County’s backyards buzzing with bees
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | July 27, 2017|
Protected by an electric fence, a beehive sits on a stool at Maureen Moore’s farm in Minden Hills. The gate is made from scrap lumber and is more than six feet high. Moore is hoping it will keep bears away.
“I’ve wanted to have bees for a while,” she said. “The biggest thing that’s held me back are the bears.”
Once she committed to buying a beehive, her top priority was to ensure it wasn’t destroyed by a hungry bear eating heritage apples and blueberries on the farm.
She likens the setup to a scene from Jurassic Park.
“But it’s always good to have more pollinators,” she said.
Bees in Ontario are in trouble. A survey by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists last year found that Ontario had the highest rate of winter honeybee deaths in the country. Nationally, an average of about 16 per cent of bees died that winter.
In Ontario, 38 per cent of them died.
Moore is an organic farm inspector and travels across south central Ontario.
“I’ve seen the devastating effects of declining bee populations,” she said, pointing to lost crops, specifically ones that grow fruit, vegetable, nut, seed and oil.
Beekeepers worldwide have been reporting significant declines in honeybee populations since the late 1990s, according to Greenpeace International.
Highlands East interim fire Chief Chris Baughman says a lot of people still think the declining bee population is a recent occurrence, but is happy to see an uptake in beekeeping in recent years.
“It’s crazy how much more interest there is in it [beekeeping] today,” he said, attributing a lot of the uptake to social media.
Baughman has eight hives on his property in Bancroft. Two years ago, he had 30. He decided to scale back due to his increased workload, but continues to sell some of his extra honey at farmers’ markets and coffee shops in the area.
He emphasizes it’s not just honey bees that need our help, but all types of pollinators like butterflies and bumblebees.
Anyone who is afraid of bees or doesn’t have the time to monitor a hive can simply plant more wildflowers, Baughman says.
“Any garden will help,” he said.
Highlands East resident Arlene Quinn has been beekeeping since June 2016. She often sits next to her two hives and just watches them.
“Everybody gets worried about how the bees are going to get you. I sit there and watch them,” she said, explaining how honeybees don’t sting unless they’re provoked. “It’s amazing watching them communicate. They are incredible animals.”
Quinn’s hives are also protected by an electric fence. She calls it the Raptor Pen.
Inside her home, a stainless-steel container is filled with four wooden frames lined with honey. A handle allows Quinn to spin the frames around, flinging the honey out. The wax combs stay intact within the frame allowing them to be reused by the bees.
She hasn’t sold any of the honey yet, but several of her friends receive regular shipments of the golden coloured product.
“It’s a lot of work. I wish I had started sooner, it’s very rewarding.”
But it can also be costly. Setting up a hive, in addition to the equipment and electrified fence, can cost nearly $1,000. A single stainless steel spinner costs $400.
Despite the high price tag, the number of beekeepers in the county have ballooned in the past six years, says local beekeeper Ron Lofthouse, who also leads a beekeeping workshop at the Haliburton Highlands Museum every spring.
He says there are approximately 25 beekeepers in the county.
“There’s been a real resurgence in beekeeping. Back then there were maybe five,” he said.
Lofthouse started beekeeping when he was 15 on his farm north of Bowmanville. He says Haliburton will benefit greatly from 25 beekeepers.
“They’re adding about 2.5 million more bees to the area to help pollinate plants,” he said.
On average, one hive hosts approximately 50,000 bees.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.