By Ariane Fleischmann
About eight years ago, Stephen Sandve took a walk down Main Street in Vancouver on Car Free Day. There, he came across a booth that housed a bee hive. The woman running it happily shared her knowledge with Sandve as the bees buzzed about their hive.
Sandve went home that day on a mission: to learn all he could about bee-keeping. After joining a bee club in Richmond and diving deep into YouTube, he took the plunge one year later and bought the equipment he’d need to set up his own hive in his backyard. He sourced his first bees from a local apiary. By the end of summer, Sandve had already expanded his hobby to three hives as his bee population expanded. EastVan Bees was in business.
“It was totally a hobby,” says Sandve. “As my hives grew, I needed placed to put them because you can only have a maximum of two hives per residential property by law. I hit up friends to put bees in their backyards.”
Up until 2016, Sandve still worked another full-time job. But a cancer diagnosis changed everything. After six months away from his desk job to undergo treatment and recovery, Sandve was faced with a decision: His old job was no longer an option, so he could either search for a new one or take a leap and pursue bee-keeping full time. “You only live once–cancer showed me that–so I went for the bee-keeping,” he says.
With more and more hives needed every year, Sandve decided to start the Host a Hive program. Interested parties can apply to host a bee hive in their backyard, which Sandve sets up, cares for, and harvests. The 2018 season is fully booked, but for locals interested in hosting in the future, Sandve says the requirement is a suitable backyard, somewhere bees and humans can co-exist. Hosts and backyards are vetted by Sandve, who says most hosts do it for a love of bees. About 80 percent of their hives are located in East Vancouver, but they also have some in other parts of Vancouver, as well as Richmond and Burnaby.
Almost immediately after the first harvest, many years ago, Sandve noticed something delicious about neighbourhood hives: each one tasted different. “It’s because whatever is in that neighbourhood, the bees are collecting,” he explains. “Some neighbourhoods have really nice streets lined with linden trees, or they’re near a ravine with lots of blackberries, or there’s a predominant [plant] in that area the bees like. Bees will travel to get nectar, but they don’t want to go any further than they have to, so they stay in the neighbourhood.” As a result, hives located even just a few blocks from one another may taste different.
“Urban honey you can go from a really nice floral, sweet honey, to a dark, almost molasses-caramel-smoky flavour.” This variance led Sandve to label his neighbourhood honeys so that you know where each batch comes from.
EastVan Bees also has a farm in Richmond. Because the honey harvested there doesn’t have the distinct neighbourhood flavours of their Host a Hive honeys, Sandve uses it for their spicy chilli-infused honeys and creamed honeys. They also use their honey for a number of other products, including lip balm, candles and–in true Vancouver fashion–beard oil.
For visitors and locals, the best places to find EastVan Bees products are at their stockists in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Kimberley, and Hagensborg. They also regularly sell at markets in Vancouver, where you can also check out other tasty food, drink, and goods. Want to consume EastVan Bees honey in beverage format? East Van Brewing hosts a hive at their brewery and uses the harvested honey in their Humble Hive English Brown Ale.
Sandve says he has no grand plans for expansion. For him, the bees always come first. “You never know… it’s agriculture: one year, we could get nothing, and the next we could get three tonnes of honey,” he says about his harvests. “That, for us, is not what we’re all about. I do it because I love bee-keeping and I love bees. Selling the honey and the candles and all the rest of it helps support me to continue bee-keeping.”