The re-education of the sisters: Bees

After our Massachusetts cheese safari, Steffanie and I along with Kathryn – our lifelong pal headed out to the rolling hills and chilly springtime lakes of Northern Ontario. To Restoule to be exact. Restoule is located about an hour and half away from North Bay Ontario, which is several hours drive north from Toronto.  Our destination was Board’s Honey Farm for a two day workshop learning beekeeping 101. I will absolutely admit beekeeping seemed a step well outside our comfort zone but we were all very intrigued about bees – especially with the growing alarm regarding their dying off in large numbers!

For our accommodation, we booked ourselves a self-catering cabin at Cedar Grove Camp. It was a really sweet find! Run by a friendly and accommodating young couple and their family, we had arrived fulled prepared even for the blackflies! For those of you who have never experienced blackflies in the spring and early summer, they are barely visible, flesh slicing, ________!(add your favourite swear word here) We suited ourselves up in these bug outfits used by hikers and other crazy people who refuse to give in to the swarms of these menaces. They are loose fitting netting that go over the clothing and while not 100% –  they are quite effective! Oh and you can drink though them as proven below!

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After a great night’s sleep (the crisp air off the lake with a fire was heavenly but made late nights impossible) we headed off to Board’s honey farm for our first day learning the art of the beekeeping.

Stef Board is a master beekeeper who makes it all seem perfectly easy to grasp because of his endless enthusiasm and love of these amazing creatures.When introduced to the yard, we learned Stef’s system – any hive with a stone standing up has a queen, the ones with the stone laying down have no queen and need attention! Simple.

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Within a few minutes in the bee yard Stef handed me a panel of bees when I had not yet put a net on or gloves or anything more protective than sunglasses and lip gloss. With no time to panic, all I could do was just to concentrate on not dropping them. I may be smiling but in my head was a totally, more swear-ridden story!

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It was an amazing experience! It was all very hands on and learning by doing and observing. Some new surprising facts:

  • Most honeybees are considered to be Italian. Beekeeping there goes back millennia and they are much calmer than the African varieties.
  • Bears actually want to eat the bee larva rather than the honey. Which would have made the Winnie the Pooh books very, very different I think!

Throughout the weekend we not only spent time working with bees, we also learned about the health benefits of honey, pollen and the incredible healing power of actual bee stings! Apparently, bee venom is a true life elixir and can be used to treat a variety of ailments.

Another amazing bee fact:

  • Bee pollen is so complete with protein and vitamins you could live on it! Wow!

Together we helped equalise the hives in the bee yard. This is done by introducing new queens to hives without one, and then adding bees to hives with too few. This ensures the bees have enough honey to thrive and enough space for new bees.

In order to accomplish this we learned to use smokers, hive tools and newspaper(!) Newspaper is used when introducing a new queen to the hive. This gives the hive time to adjust to the new queen’s scent as they chew through the paper to find her. Scent is how bees communicate with each other  – including a very distinct alarm scent that will send out the troops!

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After our time in the bee yard we then got a few lessons in using wax to make candles. A skill I am really woeful at and Steffanie definitely more of star in that regard.

What an eye opening, challenging weekend! All three of us despite our anxiety of swarms of angry, flying, stinging insects fell in love with these amazing creatures! I would urge all those who read this blog to please read the label on all of your gardening fertilizers and avoid any with neo-nicotinoids. This class of chemical has been banned in Europe and I hope Canada will follow suit.  Neo-nicotinoids destroy not only the brain chemistry in bees making it impossible for them to navigate but also seriously harms birds and other wildlife!

We need the bees as much as the bees need us. Please do your part and look after them where you can and ban neo-nicotinoids!

Long live the bee!

Laura Hamilton
Laura Hamilton


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