Melissa Cartwright is catching a buzz. This East Vancouver beekeeper and entrepreneur is launching a series of honey products made from beehives from Vancouver’s back yards.
Cartwright is a part of the locavore movement, which focuses on eating local and sustainable food products. There’s a hive (so to speak) of hobby beekeepers across Vancouver who make enough honey for their own consumption.
Cartwright stumbled across a book on beekeeping one day and quickly found herself immersed in the fascinating practice of beekeeping. She attended a seminar at the Honeybee Centre in Surrey and found herself a bee mentor — an experienced senior who has been keeping bees for decades. He was willing to show her the ropes and get her started with equipment, bees and know-how.
This is Cartwright’s third season as a beekeeper. As her hives and expertise grew, she knew she wanted to make her hobby into a real business, so she started her own company in June called Mellifera Bees, after the Latin name for honeybees — apis mellifera. Cartwright’s parents also seemed to possess an unusually accurate foresight in naming their daughter Melissa, which comes from the Greek word for honeybee.
Cartwright became interested in the idea of developing different honey strains associated with particular neighbourhoods. Terroir — the notion food gathered from a specific geographic area will have a taste “fingerprint” unique to that area — is a concept familiar to connoisseurs of wine and cheese, and an idea Cartwright applies to honey. Because her hives are small and stationary, her bees forage from wildflowers in the neighbourhood, obtaining a broader diet than the mono-nectar sources, which are available to the larger, established honey operations.
To that end, Cartwright has created three “hyper local” honeys from hives stationed across the city at 28th and St. George on the roof of Le Marché St. George, Main Street and East Georgia and Maple at 36th. She plans to have these for sale soon for a limited run.
Cartwright is also working with local honey enthusiasts who provide her with the base honey for her infusions: honeys naturally infused with organic ingredients. I tested her lemon and promptly bought some for myself. It is divine in tea or drizzled on cheese. I also tested her cardamom blend, basically chai in honey form, and a lovely syrup of vanilla, made from real vanilla pods.
Cartwright has a respectful relationship with her bees. “I started with the mentality that I had to manage my bees, now I realize I have to listen to my bees,” she explained. “They let me know if they need more space or if they are annoyed. It’s a working relationship.”
She also takes precautions when working with her bees, but claims, “Bees don’t get angry if there’s nothing to protect. If bees are swarming, they are actually very mellow.”
Products from Mellifera Bees can be found a select farmer’s markets in Vancouver and gourmet retailers or online at melliferabees.com.
The City of Vancouver has beekeeping regulations that can be found online. Most backyards can have up to two hives, as long as the hives are registered and certain procedures are followed, e.g. providing water for thirsty bees so that they desist from haunting your neighbours’ swimming pools and bird baths.
Willow Yamauchi is always on the prowl for new Vancouver culinary trends. You can contact her at email@example.com or Twitter: @willow72.