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Beekeeper makes a big bet on bees

Dancing Bee is a rapidly growing supplier of all things honey. Here’s how they got there

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For more than a decade, Todd Kalisz’s adaptability and business sense has meant success for his Dancing Bee Equipment in Canton.

But the business, already the largest beekeeping supplier in Canada, is taking its next leap, growing hive numbers and honey processing capacity.

Why it matters: Honey bee producer numbers are growing across Canada, and with that growth is arriving more advanced technology and suppliers, like Dancing Bee.

It’s been a life-long process, from taking an interest in bees as a hobby as a boy, to getting into the equipment side of things, to exploring every avenue beekeeping has to offer.

Business is booming on Kalisz’s 100 acres in Canton, but the addition of two more acres in Welcome, with its strategic location just metres off a Hwy. 401 exit, promises great growth potential for Dancing Bee.

While Kalisz is challenged to maximize the space in Canton, the property a few kilometres down the road in Welcome offers something he can set up and design according to his needs.

Todd Kalisz says he can’t keep pollen in stock. photo: Cecilia Nasmith

The business was once called Dancing Bee Apiaries, but he changed the name to Dancing Bee Equipment as his business evolved into a commercial apiary and beekeeping-equipment conglomerate, with most of his operations taken up with the equipment.

Nevertheless, the beekeeping side of things is booming and it’s not just the honey that’s keeping it healthy.

Bee business revenue diversified

“A lot of people don’t realize that our main source of income in beekeeping is not honey but renting hives for pollination,” he said.

These hives are in high demand locally for apple orchards and blueberry patches. But he also rents hives to farming operations across Ontario, as well as in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Their pollen business is also growing, to the point that they can’t keep it in stock.

The starter-hive business is another satisfying sideline each spring, selling nucleus colonies along with all the necessary woodenware, equipment, smoker and safety gear to get a new beekeeper on the road to a small business or satisfying hobby.

“We end up working with a lot of customers, helping them market their honey or sell their pollen,” he said.

“There’s lots of opportunity in beekeeping. We have seen some customers start with these hives and make it a sideline or a full-time business.

“We have helped with all kinds of small businesses on the equipment side too. Our specialty is helping commercial beekeepers expand. Say someone has 500 hives and wants to go to 1,000, they say, ‘What do we need?’”

That equipment line is a point of pride for Kalisz.

“It took us 10 years, but we are 100 per cent the largest beekeeping supplier in Canada,” he said.

His barn bustles with product and workers, such as the five he keeps busy all day to package beekeeping jackets, honey extractors and medications for bees among other items.

Dancing Bee keeps three local wood shops busy full time to feed this side of the business, Kalisz said, as well as one stainless-steel shop.

They sell about 150,000 to 200,000 wooden bee boxes a year. And with perhaps 10 frames inside a box, they sell almost a million frames a year.

Kalisz estimated Dancing Bee creates or supports almost 200 jobs worldwide.

When things are set in Welcome, Kalisz sees 10 more jobs being added.

Big bee visibility

Dancing Bee recently received $65,000 from a Rural Innovation Eastern Ontario grant, through the federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

The plan is to renovate the produce market currently on that property into an outlet store for honey and associated beeswax products.

Beside it, Kalisz plans to build a 20,000-sq. foot warehouse to enhance both the equipment and the honey operations.

The stars of the show at Dancing Bee. The company plans to triple its hive numbers to 3,000. photo: Cecilia Nasmith

New extraction equipment is being purchased that will automate the process for greater productivity. Combined with operational improvements, this is expected to increase his output from 100 boxes of honey a day to 1,000.

The new warehouse will include proper industrial facilities (such as loading docks) to handle the honey tanks, honey clarifiers, wax melters and other gear they manufacture.

Kalisz foresees a beekeeping destination on the Welcome site that will attract interested visitors as well as others in the industry.

“Every beekeeper who drives past on the 401 will want to stop here,” he predicted.

Gearing up for these developments, they are multiplying their bee population. Their bee numbers had fallen with their starter-hive business. Now they are ready to ramp things up.

“We are now at about 1,000 hives,” he estimated.

That number will triple.

“We will have 1,000 colonies to do honey, 1,000 colonies for pollen and 1,000 colonies to sell.”

Kalisz has become a leading importer of early queens, which are vital when it comes time to split a hive and a second queen is needed. He brings in 30,000 a year from Chile, New Zealand and the United States. As one of the breeders involved in the formation of North Star Queens, which seeks to produce queens with superior productivity and resistance to weather and disease, he hopes to build up Canada’s queen-exporting capacity.

Kalisz is also one of the consultants for the University of Guelph’s new state-of-the-art beekeeping facility.

He was born and raised in Port Hope to a family that pursued small-scale beekeeping as a hobby, something to pollinate their gardens and produce a little honey.

He developed that all-important gentle approach at an early age, as he learned more about the fascinating creatures.

Bees are not aggressive, he said. They only get defensive to the point of stinging if they believe they must defend their home. Otherwise, people can stand in front of them and get no reaction.

As time went on, Kalisz grew to appreciate the many directions beekeeping could take him — selling or leasing the bees, marketing apiary products, getting into the equipment side of the business. Kalisz decided he was going to do it all.

His early focus was on the pollen and selling the bees, but the honey production grew as well. Then came the equipment.

As head of a family-run business, Kalisz gets a lot of help from his wife, Aleks, and their daughters — nine-year-old Nadia and seven-year-old Josephine.

The girls have begun helping him work on the hives, and he’s proud to report that they are not afraid. Both have had their first stings, but they still enjoy dipping in a finger and getting a taste of honey.

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