Rent-a-hive bee business buzzing

Matt and Marianne Gee started their honey business after discovering a colony of bees in the walls of their home in 2009. Now their hive rental business is struggling to keep up with demand.

Gees Bees began with a single hive in 2009

Matt Gee transfers a bee colony into a new box to be delivered to a rental customer. (Stu Mills/CBC)

For many people, the very thought of discovering a beehive inside the walls of their home is enough to trigger paroxysms of apiphobic terror.

But one Ottawa couple saw a golden opportunity.

Matt and Marianne Gee started their business, Gees Bees Honey Company, shortly after finding a colony of honeybees living in the walls of their first home in Dunrobin in 2009.

Rather than destroy the bees, the couple decided to save them.

"We knew that bees were in trouble, and we didn't want to exterminate them," said Marianne.

With the help of an experienced Arnprior beekeeper, the Gees located the queen of the hive, removed the colony and re-established it in a proper hive box at the edge of their property, about 30 kilometres west of Parliament Hill.

"We've been bee addicts ever since," said Marianne.
Matt and Marianne Gee started their company after finding a colony of bees living in the walls of their Dunrobin home in 2009. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Gees Bees born

The couple took courses, watched countless online videos by other beekeepers and began building their own colonies. Their apiary grew, and soon the couple was producing and selling honey under the Gees Bees label.

Business began buzzing. Last summer, Matt left his job as a construction estimator to become a full-time beekeeper, while Marianne spends weekends and holidays away from her federal government job as an epidemiologist to tend the hives.

What if you could rent a beehive in your backyard and we show you how it's done and we take care of it?- Marianne Gee

On their current property near Constance Bay on Ottawa's rural western edge, the Gees have established a sprawling honeybee sanctuary.

The Gees have tried to pass on their passion for protecting pollinators and restoring declining honeybee populations to others.

"We kept meeting people who expressed an interest but didn't have the time or the experience to do it," Marianne said. "What if you could rent a beehive in your backyard and we show you how it's done and we take care of it?" 

That's how the couple's beehive rental business was born.

Rental business buzzing

Though still early in the beekeeping season, all 75 rental hives are spoken for, and about half have already been booked for next year.

"The demand has surprised us a lot," said Marianne, who expects the company will need to hire help next summer.

The hives are typically delivered in late May or early June. Gees Bees charges $37 a month for a basic "host a hive" plan, asking for 12-month commitment.

The company looks after setup, registration with Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture, disease inspection and honey extraction, which typically happens in August.

The Gees visit the hives every two weeks, bringing with them spare protective beekeeping suits for renters who want to observe up close.

Hive "hosts" end up with 8 kilograms of honey, or about 16 jars of hyper-local honey at the end of the summer. Gees Bees collects sells the remainder, which can be amount to between 25 and 50 kilograms per hive.

There's also a rent-to-own option, which is the ideal outcome for the bees, who don't like to be moved.

Unique honey varieties

There are restrictions on where the hives can be located. In Ontario, honeybee colonies cannot be placed within 30 metres of any adjoining property or place of "public assembly or recreation." Hives, with or without bees, cannot be located within 10 metres of a highway.
Matt Gee rolls a new hive into position. (Stu Mills/CBC)

That works for Jason Southcombe and his family, who are re-establishing an apple orchard on 58 acres of land in the Dunrobin area.

"We love honey, we were super excited to produce and harvest our own, unique honey," said Southcombe, who's already talking about expanding production next year. "We're going to be donning the hooded jackets, and getting involved as much as possible."

Among the flowering trees on the property is a black locust, so the family is hoping to harvest honey infused with that particular flavour, which Southcombe describes as "a very light, very sweet, lemony honey with a little bit of vanilla hint to it."

Southcombe's son Cole, who stayed home from elementary school so he could be on hand for the bees' arrival, agreed.

"It's kind of cool that you farm bees and make honey now, instead of just going to the store and buying some."