Keith ‘The Beekeeper’ Graham is doing what he can to raise money for the Parkinson Society of Southwestern Ontario.
Graham, owner of K.G. Bees Honey based in Tillsonburg, sells honey and makes candles from beeswax. He sells one pound of raw honey at $10 per jar and $1 from every purchase goes to the Parkinson Society.
Currently the honey is available in Tillsonburg at Corner Convenience (5 Cranberry Road), The Anchor Shoppe, and Enchanted Eats Café (38 Ridout Street W).
Graham (firstname.lastname@example.org) was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013.
“It’s a cause I figured I could support,” said Graham.
“I really admire Keith for what he is doing,” said Barb Bleck, owner of Enchanted Eats Café, who had a relative diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 25 (and died at 71). “I have a lot of respect for what he (Graham) is doing because there’s not a lot of fundraising out there for Parkinson. When Keith walked in the door and told me his story, I said, ‘absolutely, bring your honey in here.’”
Bleck would like to challenge other businesses in Tillsonburg to “give Keith a chance to continue on with his fundraising for the Parkinson Society and support him as best they can… to fulfill his goal. I would like to see people out there work together and provide him with all the tools he needs. His goal is 50 hives and I would like to see some people step up. We know he has an amazing goal.”
Graham started his beekeeping only a few years ago.
“I started in June 2018,” said Graham, who celebrates his 57th birthday in September. “My uncle was a beekeeper in New Zealand. He came down here for a few years and I remember watching him tending bees as a little kid. I was just fascinated by it.
“It was something I was interested in doing. It was always in the back of my head but I lived in Toronto and in Toronto you couldn’t keep bees.”
After moving to Tillsonburg, he still did not have a place to keep bees until having a conversation with friend Frank Hodi.
“He was planting some fruit trees and I said, ‘hey, what do you think about having a couple of bee hives on your property to help pollinate your trees?’ He also has grapes, he makes his own wine and grows huge gardens.”
Two hives south of Tillsonburg soon turned into seven and Graham now has 22 hives.
The busiest time is in the spring when he feeds the bees (with sugar syrup) and monitors them.
“During the spring you’re tending the bees pretty much every day for a couple months. You also have to make sure they’re not going to swarm. You have to make sure to give them enough room in the hive – if they feel too cramped they’ll swarm. Half the bees will leave with the old queen. It’s also a good time to make splits if you want to make more hives for yourself… you can start a new colony.
“Considering you have thousands of bees in a hive, it’s a chore (gathering the honey).”
Graham collected more than 350 pounds of honey in June 2021, and in September anticipates another round of 150-200 pounds.
“Weather has so much to do with it. If there’s no nectar flow the bees start eating their own honey to survive. So far it’s been a good year for me, this is the best year I’ve had. Last year I had 200 pounds total, so this year I’ve already almost doubled that.
“It is time consuming because you have to uncap all the frames because the frames have a core of wax in them. Each little cell, the bees will fill with honey. They dehydrate it – they’ll fan it to take the moisture out – and they will cap it with wax. So you have to uncap all that and then put it in a (honey) spinner. The spinner I have is manual, so I have to hand crank it.”
He puts the honey through a filter to make sure all of the pieces of wax have been removed.
“Other than that, it is straight from the hive. It’s raw honey, which is a lot better for you.”
Although raw honey has many benefits and has been used as a folk remedy for ages, it should not be given to infants less than one year old, or people with compromised immune systems.
Graham admits he does not make a lot of money off the honey after buying equipment, bee medications, jars, labeling, etc. but it’s fun, he said.
“I enjoy doing it and I meet a lot of people.”
It’s a difficult hobby/business to be in, Graham noted.
“This past winter I talked to a few beekeepers that lost 60-65 per cent of their hives.”
When he was up to seven hives, he lost “a bunch” over the winter and was back down to two.
“You can do everything you can to prepare them for the winter. You feed them (in the fall), make sure there’s enough food for them, you give them their medications… and you just cross your fingers. You just never know.
“A lot of it (beekeeping) is learn as you go. They always say when you first start beekeeping ‘get two hives’ because if one is doing well and the other isn’t, you can compare what’s going on with each hive.”
Graham learned from reading books and watching other beekeepers on YouTube.
“But they say there’s as many ways to keep bees as there are beekeepers. So everyone does something different.”
Graham figures to maybe add a couple more hives at his current location, possibly up to 25 in total, then he will start looking to add a second location.
“It all depends how they winter,” he said, noting ideally he’d like to have up to 50 hives.
“The only other thing I am worried about, too, is my health. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease, I’m not getting any better. The whole idea is to just kind of maintain where I’m at now. But I’ve got to face the fact that maybe next year, or after two years, maybe I won’t be able to look after bees. So I’ve got to face that reality as well. I plan, but I don’t plan too far ahead.
“I have my good days. There’s days when I’m fine and there’s other days when I have trouble getting dressed in the mornings. But with beekeeping you don’t have to go out there every day. Spring and fall you do, but in between I only have to go out there maybe once a week and just maintain and see what they’re doing.”