Mike Barks has turned his childhood hobby into a pretty sweet — and successful — business.
The 33-year-old Stayner man started keeping bees when he was 10 years old. He initially launched his beekeeping supply business from his home in 2016 before opening up a small retail store in Minesing in the summer of 2020.
“I was the kind of kid that was glued to the Discovery Channel. I was always interested in nature, birds, insects… that’s what always piqued my interest," he says. "The bees were just always something that stuck out to me.
"I got into it with my dad, who’d met an old beekeeper here in Barrie and he showed us a few things. We eventually bought a couple of bee hives off of him and it just kind of grew from there.”
Since opening the doors of Barks Apiaries, located at 1503 Snow Valley Rd., business has been booming.
“Beekeeping seemed to really take off over the pandemic. People were stuck at home and looking for something to do, so a lot of people took up beekeeping,” Barks says. “When people think about beekeeping, they obviously think about honey, but there’s also candles, beeswax… creams, lotions, other skin care products.
"If you get into the commercial side of things… pollination is a pretty big thing right now. It’s always been a big industry, but even more so the last couple of years because we’ve had shortages of available bee hives," he adds. "Big commercial companies (orchards) are looking for beekeepers to provide bees to pollinate the crops so they can actually produce a crop.”
For the typical hobbyist, however, beekeeping can also be relaxing.
“You purchase a couple of beehives and it’s much like having a pet… so there is a fair bit of work, which some people don’t realize until they get into it," Barks says. "There’s a little more to it than just throwing them in your backyard… and collecting honey from them for toast.”
Barks suggests anyone interested in taking up beekeeping to first “do their research," noting there can be a lot involved — in both cost and time.
“The University of Guelph is a great resource for beekeeping. They have the honeybee research centre and I also recommend taking a workshop,” he says. “They will walk you through the basics of what you need to get started as far as the tools.”
He also suggests seeking out a beekeeper in your area — or checking to see if there’s a club you can join in your community.
“Connect with a beekeeper who can maybe take you out to a beehive and really show you what it’s about. You could spend a fair bit of money just to get started," he says. "It’s one of those things you can spend into oblivion and never be happy, so make sure it’s something you really want to do before you make that investment.
"It’s a commitment both in cost and your time because once you have them you have to take care of them.”
Once you’ve made up your mind, Barks Apiaries has pretty much everything you need to get started.
“‘I provide everything from your basic hive stuff, clothing, tools, honey, processing equipment… and I am always looking to bring in new stuff and grow the business. We are looking to have more space and product availability,” Barks says. “The good thing about beekeeping is that I’ve got the minimum of what I need in my showroom just to show what we’ve got.”