The shadows are getting longer by the minute as dusk begins to fall over the gently rolling countryside of Woodstock. I can smell honey as I stand by the beehives and there's a contented buzzing from inside. I'm here at Dan and Lisa Goodwin's to learn more about bees this cold September evening.
I saw their sign for honey one warm, sunny afternoon last week and thought this might make a good story for my weekly garden column....bees, honey, flowers in the garden. People have told me we should have bees on our property because of all the flowers, but in the few short hours I spend with Dan and Lisa at Woodstock Farm and Apiary, I learn there's a lot more to know about beekeeping than meets the eye! The Goodwin's cheerfully share the knowledge they've been accumulating over the past few years. They've attended several Beekeeper's Courses through the Department of Agriculture and have gained valuable experience tending to their own hives, which now number 14. They eventually hope to have 50-100 hives. The honey harvest ends in mid September and as the nights become increasingly cooler near the end of the month the hives are readied for winter.
The "supers", individual boxes that are stacked one on top of another, are reduced down to a height of one or two - cutting down the space the bees occupy to allow for greater heat retention. Medicated sugar syrup is fed through a tray on top of the supers. The bees are fed as much of this as they'll take, to make them strong for the winter. Nosema and American or European Foulbrood are two of the diseases that can attack bees. When the temperature begins to hold steady at 10*C, generally around mid-November, the bees will stay in their hives for the winter. They form a large cluster around the queen. Still active, but with lowered metabolism the bees continually rotate, the ones on the outer edges moving inwards forcing those on the inside towards the outside. Sometimes on mild winter days the bees will come out for a short "cleansing" flight.
When spring finally arrives the bees will be fed sugar solution again until the nectar producing plants begin blooming. Pollen, gathered from alders, maples and many other sources is important for feeding young larvae and bees. A "strong" healthy hive can have a population of 50,000 or more by summer. Up to 1,000 new bees emerge each day by May or June. Old bees die off by fall, it's the new generation that live to overwinter.
So, you have lots of flowers and shrubs on your property, plenty of food for bees you're thinking? Yes and no. Dan and Lisa have 55 acres, which include a large field of clover and an orchard. Their property was formerly owned by an herbalist, Ellen Snyder, who left behind many herbs. The Goodwin's have worked long and hard recovering many of these plants from knee high weeds. Lisa has rescued and rearranged thyme, lemon balm, poppies, sweet cicely and mints, all of which the bees visit. She's also planted large beds of Bee balm (Monarda), oregano and tall phlox. Comfrey grows everywhere and the seedheads of angelica and sunflowers can be found. These are all plants which the bees love to visit, especially the thyme. But I'm surprised to learn that most of the honey is produced from wild flowers. Clover, goldenrod, asters and dandelions are just a few of the flowers bees gather nectar from.
It's possible to even have a hive in town, Dan informed me. Bees will fly 2-5 miles away to forage for nectar and pollen. They do need a source of water however, preferably not your next door neighbors pool. The benefits of having a hive are, of course, for the honey - 50-100 pounds can be harvested from one hive if it's productive. But if you grow fruits or vegetables, pollination is also an important reason for owning bees. Pollination affects the size, shape and taste of garden and orchard produce. Blueberry crops can double with optimum pollination by bees, a fact which growers and beekeepers are well aware of.
Dan rents his hives to local growers as required during the season. It costs a couple of hundred to start beekeeping, that investment doesn't include the extractor to get the honey out of the combs. Your initial set-up consists of 2 supers, a cover and a bottom board, smoker frames and a "Nuk" (a bee starter kit with a queen, bees, 2 frames of brood and 2 frames of honey.) The Department of Agriculture can provide you with more information on beekeeping. Dan and Lisa both agree that the best way to learn more about this fascinating topic is to take a beekeeper's course or ideally, to spend 1/2 a day with a beekeeper!
- Beekeeping peaked around World War ll as sugar was rationed.
- In Canada there are 16,000 beekeepers. A total of 576,000 hives.
- It takes one colony of bees to pollinate an acre of fruit trees.
- Bees will visit 2 million flowers and travel 55,000 miles to make one pound of honey
- Honey is 25% more sweeter than sugar.