How close would you get to a beehive? Until recently, my answer would have been “not very.” That all changed last week when I found myself inching closer and closer to a beehive populated with 25,000 bees, to the point that I was sticking my recorder into the hive to capture some audio of their buzzing.
“It’s really exciting to see a full frame of bees working away and they don’t care that you’re there,” Ron Glave told me moments before. “It’s so different from what you learn as kids growing up around bees.”
He was right. The bees were so busy building up their hive, creating new honey combs, reproducing and making honey that they had little time for me.
Glave is new to beekeeping, having gotten started this spring, but he’s already taken to the lifestyle. He started the Facebook page Revelstoke Beekeeping, where he shares photos of his own experiences as well as links to articles offering advice on beekeeping. He said that with the Local Food Initiative being spearheaded by the North Columbia Environmental Society, there are lots of people interested in beekeeping.
“I’ve learned so much about honey, so much about bees,” said Glave. “They flap their wings 200 times in a second and they can travel 15 kilometres in an hour. What’s going on with the colony collapse disorder. All that stuff – it puts me more in tune and aware.”
Humans have been harvesting wild honey for more than 10,000 years. Beekeeping, or apiculture as it’s known in technical terms, is an ancient practice that dates to at least 4,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt. Modern beekeeping dates to the 18th century, when people started creating their own hives. Today, it is generally done to collect honey or other products of the hive, help pollinate crops, or to produce bees for sale.
Glave asked that I not reveal the location of his hive due to uncertainties around beekeeping in local bylaws. All I will say is reaching it involved climbing two ladders onto a rooftop. Once there, his lone hive sat there, with bees buzzing in and out of the small opening at the bottom. We stood about 20 feet away and spoke for a bit about his experiences beekeeping.
He got into it when Bill Saunders hosted a workshop on beekeeping at the community centre.
“It piqued my interest,” said Glave. “The girl I was dating at the time was making mead – honey wine – and through her, my awareness increased about what was going on with bees in the world. I was looking for a hobby and the whole idea of working with bees appealed to me.”
Working with Saunders, he built a hive and ordered a box of bees from deHoog Apiaries in Salmon Arm. (You can also order bees from New Zealand.) The bees came in a box with four frames, which Glave transferred into his hive – once again with help from Saunders.
“When I started it was just the bottom box, this middle board and then an empty box that had a jar of sugar water. That helps them get started and get familiar with the area,” said Glave. “Then you start to expand. After about three or four weeks you add on the next level. And then a month after that you add on the next level.”
The hive is expanded as the bees reproduce. And they like to get busy – a queen bee can lay 2,000 eggs a day, most of which are female worker bees, with the rest being male drones. Bees have a short lifespan – only about six weeks – but the population of a hive still multiplies quickly. Glave estimated his hive had gone from the initial 5,000 bees he received in April to about 25,000 in late-June.
He started with one box and four frames and is now up to four boxes with 10 frames each (not all are full). The frames each have a honeycomb pattern built in and the bees work away building up the honeycombs, fertlizing eggs and producing honey. These days, Glave’s bees pretty much take care of themselves. In August, he’ll collect the honey and then leave the hive for the winter.
“There is no more sugar water in there. They’re foraging, they’re going out,” said Glave. “If you look close enough, you can see they’re packing pollen and they’re feeding the hive. Over the past month they’ve built up enough honey and honeycomb. They’ve got a pretty constant food source that they’ve developed in there.”
The day after I met with Glave, Saunders came by my office to talk beekeeping. He got into beekeeping last year; he said it was something that had always interested him so he finally took the plunge by ordering two hives. He gave one to Robert Jay at Terra Firma Farms and the other he kept. On the day they received their bees, they went to place them in the hive without any protection. “Neither of us got stung,” Saunders said. “We didn’t dress up or smoke them or anything. We thought it was easy.”
Saunders set up his hive at his home in Southside. On two occasions his hive swarmed. That’s when either a hive fills up, so the bees escape to find a new home; or when a colony produces a second queen, who flies off to form her own colony.
“The first time I caught the swarm,” said Saunders. “It was right on the ground beside the hive. I ended up putting that in another hive so I had two hives.”
The second time, he was at work and wasn’t able to catch the swarm; he lost about 20,000 bees. He went into the hive and took out all the queen bee eggs, but he ended up with a queen-less hive, “which was almost a catastrophe,” he said.
“I had to get my other hive I got from the first swarm, put it with the original hive and they got back together and had a queen.”
There are lots of resources available on beekeeping. Saunders bought the book Harmonic Farming: Bees, by Werner M. Gysi. There are countless websites, YouTube videos, Facebook pages, and more available for the budding beekeeper to rely on. There are also a few old hands in Revelstoke that Saunders told me about, but I wasn’t able to reach them for this article.
Saunders was so enthused by beekeeping that he held an introductory workshop at the communicty centre and, later, a hive building workshop.
Glave said he plans on limiting his apiary to one hive and he plans on collecting the honey to share with friends and family. Saunders wants to develop a much larger operation on his property in Beaton. His ultimate goal is to breed bees that aren’t affected by pesticides, herbicides or any genetically modified crops. “I want to have high-quality, natural bees,” he said.
Eventually, he wants to have enough hives going to sell his bees to farmers. With the population of bees declining due to colony collapse disorder, he thinks the price of a bee hive could rise significantly in the coming years.
“Bees right now, they’re $150 per hive in the spring, for 5,000 bees and a queen,” he said. “A couple of years from now it might be $400-500 for a box in the spring.”
After I finished speaking with Ron Glave he suited up and opened up his hive for me. At first I was hesitant to get too close but slowly but surely I crept closer to the thousands of bees. Eventually I felt almost completely safe as I snapped pictures. I could see the honey being produced and the hive being developed. The bees were way too busy working away to care about me.
Attack of the Killer Bees? Not here.