So says Russell Gibbs, the brains behind Hamilton-based Gibbs Honey. A full-time graphic designer, Russell is also a part-time beekeeper and the author of the ubiquitous “you can do anything in Hamilton” slogan. (Can we say busy bee?)
Gibbs’ swarm of a schedule proves you really can do anything in Hamilton. Several weeks ago, he took us out to one of his two bee sites, located down the street from the Royal Botanical Gardens. (You can find the second on a former Christmas tree farm in Binbrook.) We watched Gibbs tending to each hive, marvelling at the magnificent goldmine beneath each wooden roof.
We could say more, but Russell himself has a beautiful way of talking about his craft—no combing for nuggets of wisdom necessary!
What inspired you to start beekeeping?
My main inspiration was a desire to do something that was more connected to nature. Beekeeping is an activity where nothing else matters, you have to be pretty zen, pay attention to the bees and what they’re doing—tune into them and tune out of everything else. There were other influences, too: my uncles are commercial beekeepers and my grandfather was a beekeeper as well. Also the opportunity to produce, market and sell a product has been an integral part of my career as a designer.
What is your most memorable experience working with bees thus far?
I’ll never forget my first nucs (small bee colonies): after putting them into my bee yard it took them less than an hour to find the nearest sources of nectar and pollen, and they just got right to work. A few other things: bees hatching, making splits (dividing colonies), seeing the “bee dance”, undertaker bees in the fall. And, of course, I can’t forget the first time I tasted honey from my bees.
Has working closely with bees changed your perception of nature and our environment?
Absolutely. In so many aspects (in my opinion) the bees have it right. They are all working for the common good. This is something they do naturally; from the moment they hatch they have a role and a responsibility and they fulfill both until the day they die. Everything they do, they do for the health and success of the colony. It’s easy to have respect for the power of nature when something large makes you feel small, but when something so small can make you feel small? Kind of mind-blowing.
The bees are forever reminding me to take my time. There is no sense in rushing things; they will happen when they are ready to happen.
Do you feel people are fairly conscious of bees and their importance within everyday life?
Yes. There is genuine concern when people hear that bees are dying. I think the awareness is a good thing; collectively we should be conscious of everything we do, and what affect that has on the world. It always makes me happy to hear of people planting pollinator gardens, and their concern for bee populations. If you are concerned, the best things to do are source local honey and buy local honey. Not only are there obvious environmental and health benefits, but supporting your local beekeeper and economy is also huge. The more successful beekeepers are, the better off bees will be.
Can you tell us a few lessons you’ve learned from bees over the years?
The bees are forever reminding me to take my time. There is no sense in rushing things; they will happen when they are ready to happen. I also learn to be respectful of other environments; I feel privileged to work with them in their environment, alongside them; to take care of them.
And, of course…what’s your favourite use for honey?
Eating it. Honey has a wine-like quality; different varieties and harvest times produce some very subtle and other not-so-subtle changes. You can really nerd-out on it. My favourite honey (besides mine) is a honey from Lynden (Ontario) that my Dad brought from Waterloo. It’s delicious with warm Brie and a fresh baguette. Other than that, I use quite a bit in my coffee.