Date Published: Sun, 01 Sep 2013
The Art of Beeing
For years I have kept a collection of honeys in one of my kitchen cupboards. One of the things that I most enjoy picking up or sampling when travelling, even around the province, is honey from different places. For those of you who think honey is just honey and that it comes from a Billy Bee container… I have news for you! Just as wine is imbued with an essence of “terroir” or a taste of that place, honey is too. When beekeepers extract honey — often towards the end of the summer — they essentially bottle a record (in flavour) of the flowering plants in the vicinity that the bees have foraged from over the season. So, even within a region like Lanark County, there are numerous flavours of honey. Seek out some local beekeepers and try them out!
One place to start is at the market stall of Lacelle’s Apiary at the Carp Market each Saturday. Paul Lacelle and his wife Debbie have been selling their honeys, beeswax candles and skin cream there for 15 years. Paul became smitten with bees as a kid during summer visits with his grandfather, who kept one hive in his backyard in Ottawa. Intrigued by the ability of bees to adapt to human management systems that enabled a honey harvest for human consumption, he knew it would be an activity he’d come back to eventually as an adult. And he most certainly has. Paul lives and breathes beekeeping!
Paul “retired” three years ago from a high-tech job, but has been keeping about 35–40 colonies of bees for the past twenty years on an 80-acre farm in Mississippi Mills. Last year he also started managing Propolis-etc, a new, much-needed beekeeping supply store just east of Carleton Place on Highway 7. The bright, airy store has all the equipment both hobby and professional beekeepers might require.
Aside from managing his hives and running this new store, Paul also runs workshops and courses about beekeeping. In summertime, he has 4-session courses ($60) where participants visit his bee-yard each Sunday to learn what is happening in the hive and what management practices are necessary at different times of the beekeeping season. This is an excellent way for people considering starting hives to get a sense of whether or not it is a hobby they are suited to. In the off-season of winter, he offers other month-long courses — three hours a week — at the Carleton Place library. Check the website for dates. Paul is also the president of the Lanark County Beekeepers Association. LCBA meetings (held in Perth) are excellent and welcoming forums in which to learn about beekeeping, to ask questions and to connect with professional and hobby beekeepers.
“It makes my day if I can get another beekeeper started,” Paul told me. Inspiring new beekeepers and sharing his knowledge is something he is clearly dedicated to. It is also a real gift to our community. Bees and their keepers have had an increasingly hard go, in the last eight years especially, and ensuring that new beekeepers come along with adequate training is very important to their survival.
In 2006, the occurrence of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) became front-page news around the globe. CCD was the term used to define the unprecedented colony losses that were being reported that year. Since then, researchers have been trying to understand the reasons for such a spike in bee deaths, but are so far reluctant or unable to definitively pin a single cause to CCD, though many theories abound. Since then, losses have continued to climb. It used to be normal for a beekeeper to lose 5% of colonies over the winter due to other challenges (mites, weather, starvation, disease), but this year has seen unprecedented losses — even greater than 50% in some cases.
The Neonicotinoid Connection
So bees are once again making headlines on the covers of even prominent news media like Time Magazine (August issue), and articles and reports are being circulated around Facebook daily about the latest scourge affecting them. It does seem like people are sensing the gravity of the situation. The spotlight is now focused on the apparent connection between neonicotinoid pesticides and bee deaths. In recent years, the use of neonicotinoids has become widespread. The problem is, they don’t only affect the targeted insects (the ones detrimental to the desired crops), and so although bees themselves are not targeted, they essentially become “collateral damage” — as do other soil organisms, aquatic life and farmland birds. I have not got the space to write in depth about this chemical and its effects, but I urge you to download some of the abundant information about it. A good article from the Guardian newspaper is “Neonicotinoids are the new DDT killing the natural world” (to find it, google: neonicotinoids monbiot). Here’s a recent one from Ontario about a beekeeper in Grey-Bruce County: “Bees dying by the millions in Grey-Bruce” (google: post bees dying).
It is heartbreaking to read these reports. As in 2006, media attention is focusing on the implications of a honeybee-less world to our food supply. Considering they pollinate at least one third of our food crops, some argue that a world without bees would mean a fairly quick end to humans on the planet. What has received less of the media limelight is that the fact that many experts believe this “die-out” is today’s canary in a coal mine, warning us of the increasing and systemic toxicity that is occurring within our ecosystems. Food supply aside, how else will we be affected? And what about other beings?
Despite there being much research indicating a connection between dead bees and neonicotinoids — enough to cause the EU this spring to ban their use for two years until further research can be done — the evidence is still being touted as “inconclusive” by Canadian and US regulatory agencies. To me it seems a frustratingly simple equation, when presented with some basic facts — neonicotinoids are designed to kill insects by imposing serious neurological damage. If bees are ingesting even “sub-lethal” doses through the pollen and nectar collected from affected crops, it seems logical that some significant neurological damage will be done to them as the chemical accumulates in their bodies and within hives.
Amidst the rather scary implications of the current bee crisis, it is heartening that Paul Lacelle is noting a significant increase in recent years in the number of new beekeepers in the area. People are more aware of the vital role healthy bee populations play in our community, and want to play a supporting role in keeping them around. Consumers have also become increasingly suspicious of the honey on the shelves of our big supermarkets, so some are committing to raising bees themselves or to finding an apiarist they trust, to buy honey from.
If you think you might be interested in beekeeping, there are a number of resources worth checking out. Meanwhile, hug your local beekeepers and tell them how much you appreciate their efforts!
The Lanark County Beekeepers Association will have a booth each year at the Perth Fair (Labour Day weekend).
The Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA) is an excellent source of information, research, current practices and news in the bee world .
What you can do to help: take a look at the ten things you can do to help bees on the website queenofthesun.com.
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