Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

The buzz on beekeeping

By
Laura Langston
Photography by
Martin Tessler

To bee or not to bee: that is the question. It's easier to keep bees than you might think -- even for urban gardeners.

One queen and 10,000 to 15,000 workers (females) over winter in each hive in a semi-dormant state. The queen begins laying eggs in late January or February. Drones hatch in May and die as soon as they mate or are kicked out of the hive in fall. By high summer, the population will be more than 50,000. Individual honeybees may make 25 trips a day or more, visiting more than 1,000 blossoms, and it will take 500 worker bees a full season of tapping about two million flowers to make about 500 grams of honey.

And harvesting honey is one of the goals of having your own hive. This is where urban gardeners have a leg up on their rural counterparts: yields are generally much higher in the city than in the country. "We're beauti-fying our cities, maintaining our greenspaces and planting more gardens," says Gibeau, "which means the bees can be much more efficient in flying and gathering."

Gibeau says a farmer outside Vancouver can expect honey yields of roughly 40 kilograms per hive, per year, while an experienced urban beekeeper in New Westminster (a suburb of Vancouver) could harvest about 110 kilograms a year. A field of alfalfa, for example, will only bloom once, whereas gardeners will have blooms all season long.

Honey harvesting is generally undertaken from mid-August to mid-September unless you are following in the steps of commercial producers, who pull their honey after the bees feast on each nectar source. (This process, coupled with moving bees into fields of new nectar sources at night, is how commercial producers control the type of honey they market.) Hobbyists can pull honey several times during the season, but most are content to harvest a wildflower blend once a year. Special extracting equipment is needed to harvest honey. Some beekeepers buy their own, others rent or borrow equipment belonging to local clubs.

Keeping bees isn't foolproof. That's where your local beekeeper's association can help. Some organize beekeeping courses and can also recommend reading materials, sources of supplies and local apiarists.

BE AWARE
Honeybees were introduced into North America by European settlers. The most common types of honeybees are:

Italian
Yellow and gentle, they overwinter well and build up quickly in spring. The most popular honeybee.

Carniolan
Grey/brown and extremely gentle, they conserve winter stores well. They also build up quickly in spring but are prone to swarming.

Caucasian
Lead grey and very gentle, they swarm infrequently. But they overwinter poorly, build up slowly in spring and are susceptible to diseases.

German black
Brown/black, they were the first bees brought to the New World. Nervous and aggressive, they build up slowly in spring.

Africanized
Sometimes called killer bees, they are a cross between Italian honeybees and African bees. They can be any colour but are usually smaller, more easily provoked, highly aggressive and swarm more frequently than other honey bees. Scientists have yet to reach consensus on whether or not killer bees are going to set up shop in Canada.

HONEY FACTS
• There are more than 600,000 commercial hives of honeybees in Canada.
• There are about 11,000 beekeepers.
• Honeybees turn floral nectar into 30 million kilograms of honey every year.
• Canada is the 10th largest producer of honey in the world.

 

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