Last weekend, I had the immense pleasure of taking my Level One Beekeeping Certificate course. The entire course, consisting of 2 full days of learning, was incredibly interesting. It was my first look into the vastly complex world of bees and I am now totally hooked! If you ever have the chance to take the course with ABC Bees I would highly recommend it! Eliese, is astonishingly knowledgable about anything bee related. This is someone who has made beekeeping her life’s work, and her passion shines! Better yet, I genuinely feel prepared for my first hive this summer. Don’t get me wrong, I am terrified - terrified of doing it wrong or of not knowing what I’m doing, but I now have the tools and information to help me through that.
My mind is now overflowing with information about honey bees! Did you know skunks are immune to bee stings?! Our farm has had a very large skunk population for almost as long as I can remember. In fact, a slight whiff of skunk is a smell that reminds me of home and of my dad, a man who has been sprayed more times than I can count! And yet, with my extensive knowledge and exposure to the striped mammals, I learned a fascinating new fact about them this weekend! Another interesting bit of information that I took home with me is that the hairs on a bee actually aren’t hairs at all! They are extensions of their exoskeleton. As the bee flies through the air, those extensions create drag which creates a static charge. Once the bee lands on a flower that looks like a tasty treat, the pollen reacts to the static and clings to the bee! This is really just scratching the surface of what there is to know about bees. These tiny insects are surrounded by so much wonder!
I have many nostalgic notions for bee hives and fresh honey. When I was a kid, our neighbour kept a few hives strategically placed around the farm. With golden fields of canola, our farm was never lacking food for foragers. Despite a few stings here and there, and one unfortunate mishap that landed a bee directly in my nose, the honey makers were a welcome addition to our land. The best part of having bees on the farm? The pails of scoopable honey that allowed us to eat it by the spoonful! It’s taste is something I will forever associate to my childhood and I am really looking forward to being able to have it again!
Looking at it from a gardener’s perspective, pollinators are what ensure growth. Water, sunlight, and proper maintenance are all still very important, but if a cucumber’s flower is not pollinated, it will not turn into the crisp cuke we all crave during summer. A cucumber is just merely an example. So many of the garden’s treats rely on bees and other pollinators to start the magic of fruit bearing. They are a crucial link in the chain of food production. Over the years, I have taken great care to make plans that allow for companionship planting with the hopes of attracting bees to the garden. There is something so freeing about the brightly coloured wildflowers scattered within a carefully constructed garden. Bees are a living symbol of that wildness. I’ve spent many hours toiling away while listening to the hum of bees flying in and out of scarlet runner bean flowers. To glimpse even just a fraction of this natural world is a gift. There aren’t many wild things left in our society anymore and I believe it is really important to try to conserve what we can. In my first garden, I had a little bee hotel that I would check almost daily for tenants. It took a little time but by the end of the summer there were definitely bees using it. Each year since then, I’ve gained a little more knowledge about what the bees like, or don’t like, and have continued to have success with it. This summer, I am so excited to further my relationship with bees by installing four hives on the farm. It will be a humble beginning to what I hope is a life long obsession. It will be a way for me to increase pollination within the garden and hopefully a sweet addition to my future boxes.
Earlier this week I sat at the kitchen table with my Grandpa as I animatedly told him about my prospective future as a beekeeper. I’ve been completely entranced by the idea of keeping bees, nonchalantly adding it the ever growing to-do list for my busy months. As I began to explain what I had learned at my course, my grandpa just jumped right in, never missing a beat! He was familiar with practices I had only just learned about, such as using a hot blade to uncap the honey comb, and knew all of the terminology when speaking about hives. Grandpa sat there, regaling stories from his childhood of walking out and helping HIS grandpa with the bee hives. My great-great-grandfather, Grandpa Len, would hum as he worked, often not wearing more than just a Panama sun hat, and working in sync with his little honey bees. That’s one thing that I’ve grown to really appreciate about our family and the farm - in everything related to the farm, we do our best to work with nature and not against it. I’ve always known that agriculture is in my blood, but who knew beekeeping was hidden in there too!
Trying something new can be really scary. I am totally a Type A personality and straying outside of my comfort zone makes me quite anxious. Farming is teaching me to go with flow because it is impossible to control everything when your livelihood depends on the elements. The thought of keeping my bees alive and well nourished during an Albertan winter seems daunting. I keep telling myself to trust the process, to embrace the learning curve, and to believe that it will all be ok. In my life, the most drastic thing I’ve ever done is change careers. All of a sudden I had all of my eggs in one basket, so to speak, and my future as a farmer was quite uncertain. I remember the exact moment when I knew it was going to be ok. Last spring, after an especially long day, a wild fawn came up to me and licked my hand. It was exhilarating and seemed to be a good omen about my new life. I’ve always had a very close connection to nature and since coming home to the farm, I feel as if I have become even more in tune with it. Here I am again at a gateway into something that is diversifying my life and I am slightly worried about how it will turn out. I was surveying different areas of the our farm for hive locations and out of nowhere a little white weasel came bounding out of the bush and landed right on my boot! He stayed only for a few seconds but it made me think that again nature was telling me this was a good plan! I am REALLY eager for spring to come and to start this new adventure!