Thinking of raising bees? Here’s some help

Interest in beekeeping is growing; newcomers are advised to start with two colonies to compare the health of each one

This year, Deb Krause hopes to dip her toe into beekeeping

The Thorhild, Alta., market gardener wants a colony of bees to pollinate her garden and offer a bit of honey for her Community Supported Agriculture boxes.

“I’m hoping it will give an extra boost of pollinators around,” said Krause, who hand pollinates the squash in her garden.

“I do expect it to make quite a big difference.”

Harold Dyck, product category development manager with Peavey Mart, said beekeeping supplies is a growing category for the hardware store.

Last year the store underestimated the market for beekeeping supplies and this year boosted supplies for most of its 36 stores and has offered courses for customers and staff.

Jeff Kolesar, retail co-ordinator with BeeMaid Honey in Winnipeg, said each year the hobby market keeps growing.

While they don’t keep statistics, an introduction to beekeeping course, offered at the University of Manitoba attracts more students each year.

“Every year we break the previous years attendance record,” said Kolesar.

Starter kits for beginning beekeepers start around $300, plus about $200 for bees.

Kolesar said they recommend beginners start with two colonies as a way to compare the health of each colony.

“We recommend to start with two, but no more than five,” he said.

It doesn’t take long before the interest in beekeeping to wane.

Kolesar said most beginner beekeepers last one to three years before ending the new hobby.

With many commercial beekeepers aging, Kolesar hopes some of the new hobbyists learn to love beekeeping and turn their hobby into a business.

“We’re concerned, down the road, there won’t be as many beekeepers. Maybe one day some of these will want to expand into a larger operation,” said Kolesar of Winnipeg.

Rod Scarlett, executive director with the Canadian Honey Council, said small-scale beekeepers make up a large component of the total of about 8,000 beekeepers across Canada. Less than 2,000 beekeepers are classified as commercial operators.

With more cities allowing backyard beekeeping, Scarlett expects the interest to grow.

However, having more small colonies spread around through a wider area, could cause a growing disease issue. Near Saskatoon, American foul brood is a problem among small beekeepers and has developed into a concern for nearby commercial beekeepers.

The new beekeepers don’t know what the disease looks like, how to prevent it, or may not care, said Scarlett.

Provincial apiarists run a series of beekeeping workshops to help educate new beekeepers, he said.

Krause recently took an introduction to beekeeping course and recruited a neighbouring beekeeper to help her manage her colony. Her husband worked for a local honey farmer after high school and has some experience.

“I don’t feel so blind,” she said.

  • A standard hive has a bottom board and a hive cover with five supers in between. Each super contains nine or 10 frames of comb in which the bees rear young and store honey and pollen. Normally, the bottom two supers are brood supers used for rearing the young and storing honey and pollen for short-term and winter use. The top three supers hold the honey crop.
  • Hives built from new components can stress bees and reduce the honey output. It is better to buy a hive that has had bees in it for a year or more.
  • The supers and frames should be square and tight. The interior dimensions of the supers should be 18 5/6” by 14 15/16” by either 9 5/8” or 6 1/2” deep. The dark brood combs should be checked to ensure that:
  • Most cells should be worker sized to give good populations of worker bees.
  • The cells must be free of brood diseases so all the eggs laid will have a good chance to develop into adult workers.
  • There should be no moths attacking the frames, eating the wax and pollen and sticking all the frames together with webbing.
  • The white honey frames should be checked to ensure that they are in good condition so they can later be used as brood frames.

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