When we first started thinking about keeping bees, someone told a fantastical tale about hives in our neighborhood producing upwards of 200 lbs of honey. Two hundred pounds! Wow, what would we do with all that liquid gold?
That figure seemed way out of line with recent B.C. government honey production estimates, which basically show the long term average yield per hive of the 40,000 plus colonies in the province to be about 71 lbs. That’s about a super box and a half of honey per hive (at about 50 lbs of honey per box, not including the brood chambers.)
So when Tim Monaghan sent Amanda and myself an email inviting us to see his hives, which were heading towards their 250-lb mark, we were surprised. Especially since these hives are in an urban setting near the Pacific National Exhibition and we’ve had such a rotten spring and summer. He had one hive in Richmond which already had seven supers – or about 350 pounds of honey!
On Sunday we went over to visit the two hives Monaghan and his partner John Meikeep, and sure enough they had six neatly painted super boxes on top of the brood chambers. There was a storm of activity around each hive, with foragers pounding back in with huge amounts of pollen and nectar. Monaghan had earlier in the week added a sixth super – hoping to tap out at more than 300 lbs per hive – and when he opened the boxes, you could see he’s got two powerful and healthy colonies.
Actually Monaghan and Mei have 11 hives; the rest are house in friends’ and neighbours’ yards and for the most part they’re all as strong as the home two, with their Richmond one now relocated into Vancouver. They say they will begin pulling off and extracting the honey in late September. They don’t know how to explain the extraordinary amount of honey except to say that they take good care of their bees.
Here’s the interesting part: the two men only started beekeeping three years ago after taking a course out at The Honeybee Centre in Surrey. They don’t use chemicals to treat for diseases, even to the point they won’t use “natural” treatments such as formic acid or even dust with icing sugar to encourage hygenic behaviour. Monaghan, who is a vice-president at Cossette Media, says he wants natural selection to take place. The strongest survivors will become his base stock for the next year.
Last year Monaghan and Mei learned a valuable lesson; they were advised not to bother insulating their hives for the winter, and they lost all but two. They won’t make the same mistake this winter. They replaced their dead hives in April with packages of bees imported from New Zealand.
Mei, who works as an office administrator for The Globe and Mail, says they seen the bees as both a calming hobby from the hectic pace of their work and as a future business opportunity. They want to eventually move out of the Lower Mainland and start up an apiary based around lavender fields. Monaghan says he’ll start breeding queens next year. And there is so much demand for their honey they sold out last year within a week just by selling to their friends, neighbours and clients.
One last note: my ability for getting stung is still intact, unfortunately. How is it that Amanda had a bee crawl up the inside of her pant leg to her bum and she shook it out without incident, and I’m minding my business when a bee gets tangled in my hair and drills me hard in the back of the head? Over the next eight hours the right side of my head blew up as the poison spread down to my neck. Benadryl and patience helped, but I’m still feeling the bite. It’s like having a hangover that doesn’t end.
It’s probably not the first time I’ve been called a stiff-necked fathead.