Is it just me or is there an growing interest in hobby beekeeping?
Just poking around for a few minutes on the internet lead to all manner of clubs, local associations and classes in beekeeping.
I even found a local group, the Toronto Beekeeper Co-operative that has, among its many activities, a roof top apiary in the core of downtown Toronto. Beekeeping in the heart of Canada's biggest city? Hey, why not?
Last summer I visited Nova Scotia and stopped in for an afternoon to visit my friend Donna Evers. She and her husband Duff have been hobby beekeeping for years.
I asked Donna to tell me more about it:
"Duff first kept bees thirty years ago when we lived in New Brunswick and is delighted to be tending bees again. This will be the third year we have them in our garden in Nova Scotia.
"The first year was quite uneventful. The bees went about their business, filled our garden with their presence and gave us about 70 lbs. of honey to share with friends.
"Since then we have lost some swarms and caught swarms from neighbouring hives. A swarm of bees is a sight to behold!"
I confessed to Donna that while I find bees fascinating, like many people, I am a bit fearful.
Donna coached me to, "Read, read and then read some more before you decide to keep bees. The more you learn the less frightened you become. We have been stung, but it has always been our own fault."
"When there is a good supply of pollen and nectar, bees are happy to go about their business. Under these conditions it is a good time to check out what is happening in the hive. Weeks of cold, rainy weather tends to make them cranky, and then they are best left alone."
I asked Donna about the costs involved in beekeeping as a hobby.
Donna replied, "For backyard beekeepers like us the cost of a start up hive is around $350. This includes the nucleolus of bees and a wooden hive. A bee suit, gloves and a smoker are also necessary for investigating activity in the hive on a regular basis."
Picture by Donna Evers. Uncapping the honey before it goes into the centrifuge to be spun out.
"At the end of the season an electric knife and a centrifuge are needed for honey extraction. Often hobby beekeepers belong to a co-op and members share the equipment necessary for the extraction."
I also asked about the basic set up of the hives:
"Our hives are wooden boxes set on a base of cement blocks. These boxes are called supers and inside each super are ten frames. The bees build out honey comb on both sides of each frame. Then they proceed to lay eggs, store pollen and nectar in these honey comb cells. When a cell is filled it is capped by the bees.
Picture by Donna Evers. Here Duff is looking for any queen bee cells. There is lots of evidence of stored and capped honey.
Picture by Donna Evers: "The hive's queen is in there somewhere!"
"When the frames in a super are filled, a new super of empty frames must be added. We always leave two full supers for the bees when they are wrapped for the winter. These two supers are the winter home and food supply for the bees. "
Picture by Donna Evers.
"Bees do not hibernate. For the winter months we cover the bee hives with sheets of styrofoam and then wrap them in tar paper. An entrance is left for the bees to come and go and do a bit of house cleaning on fine days."
Picture by Donna Evers.
Donna's honey is a pale, golden color. Generally the honey I find in the supermarket is a deeper gold. I asked Donna about the difference.
Donna: "Our honey is unprocessed. The color and the taste is largely determined by the plant material that the bees visit to gather the pollen and nectar."
"Pasteurized honey is honey that has been heated to 145F. Pasteurization improves the shelf life and helps slow the crystallization of the honey. Unpasteurized honey is run through a stainer and put straight into a container."
Picture by Donna Evers. A collected swarm following the queen into the hive.
Finally I asked Donna about swarms of bees.
Donna:"Swarming is the way bees increase, but a beekeeper discourages this from happening by inspecting the hive and destroying any queen cells. Two queens will not co-exist in a hive and a swarm results. After a swarm the beekeeper is left with a diminished hive. Honey production will drop and it will be a weaker hive going into winter."
" The little box on the top of the arbor is a swarm trap that is baited with lemon grass oil. The beekeeper crosses his/her fingers and prays that the swarm of bees which left his hive will be tempted to take up residence in the swarm box. Unfortunately our first swarm settled at the top of a 60' spruce instead. There was no way we could collect them. The weather at the time was rainy and cold. They remained in the tree for five days and never seemed to have considered the swarm trap. When the sun came out on the sixth day, they were gone."
"To capture a swarm is good fortune indeed, because the swarm is anxious to setup housekeeping and often becomes a very productive hive. In a swarm the bees cluster around the queen and scouts are sent out to determine where best to establish a new residence. This is when a swarm must be captured."
"Once a new residence is decided upon the swarm leaves and your golden opportunity is gone. "
"It is worth knowing that bees in a swarm are not likely to sting. They have engorged on honey before leaving the hive and finding a new home is top priority."
Picture by Donna Evers
Donna warned me,"Jennifer, I have just skimmed the surface. Don't ever get trapped in a room with a bunch of bee keepers ;-)"
Just a Few of the Resources Available:
Donna had a few books to recommend for anyone interested in keeping bees:
The Beekeepers Handbook 4th Edition by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile (which Donna describes as "Duff's bee Bible")
Bzzz: Beekeeper's Primer by Evelyn Fatigati (Donna says it's her favourite, but is no longer in print. It is however, available second hand from Amazon. Donna tells me that it is a "wonderful book about a young boy whose grandfather gives him a hive of bees for his birthday.")
If you are interested in beekeeping, be sure to check out the regulations in your area.
Donna's brief note on beekeeping regulations: "In Canada each province has a system in place for registration and inspection of hives. This has become very strict, because of the diseases that are threatening the honey bees."
French Bee Transfer (seen above) great for craft projects available as a downloadable file from the Graphics Fairy.
Creating a Bee Friendly Garden: Bee friendly project ideas
Links to area Beekeeping Associations by State: Apiary inspectors of America
British Columbia: Bee Keeping Associations and Clubs
New Brunswick: Beekeeping Association and Clubs
Dalhousie University: The Modern Beekeeper- classes in beekeeping
Manitoba: Manitoba Beekeepers Association
Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association
Quebec: List of Clubs and Associations