There was a time when every farmer in Upper Canada (and most townsfolk too) had a barn filled with animals for fresh eggs, milk and meat. There were lush apple orchards all along the lake shore both east and west of the city, all the way around to Niagara Falls
which evolved a highly specialized orchard crops and fruit preserve industry complete with indigenous glass blowing factories to produce necessary sealer jars There were tobacco plantations here in Canada too and other specialty crops emerged in the late 1800s. Since that time many farmers have tried their hand at being crop pioneers and they have speculated on many different cash crops. Today two particular vegetable crops are more prevalent than ever before in this province, corn and soybeans.
Today its quite common to see farmhouses surrounded by fields of corn or soybeans with no sign of a barn or even a metal grain silo on the property. Resin wicker patio furniture sets and sunbathing family members gathered around the backyard swimming pool has replaced all farm equipment and work. Most of the new age share croppers own a modern tractor and no-till corn planter, but they no longer bother buying combines, or their own expensive harvesting machines, or any storage facilities. Sometimes these new professionals sell the yield in the field before its harvested. They make deals with neighbours who have all the necessary manpower and machines. Now the same thing is happening in commercial beekeeping.
The Rise of Share Cropping Beekeepers in Ontario
In the same way these new age vegetable croppers have evolved their farming to maximum profit for minimum work, so too have some Ontario beekeepers. By not maintaining a honey house or any retail sales and storage facilities, some apiarists in Canada and the United States now sell their honey in the hive for half the wholesale price. Its a common practice and win win for both beekeepers, especially if the share cropper can prove the honey in his or her region has a distinct flavour.
Such is the the apiary of Alfredo Malanca. He has no retail sales. As the director of a large honey production operation in the wild country north of Havelock Ontario, Malanca doesn't have a honey house or any crop harvesting equipment of his own, but rather he relies on his more technically sophisticated neighbours to harvest his honey for him, and he pays them with part of the yield. This is smart business because it leaves him free to sell the remainder of his crop to the highest bidder. And Malanca has a rare crop indeed.
The Quest for Buckwheat Honey in Ontario
Alfredo is a skilled beekeeper and fortunate to be living in a dense Buckwheat honey producing area. The twangy flavour and sweet musty aroma of his annual summer crop is so powerful you can actually smell its presence when you first open up the beehive. As soon as you remove the lid and break cells under the inner cover you can smell the buckwheat honey in the air.
"There has always been buckwheat hints in the local honey around Havelock but in the last ten years it has become more pronounced." Alfredo relates, "There must be a patch of wild plants in the woods somewhere that's getting bigger and bigger each year."
The location of the plant source is actually something of a mystery, because to date Malanca has not discovered the fields from which the nectar emanates.
Buckwheat does grow wild, however wild buckwheat is not particularly common in the Havelock region. Or is it? The plant seen below is the most common variety grown by farmers; this species is a member of the dicot family Polygonaceae
, of the Eurasian genus Fagopyrum
Buckwheat is not related to wheat, but rather its connected to sorrels, rhubarb and knotweed. The melliculus nectar pumping plant produces a distinctively flavoured honey which has a strong pungent aroma and flavour.
Some people find buckwheat honey to be too powerful
The strong taste of buckwheat honey can easily overpower other tastes in most beverages and desserts. But there are just as many people who will drive for hours to get their annual supply of the ambrosia.
According to the experts, buckwheat was first cultivated in southeast Asia around 6000 BC, and from there spread to Central Asia and to the Middle East and Europe. Domestication probably first occurred in the western Yunnan region of China. Buckwheat is documented in Europe in the Balkans by the Middle Neolithic period
which is circa 4000 BC. If you play any Civilizations strategy resource management video games you'll note that this is when the game starts with one settler.
Buckwheat was one of the earliest crops introduced by Europeans to North America in the mid 1500s because the plant grows quickly and produce seed in about 6 weeks, ripening at 10 to 11 weeks. The plants grow 30 to 50 inches (75 to 125 cm) tall. The grain is labelled a pseudocereal
to emphasize that the plant is not related in any way to wheat.
Honey packers buy buckwheat honey for gourmet cuisine.
Honey packers buy buckwheat honey to put in glass jars and watch it fly off the shelves in specialty shops for gourmet cooks and chefs. There are dessert menus in Toronto roof restaurants and other high class fine dining establishments that have vanilla cake with buckwheat honey as dessert option. The taste is unforgettable and honey packers will pay a premium to put it in glass.