Welcome to Honey Bee Zen, our experiment in urban beekeeping. It’s a blog by two people, Amanda Goodman Lee and Jeff Lee.
We want to tackle this blog as a primer for people who are interested in keeping bees but don’t know where to start. We’re the examples. In other words, by learning from our mistakes maybe we’ll save you a lot of heartache.
Over the next year we’ll blog about the fun we’ll have and the lessons we’ll learn as we watch our hives (hopefully) grow into honey producers. We’ll look at the rewards and complications of keeping bees, visit other apiarists’ yards and hopefully entertain a few guest blogs from professionals.
Amanda: This is where it all started. This is a picture of me with a beard of bees at Science World’s Science of Fear exhibit two years ago.
I am amazed at how many people tell me that they could never do something like that. Even more amazing are the comments from big strong strapping men who tell me that they could never be close to one bee let alone have 5,000 on their face. Fear never entered into the equation for me. I did it because I thought it would be kind of cool, for the bragging rights and for a check mark on the bucket list. However, I discovered the bees gave me a calm Zen-like feeling. I don’t know why, only that I felt very grounded.
This exercise demonstrated that honey bees really are gentle interesting insects that simply want to go about their own business, or rather “mind their own beeswax”. Thanks to John Gibeau, the bee wrangler who helped with the beard of bees. His observation that I would make me a good beekeeper because I was so calm planted the seed that finds me here today. The added bonus this is something that my husband and I have interest in learning together.
Jeff: I’m fascinated with the complexity of a beehive and how these things the size of my pinkie fingernails are basically the linchpin in the world’s ecosystem. Without these vital pollinators our food production fails. Alarmingly, bee populations across North America are in serious decline, with many provinces and states reporting annual hive losses of between 50 and 80 per cent.
There are complex reasons for these declines, from the use of commercial and cosmetic pesticides to the growth of treatment-resistant diseases. I’ll talk about them later. But for me, this challenge actually presents an opportunity. I want to try and help my neighbourhood trees and shrubs. I also want to breed bees capable of beating back the stacked odds they now face. Oh, and I also want the honey!
Between the two of us we’re embarking on a pastime once the domain of farms and commercial operators but now increasingly adopted by urban dwellers. For the two of us, the goal this year is to have our new nucleus colonies grow into strong disease-resistant hives by the fall so that they can go into winter dormancy healthy enough to survive until the spring. That’s no sure thing. This spring was cold and wet, suppressing the growth of hives. Honey production may be low. We may encounter diseases that knock the hives back. We could have a cold winter that finishes them off. There are many natural factors well out of our control.