One for the bees

His hand surrounded by hundreds of pulsating stingers, Phil Ellis admires an entourage of petite sidekicks in his lush Squamish backyard. The bees don't notice his presence - a bonus, really, as one doesn't want to attract the simultaneous attention of 300 bees - but Phil is more concerned about not distracting them from the task at hand - cleaning, eating, procreating, and making honey.

Whether the measure is bloodline or the length of time involved, Ellis - better known as Phil of Phil's Bee & Honey Farm (population 2,200,080) - is a beekeeper to the core. As he tells it his mother "caught a swarm" when he was a boy, as if that's something all moms do. So young Ellis was looped into a world dominated by regal Queens, larvae and thousands of pounds of sweet, golden honey.

After all this time Phil is still endlessly appreciative of the bees and their perfect communist ideals - a ruthless but exquisite system in which every member serves to further the common good. He takes me around his generous garden, pointing to various fruit trees and bushes the bees use for food. We pass a bench where, in lieu of television, Phil and his wife Hazel take cups of tea to watch the bees go about their business, which includes bathing in pollen and lapping up nectar like small, fuzzy lushes. Prior to retirement, the Ellis's ran Armchair Books in Whistler for 19 years before passing the buck to their son. Phil also operated a gas station in Squamish, though it's hard to imagine him surrounded by anything other than honey fumes. Now they are a regular fixture on the farmers' market circuit where they sell Phil's honey. You can often find his stand surrounded by small children sucking on the slim wooden sticks Phil dips in the bees' various triumphs - fireweed, wild blackberry, sweet clover, blueberries, plums, cherry, pear, apple and raspberry honey.

His golden nectar is also used by local restaurants like Gone Bakery in Whistler and The Cup Bistro & Deli and Health Food Heaven in Squamish. The general public can find it at the upcoming Squamish Winter Farmers Market on March 12 (and another on April 9) in the Roundhouse of the West Coast Railway Heritage Park at 39645 Government Road .

Because he has a huge brood of grandchildren running around his property on a regular basis, Ellis only keeps six hives at his place in Squamish. He keeps another 20 in Brackendale and another batch in Roe Creek south of Whistler. He's more interested in the health of his bees than the bottom line, so he doesn't keep track of how much he sells, saying it hovers between "sometimes a lot, sometimes not so much."


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