Sunday, January 18, 2015

Beekeeping Q & A with Duff and Donna Evers

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 ;-)"

I leave the final words of this post to Donna, "There is always something to learn. Bees are the most amazing creatures."

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." 

Online Resources:

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


Nova Scotia: 



  1. I came across your blog by way of June at Laughing With Angels and discovered you are a local gal. An Ontartonian at least.
    Your photos are beautiful. We have many beekeepers in the Niagara region after all we are the fruit belt of Ontario. Vineyard after vineyard of grapes also require the talents of the humble bees to produce award winning wines...
    It was wonderful to chance upon your blog on this dreary day, to meet your wonderful dogs and share the gorgeous photos...

  2. I definitely think beekeeping is on the rise. This was an interesting post for those considering it. Aldridge Garden is a beautiful public garden near my area, and they keep hives there. This year they sold honey from the hives, and everyone who tastes it says it is far better than store-bought. I have heard a number of people say it is the best honey they have ever eaten.

  3. I would never entertain keeping bees but I do love honey. The photos are amazing and the picture of the flower head full of bees just goes to show their preferences. I do plant as much as I can that will encourage bees in the hope of increasing their number in my garden.

  4. What a fascinating and interesting post, how I enjoyed it! I have always wanted to keep bees but can't where I live, but I do plant as many plants as I can for them, they are such amazing little creatures. I loved all your pics here.....stunning!xxx

  5. Great post Jennifer. I am always intrigued by bee posts, so much to learn about that occupation. Love to watch bees in our own garden and we seem to harbour a few wild nests but have never actively taken care of bees. Luckily my close neighbour is a professional bee keeper and fresh honey is just a short walk away. I wonder if the news about bees dying in recent years is fostering interest in folks to try and care for them and preserve them?

  6. Hi Jen and Happy New Year! Your post reminded me of a fabulous show we're watching again on our TVO station - "How to Grow A Planet." Episode 2 deals with the importance of flowers and how they came to be. There is an in-depth segment on how bees do their work inside the flowers....wonderful! Congrats on another year of really great blogging!

  7. I have really enjoyed reading your post. Wow your friends gardens are so beautiful! I have always been fascinated by bees and bee keeping and most importantly we love honey!! I liked reading The Secret Life of Bees , good story but lots about bees. I am super behind on blog reading but have enjoyed your posts on rock gardens. As usual your pictures are incredible and your writing is very enjoyable. Perfect respite on a slushy day!!

  8. Great post Jennifer. I have helped friends beekeepers tend their bees over the years and would love to have my own bees but that would be tempting fate. We are in a wild area, next to a national park and bears visit us regularly. They don't come close to the house but if they realized we had a hive, no garden fence would stop them!

  9. Very Interesting Jennifer. We had a swarm in our garden a couple of years ago, we phoned a friend who kept bees, but his hives were full. He phoned a friend who was just starting and he was with us half an hour later. It was fascinating watching him encouraging them into a box before driving home with them in the back of his car.
    Most of the plants in the garden here have single flowers, specially for the bees and butterflies.

  10. I am entering my second year as a beekeeper and I agree about reading and reading about bees. They are fascinating creatures and I'm learning more every day. Thank for sharing this information.

  11. Fascinating post! I do have something in common with bees--long periods of cold, rainy weather make me cranky, too:) Beekeeping seems to be on the rise in our area, too; locally produced honey is a popular item at the Farmer's Market. I remember a few years ago when a friend of my father's would bring his hive over for a few weeks to feast on the clover on my dad's farm to produce the clover honey that is especially popular here. When visiting Asheville, N.C. a couple of years ago, the star attraction at one cafe was its tupelo honey--delicious!

  12. Fascinating profile. I love honey and use it for everything including sweetening my coffee. However, I don't have the time and patience to keep bees.

  13. I know you had a wonderful visit with Donna and Duff; isn't their garden fantastic!! It was featured in Niki Jabbour's book, Year Round Vegetable garden. I need the bee tour ;-) Lucky you.

    Fantastic photos Jennifer and so interesting.

  14. Fantastic!!!! Yes I have seen such an increase in bee keeping in my area as well! Thank you for all of the fantastic resources and for introducing us to Donna!! Her garden is outstanding as well!!! Happy week to you Jennifer!!! Nicole xo

  15. My goodness Jennifer girl are you really thinking of taking this up as a hobby?
    I am a honey fan .. liquid and creamed .. that would be a question of mine .. how does cream honey happen ? .. I have always respected bees .. such hard workers and producing the most amazing sweet concoction ever known to human kind : ) I love it.
    But I leave the bee keeping to those who are much braver than I !
    A huge THANK YOU to them!

  16. Imagine getting my own fresh honey - sounds like a dream! :-)

  17. Beautiful photography in that book, and it sounds very informative too. I think there is a beekeeper across the creek from us. It's probably about a mile as the bee flies. I've seen bee swarms here and even found a wild honeybee hive once, but I imagine most honeybees are kept by beekeepers. I have read that wild hives are very unusual now given all of the problems that honeybees have had.

  18. I’d love to keep bees! I know there are many beehives in London on roof tops, the honey is supposed to be exceptionally good as the plant diversity is so wide within London. I think my garden is a bit too small, but if I had a slightly smaller garden I would certainly think about it. Thanks for all the info, very useful.

  19. There are very little bees in my garden, Jennifer. I think because of chemical fertilizers. I'm afraid of them but love honey.

  20. I have noticed less honeybees in my garden and 99% are now native bees. But I have read other bloggers getting more into beekeeping. I guess I am doing this in a way by planting native plants for native bees...and of course no chemical use.


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