Prior Street Bees on beekeeping on leased land

Posted by Michalina Hunter on November 14, 2019

Jess and Corbin are participants in the B.C. Land Matching Program (BCLMP), which provides land matching and business support services to new farmers looking for land to farm, as well as landowners interested in finding someone to farm their land. Visit the B.C. Land Matching Program page to learn more about the program and to find a Young Agrarians Land Matcher in your region.

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Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your farm:

I’m Corbin and my partner and I keep bees. I worked for a commercial beekeeper for 5 years in the Okanagan, and when we moved to the Island we decided we wanted to keep our own. This is our 5th year keeping bees, and our 2nd year of being a bit more serious about it. We are still very much on the smaller end of the hobbyist level – we keep around 15 hives – but have dreams to make it a half-time job at some point in the future.

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How did you decide you wanted to lease land and what was your dream property?

We were keeping bees around our neighbourhood, in 7 different peoples’ backyards. It was a great experience to share the bees with folks who were interested in having bees around but not in owning them themselves. But during last winter, as we prepared for the birth of our first child, we realized that it was no longer practical to keep the bees spread out. That is what initially led us to contacting Young Agrarians. The ideal property was something closeish to where we live, had fairly easy access, and most importantly had a hidden away bit of space where we wouldn’t be bothering other operations.

Tell us a bit about the property you are farming now:

We currently keep our bees in a unused area on Umi Nami Farm. The space is perfect in that we aren’t interfering with the farm’s other operations and have space to store our equipment and do our thing.

What was the landowner’s vision for their land and how are you helping them to achieve that?

Well the landowner’s farm is a fully functioning Certified Organic farm. They happened to have unused space that they generously offered for our use. I also like to think that our bees increased pollination for their apples, melons and the like.

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What was your experience working with the BCLMP?

It was so great! I can’t say enough good things about both our YA Land Matcher as well as the program. Our Land Matcher was really great about encouraging clear communication in terms of the property we were looking for as well as asking tough questions like “What if it doesn’t work out?”

What was the most valuable thing about the BCLMP for you?

The most valuable thing was the support, and expertise they offered. Our Land Matcher was very well connected among local farmers and just the whole structure of having a third party negotiate a deal works so well. Another aspect of the program that I love is the creation of a legal document. It felt like being let into a group that supported each other and was happy to see others succeed. And of course being a free service was huge for us as we currently make very little from our operation.

Did you learn any lessons the hard way in your first season on the farm and what were they?

Well with beekeeping it seems like every year there is one or two big lessons. This year was that on Southern Vancouver Island you can’t produce any real quantity of honey without taking your bees up to the mountains to feed on the fireweed. As things dry up in July and August here, food becomes very scarce for the bees. With our child being born we decided to not to take our bees up to the mountains, and as a result we harvested only 60lbs of honey. The second lesson of the year was that wasps are a real threat. I have seen wasps bothering my hives in the past, but the hives seemed able to fend for themselves. This year they seemed to be quickly overwhelmed by the amount of wasps.

What excites you most about the future of your farm?

During our time keeping bees we have had a lot failures as well as learned a lot of things. Our future hope for our operation is to reach a point of sustainability – keeping bees alive over winter, expanding to the desired amount during spring, harvesting honey during early summer. And making some money so that it can support a half time job. I’m also really excited about figuring out a sustainable solution to the summer and fall lack of food for bees. Currently, most beekeepers feed bees with sugar water in the fall, so that the bees have enough stores to make it through winter. I would love to create an operation where this is the exception not the norm. As well as creating an operation in which I do very little in terms of management.

What else would you like to share about your experience/farm/etc?

I would just like to thank Umi Nami Farm, our Land Matcher, as well as Young Agrarians for the help to take our small operation onto its next step.

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Jess and Corbin found land through the B.C. Land Matching Program in early 2019. We’re so excited to see how their second season goes on this farm!

Do you have land you’d like to lease to a farmer? Are you a farmer looking for land to lease? Learn more about the B.C. land Matching program here, or email land@youngagrarians.org.

And be sure to check out the Vancouver Island Land Linking Workshop coming up December 1, 2019 in Cowichan!

The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded on Vancouver Island by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Real Estate Foundation of B.C.

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