Don Forster wears a net and helmet as he harvests honey from the UTM beehives

How Sweet It Is: Cooking with UTM honey

U of T Mississauga’s Hospitality & Retail Services team is featuring a home-grown ingredient at a Community Kitchen session on the benefits of honey on Thursday, March 29 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. in DV3140. Culinary director Chef Sandeep Kachroo will be joined by apiarist Don Forster for a special session on honey.

Forster, who tends hives around southern Ontario, will provide an update on the three beehives installed by Hospitality & Retail services atop the Instructional Centre rooftop in June 2017. He will also give a hands-on demonstration of different frames used in beehives, answer questions about how to start and care for a hive and explain the different roles of bees within a hive. Chef Kachroo will lead a hands-on cooking session for participants to make and sample Soft Honey Cookies, Kale and Sweet Potato Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing and Honey-Lime Tea made—all made with honey harvested from the UTM hives.

Last year, Forster moved about 5,000 Buckfast bees into the UTM hives. Over the summer, that number swelled to about 10,000 bees and a recent check revealed a healthy number—about 7,000 bees—survived the winter.

As Forster readies for a new season, he is thinking ahead to expanding the UTM bee population. He recently added a pollen supplement to the bees’ diet to encourage the queens to lay more eggs. In the spring, he plans to add two new hive boxes to the rooftop apiary. “I’ll move some of the bees to increase the population of the apiary, and to prevent them from splitting off on their own,” he says. The extra space in the original hives will encourage the queen bees to lay more eggs, which will help prevent a swarm from leaving the hive.

Forster says he likes the taste of the UTM honey. “It’s a really nice blend,” he says. “It’s mild because the bees are foraging on a lot of trees. There must be a lot of gardens in the area.” In 2017, he harvested about 700 pounds of honey from the UTM hives, some of which was made available for sale on campus in November, and left about 150 pounds of honey in the hives to help nourish the bees over the winter.

Forster, who has been working with bees since his childhood on a farm in the Laurentian mountains, says beekeeping relaxes him. As bee populations decline due to pesticide use and loss of habitat, he has become dedicated to spreading the word about beekeeping and supporting pollinators. “Urban settings play an important role in supporting bees and other pollinators,” he says. “Many cities have passed anti-pesticide legislation, so when bees forage, they encounter fewer toxins.” He says the best thing communities can do to support bees is to plant clusters of colourful flowers and pollinator-friendly trees like lindens. “And remember that dandelions are the bees first food in the spring. Don’t cut them or spray them. Leave them alone for the bees.”