which was not unlike trying to find a needle in a buzzing, bustling haystack but it’s an experience we’ll never forget!
DID YOU KNOW?
- Alberta produces 43 percent of Canada’s honey and 34% of Canada’s honey exports?!
- At Chinook Honey you can take an immersive look into the life of a beekeeper! Yes, you can actually suit up and work in the hive as part of their exciting tour options.
- Sampling mead, shopping for all things honey and even making your own custom lip balm from the beeswax you harvest makes up a Chinook Honey excursion.
- Groups of ten are welcome year-round by appointment. What a fun way to explore with Artesia neighbours!
IF YOU GO
An excellent adventure for couples, families, foodies or fans of sweet, natural goodness, Chinook Honey Company is so close to Artesia and makes a wonderful outing.
Mark your calendar for December dates where you can get festive during Christmas at the Hive days. Making beeswax snow candles and honey taffy, visiting with the donkeys and enjoy honey hot chocolate by the fire while roasting marshmallows provides the quintessential holiday experience. Best of all, it’s a free, family fundraiser for the Foothills Country Hospice.
More information about the exciting Christmas at the Hive can be found here.
More events throughout the year will have you coming back again and again like Horde at the Hive in June, but you can also drop-in most days Spring through Fall.
You can shop online for Chinook Honey treats including mead. Here is a link to its virtual country store. Perfect for stocking your Artesia home pantry shelves with honeys and lighting your rooms with natural glow of beeswax candles.
Chinook Honey Company is located at Box 12, Site 14, RR1 in Okotoks. Phone ahead or visit them online to check seasonal hours. Their number is 403. 995. 0830.
TRY THIS AT HOME
Fall is the perfect time to line your muffin tins and fill your home with the sweet scent of honey and pumpkin. Chinook Honey is happy to share this recipe for a dozen Honey Pumpkin Muffins you can whip up in under an hour — prep to presentation!.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp of baking powder
1 ½ of baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup butter room temperature
¾ cup Chinook Honey
1 large egg
1 cup pumpkin canned
1 cup pecans toasted and chopped
Honey Cream Frosting
4 oz cream cheese softened
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin tin with paper cups.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices and whisk to mix well.
In a separate bowl, beat butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes).
Slowly add honey, egg, and pumpkin and mix until combined.
Slowly add in flour mixture and mix until it is only just blended. Fold in pecans by hand
Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups then bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Set aside to cool.
Beat the cream cheese until flight and fluffy then slowly add the vanilla and honey. Continue to beat until desired spreadable consistency is achieved.
Decorate the cooled muffins with the frosted icing and top with a pecan for a little panache!
Are there any wonderful hands-on experiences in and around Artesia that we should have on our radar? Or a favourite honey recipe to give away? Share your top suggestions and not-so-secret recipes by emailing our team Artesia@Brookfieldrp.com