The beauty of bees
PHOTO COURTESY FERME LES PETITES ÉCORES
Snapped in November past the point of flower pollination, the farm speculates this bee was carrying broccoli pollen.
If anyone with the time, land and inclination is looking for a new hobby that will produce sweet results, then consider beekeeping. Not only will you be rewarded with the possibility of producing your own honey, you will also help to slow the continuing decline of bee populations.
Agricultural industry leaders throughout the world have raised concerns about dwindling bee populations because the small insects are essential for the pollination of flowers and produce. Simply put, no bees – no food.
Love of bees
For Éric Bélanger who operates the Ferme Les Petites Écores which he created and started in 2009 in the rural Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipality of Pointe-Fortune, his own curiosity and love of bees prompted him to learn all about these natural pollinators and how they could become an essential part of his farm business.
In fact, Bélanger is busy right now harvesting all the honey that his bees have produced so far this summer season. “It looked interesting so I decided to go all in,” he said. “I took a one-year course for beekeeping. The end-result is what got me into it.”
Dealing with setbacks
Bélanger originally started with 20 hives. He eventually wound up with 220 hives but faced an unprecedented loss to his operations a few years back when most of the bee colonies collapsed. “We had a big loss and we dropped back down to 18 hives. We worked our way back up and now we have up to 150 hives,” he said.
That’s just one of the many challenges beekeepers face. Colony collapse can also be brought on by the Varroa destructor mite, a parasite that feeds off honey bees and widespread use of insecticides known as neonicotinoids have been suspected in further decimating world-wide bee populations.
“We kind of figured out what happened,” Bélanger said of his own hive loss. “It was due to bad genetics from the queen producer which meant she wasn’t fertile enough. Instead of laying her eggs all year long, when September arrived she stopped laying her eggs and because of this the colonies would die by themselves.”
It’s these types of situations that make it difficult to become a beekeeper. For Bélanger, his motivation to continue working with bees is because customers who purchase the honey he produces are very satisfied with the product. “Honey is a big seller for us,” he said.
For the love of honey
We have some customers who have been with us for 10 years now. Generally customers really like our product because it’s pure honey and there is nothing else mixed in with it. It’s also not pasteurized so you get the real good taste of the honey from the flowers. You can also notice the difference of the honey from one season to the next,” said Bélanger.
The beehives at Bélanger’s farm are kept outdoors all year round. “A lot of beekeepers keep their hives winterized in refrigerated units but for us we feel the best way is to keep the bees outside in their natural surroundings,” he said.
PHOTO COURTESY FERME LES PETITES ÉCORES
Spring time apple blossoms see the bees happily frolicking and pollinating.
‘Special and amazing’
The hives are wrapped in special protective foil which keeps them warmer during the winter. “Over the past two years, we had an average nine per cent loss. The average loss is about 20 to 25 per cent,” said Bélanger who added that the lost bees are always replaced each year.
“Bees are really special and amazing. We always learn from them from one year to the next. There’s always something new we can discover which is part of the trials of beekeeping by trying to understand the bees better,” said Bélanger.
Anyone looking to keep bees in their own yards is first advised to check with their own municipalities to determine if it’s allowed. Each beekeeper must be registered with the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which issues strict guidelines on the number of hives, sale of bees (particularly queens) and the movement of hives for pollination purposes.
More information about beekeeping can be found on several websites including tinyurl.com/yxu8554s. Information on Quebec regulations for beekeeping can be found at tinyurl.com/y4bpf2f8