Beekeeping field day tips in Alex Kurnicki’s garden

Alex Kurnicki has an interesting problem literally developing next door to his lush Vancouver garden home that puts into perspective the challenges facing urban beekeepers.

Right next to his lot on St. George Street, a tiny little oasis of bee-friendly plants and trees, is a massive development. When finished, the new owners of the strata title units will be able to look right down on top of Alex’s chicken coop, two hives and modest little home.

You can get a feel for this new arrangement from the photo above, which I took during this year’s field day organized by the Richmond Beekeepers Association. Normally our annual field day is held in a more bucolic setting, such as the Terra Nova Sharing Farm, but this one in the southeast of Vancouver gave a great perspective on the art and challenges of keeping honey bees in urban settings.

To be sure, Alex doesn’t mind the new development. He says it’s an improvement over the noisy and disrespectful tenants who had lived in an old house that once occupied the site. But I’m wondering how long it will be before one of the new tenants starts to complain about the bees or the chickens or the smoke from Alex’s smoker as it inevitably wafts through the chain link fence. We are such a fickle people.

The annual beekeeping field day is always one of the highlights of the club’s monthly programs. This one was delightful. Kurnicki, a streetscape planner for the City of North Vancouver, has carved out a lovely oasis in his back yard, using old fruit trees, broken concrete for retaining walls, and a healthy amount of rich soil to create a perfect place for pollinators.

He installed a clever water feature for his bees, and has a secondary water collection system for his bountiful vegetable garden, some of which you can see in the photo.

Kurnicki recently picked up a swarm from a neighbour. He was demonstrating for the group how he uses a tea towel placed over most of the frames of the nuc box to keep the bees calm while he works with the rest of the frames. A good tip we will use in our own apiary management.

He also gave a tour of his garden, pointing out to his fellow beekeepers the bee-friendly value of the plants he selected.

The other highlight of the day was Ric Erikson’s Beefriendly.ca campaign to increase and support native pollinators. Erikson, who lives on the North Shore, has developed a number of hives useful in the difficult task of propagating pollinators such as bumblebees, mason bees and leaf-cutter bees. His photography is terrific.

Ric also has honey bee hives in a number of North Vancouver gardens. But it is his passion for native pollinators that shines through. If you want to know the difference between a miner bee and a sweat bee from a leaf-cutter bee, his website is a go-to illustrated guide for that.

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