Bee U honey haul doubled last year, as project buzzes into 2024 season

Three people stand on a roof with honeybee hives behind them. Two are wearing "Bee U" shirts.
The "honeycomb crew" working on Bee U include, from left, Dr. Deanna Smid, beekeeper Mike Clark, and Grant Hamilton.

They are busy bees in the hives atop Brandon University. The urban honeybee research project known as Bee U doubled in size last season, and brought in more than twice as much honey, despite challenges.

“We’re continuing to learn, and that includes learning how viable urban beekeeping is here on campus,” said Dr. Deanna Smid, who is one of the project’s leaders. “Going from two to four producing hives meant splitting our existing colonies, which would tend to weaken each one, and yet we didn’t see a slowdown in honey flow at all.”

A jar of honey, labelled Bee U, sits on a shelf next to vintage hardcover books.
Jars of Bee U honey are available on campus and off.

More than 225 kg of honey was produced by the Bee U hives last year, and much of that honey is finally hitting the shelves.

One of the big changes made by Bee U this past year was to tackle the retail side of honey producing, which meant stepping up our game on the product side, having jars professionally filled, and ensuring honey jar labels met federal and provincial regulations.

“We’re a very small operation, which means we don’t have the economies of scale to really benefit from this,” said Grant Hamilton, BU’s Director of Marketing and Communications and a member of the Bee U team. “We could have kept producing it under a farmers-market or donation-based model, like last year, but sales are essential for supporting urban beekeeping, and the economics side is an important part of the research we want to do.”

Bee U works with Wawanesa-area beekeeper Mike Clark, who overwinters the hives for the university, and last year the project also provided employment for summer student Aidan Hosea, who handled much of the public engagement and social media duties.

This year is the third year of the five-year project, which is being conducted under a variance by Brandon City Council.

A sneak preview of the honey was provided to members of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce at the February luncheon, which was sponsored by Brandon University. Bee U honey is now also available on campus at the BU Bookstore and the Bailey’s student café. Jars are also available at Chez Angela and Section 6 Brewing downtown. Both Bailey’s and Chez Angela are also taking delivery of bulk honey and will be creating special Bee U treats.

Some of the costs of jarring and labelling this year’s honey were sponsored by Westoba Credit Union, which is being recognized with the logo on the label. Thanks in part to their sponsorship, the 500-gram jars will retail for just $15 apiece.

“This is a true community project and the support we get on and off campus, from places like Westoba, Summus, Chez Angela, Bailey’s, and the BU Bookstore is really sweet,” Hamilton said. “Everyone can pitch in — not just our bees, but all pollinators need your support all season long. You can plant pollinator-friendly plants and flowers in your garden, but it’s also important to leave last year’s leaves and grass alone while insects are waking up. Please put off the raking and mowing for as long as you can.”

The Bee U project presented a summary of its accomplishments to Brandon City Council this week, highlighting public engagement opportunities, including upcoming events.

Cover of a children's book with a cartoon boy and girl. The girl is wearing a striped shirt and bee antennae. The title of the book is "Bela and Jack Bring Back the Bees"
Dr. Deanna Smid, one of the Bee U coordinators, and a professor of English and Creative Writing at BU, will deliver a brief talk based on this children’s book, which was given away free by Honey Nut Cheerios.

The first event takes place tonight, Thursday evening at 7 p.m., at Chez Angela. Dr. Smid, a professor of English and Creative Writing at BU, who also studies bees as symbols in literature from medieval times through to science fiction, will discuss fear, blame, and hope as drivers of ecological change — as presented through a children’s book that was recently given out by Honey Nut Cheerios.

Attendees will also have a chance to get hands on with real beekeeping equipment, to dress up in a beekeeper’s suit, and to sample Bee U honey-glazed Chez Angela cronuts. While supply lasts, Chez Angela is also now using Bee U honey in their Sweet Heat sandwich. The event is also part of Brandon University’s occasional “Profs in Pubs” event series, bringing audience-friendly presentations to a casual environment.

Bee enthusiasts can also take part in Manitoba Honey Bee Day, being celebrated next Wednesday, May 29, at Little Brown Jug in Winnipeg. Hosted by the Manitoba Beekeepers Association, which recently welcomed Bee U beekeeper Clark to its board, the event is a free afternoon to explore the world of beekeeping and taste local honey.

Finally, during Pollinator Week, June 17–23 this year, Bee U will be hosting a series of events on campus, including specials at Bailey’s.

“We want Bee U to keep growing, keep experimenting, and keep learning, but we’re also really pleased with some of the successes that we’ve already had, and we love sharing those with people,” said Dr. Smid. “For example, moving the hives to a new roof, near the huge residence windows, really helped visibility and we were thrilled by the visitors who came to get a buzz from the bees.”

The Bee U project aims to once again hire a summer student to help oversee the hives, and especially to promote them to the public.


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