The former apiarist forms Bee Culture Solutions to provide education for both hobbyists and experienced producers
Medhat Nasr retired at the end of 2018.
His retirement lasted about 10 minutes.
Nasr, the former provincial apiculturist for Alberta, has been watching and studying bees for more than five decades.
His retirement was extremely brief because he couldn’t turn his back on the insects.
“My passion for bees started when I was 10 years old,” said Nasr, who grew up in Cairo and now lives in St. Albert, Alta. “After 50 years of having passion for the bees, it’s really difficult for me to stay away from bees.”
Instead of fishing or travel, Nasr has started a business. In January he founded Bee Culture Solutions, an education firm that will train beekeepers in Alberta and across the country.
Nasr’s partner in the business is Tracey Smith, an apiarist in Alberta. The two will provide training for hobbyists and more experienced beekeepers in Canada.
Nasr is the perfect person for such a role. He has trained hundreds of apiarists in his career and he’s still passionate about bees.
That passion began at an early age, growing up in Egypt.
“My neighbour was a traditional beekeeper — keeping bees in tubes made out of mud. Every weekend … I used to go with him and watch the bees,” he said. “When I was 10 years old I decided to study insects and study honeybees.”
He eventually earned a PhD. in entomology from the University of California Davis. During his career he moved around, including stints with the Ontario Beekeepers Association, the University of Guelph, Rutgers University and the province of Alberta.
In Ontario, during the 1990s, he established a tech-transfer program that continues to operate in the province.
“The mandate of the (tech transfer program) is to conduct research for Ontario’s beekeeping industry,” the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association website says. “To facilitate a honey bee breeding program … and to transfer information, skills and methodologies to the beekeepers”
Several states and provinces have copied Nasr’s model, as they also run tech-transfer programs.
Nasr and Smith created Bee Culture Solutions to fill a gap in Alberta’s beekeeping trade.
The province has about 1,700 beekeepers and more than a 1,000 are hobbyists — with one or two hives. The amateurs have basic skills but beekeeping is more complex than “putting bees in a box”, Nasr said.
The idea behind Bee Culture Solutions is to improve the skills of amateur beekeepers in Alberta and across Canada.
“Everybody is teaching basics and beginner beekeeping,” Nasr said. “(So) let’s take the level of beginners into advanced.”
Alberta’s honey industry might benefit from such training. There are about 600 commercial beekeepers in the province, but the industry needs to train and develop the next generation of commercial operators.
Nasr believes he can be part of the solution.
“We’re seeing some guys taking it from two hives all the way up to 10, as a side business,” he said. “(And) we have some guys that would like to move forward … build it up and become a commercial beekeeper.”
That’s positive news for an industry that’s suffered through a decade of negative press.
Over the last 10 years, there’s been countless media stories about colony collapse disorder, pesticides and other factors that are killing bee colonies in North America.
The general public may assume bees are in big trouble, but Nasr doesn’t see it that way.
The negative news has been a blessing as thousands of Canadians took up beekeeping because they were worried about bees.
“We’ve been seeing a general 10 percent increase in beekeepers every year for the last three years (in Manitoba),” said provincial apiculturist Rheal Lafreniere in 2017.
As for the future, the public shouldn’t worry because bees are adaptable and resilient, Nasr said.
“I was always confident that the honeybee will (be fine), despite what they (say) about bees disappearing,” he said.
“The bees will continue to survive and for many generations to come.”