The dire state of the bee population and why it matters

The world is ending. Fish are being overfished; the polar ice caps are melting; bees are dying; and it’s all our fault.

But what can we really do about this besides raise awareness?

“Pollinator habitat is one of the most important things out there right now,” said Glen Ackroyd, owner of Acroyd Honey, a local commercial beekeeper.

“Not only in the city, but out in the rural areas because land has got so expensive and equipment is so big that farmers like to have big, wide open fields. We’ve lost a lot of wild pollinator habitat that we used to have out there.”

Through the publicity for the pastime oft-turned business of beekeeping through popular media, saving the bees has become the new “polar ice caps.”

We’ve apparently hit snooze on rising ocean levels after losing multiple battles with big corporations to reduce carbon emissions and turned to the imminent threat of losing all our favourite fruits and vegetables.

As the most common pollinator, bees around the world help to cross-pollinate plants — helping them reproduce to ensure next year’s harvest.

It’s an added bonus that if you keep honey bees, you may just find yourself with a few jars of homegrown honey to mix into teas, spread on top of bread and sauce a fresh batch of chicken wings come harvest season.

“[The European honey bee] was introduced into Canada in the early 1800’s, first in Quebec, of course, as you might expect, but it spread extensively throughout Canada,” said Peter Kevan, former professor at the University of Guelph.

From Aristotle’s early observations of bees, many of which have now been denounced and are completely ludicrous, all the way up to Winnie the Pooh’s addiction-like affliction for honey, many have shone light on bees’ servitude to the world, and the uses for honey. And yet bees get a bad rap as rabid insects with the sole purpose of stinging humans.

“Animals are consuming another part of earth, where honey bees aren’t doing that. The nectar and pollen that they collect is providing a service to the rest of the environment,” said Ackroyd.

However, despite their actual role in nature, many municipalities ban beekeeping outright in urban areas due to the kneejerk reactions of their posing a threat to the general public and being a nuisance. And yet, there is this dichotomy of honey being seen as nature’s very own liquid gold.

For someone looking to get into beekeeping and maybe even just to test the waters to see if it’s the right fit for your lifestyle, there are many options to consider. Getting in touch with your local beekeeper’s association can be helpful in gaining the necessary exposure and mentorship without the risk of having the blood of a hundred bees on your hands from lack of knowledge.

“Keeping bees is not so much a matter of a difficult thing to do, it requires some understanding, as does any animal husbandry or agricultural endeavour,” said Kevan.

Mentors in the community are often open to sharing their knowledge and helping your colony stabilize. Come harvest season, many veteran beekeepers share extraction resources as they are an expensive investment to make.

“[Honey bees are] not something that you can just buy and let sit in the backyard like a tree and watch it grow. They need to be taken care of,” said Ackroyd.

To know how to prepare a beehive for the bees, what kinds of bees to buy and what related practices are necessary for the upkeep of the bees, you should also look into beekeeping courses offered by professionals in this field. Specifically, you may want to look to the University of Guelph’s weekend long course that’ll prepare you to have your first harvest come wintertime.

“[Despite popular belief,] a bee colony in winter is alive and well and warm inside. It’s burning up honey as reserves to keep warm. It doesn’t hibernate in the sense of freezing up — they’re very active,” said Kevan.

If you’re even more risk averse, like me, you may still be weary of having the responsibility of maintaining a hive all on your own. But, most likely, you don’t have the clearance under your yearlong lease to harbour one.

Luckily for us, there is an initiative under works to bring the Laurier Waterloo campus our very own apiary after Brantford was recently given the green light to do so and plans to have hives by springtime. Their two bee hives, one standard Langstroth hive and one familiar FlowHive, will be kept on the roof of the Marksquare.

Despite its high price point, the FlowHive has been a bit of an internet sensation, garnering millions of views, promising honey on tap without the hassles of complicated and expensive extraction methods — not to mention nearly eliminating the chances of your getting stung while extracting the honey.

But there’s something that seems a bit off if your goal of working with such interesting insects is to avoid any interaction — unless of course you’re deathly allergic to bee stings, in which case no, I’m not suggesting you put your life on the line to uphold my snobby ideals of animal care.

After referencing proposals from Laurier geography students for where apiaries may be placed on campus, the Sustainability Office, along with the university, has been working to abide by all bylaw restrictions and ensure that the hives will better students’ experiences on campus.

“We have a preferred location which is next to the Bricker residence building, in between that and the seminary parking lot. There’s a sliver of land that is populated by mature white pine trees,” said Tyler Plante, outreach and program coordinator at the Sustainability Office.

With Laurier students so passionate about environmental and social causes, such as participating in guide dog training, helping preserve the bee populations was a natural step for the campus that has been in the works for two years. The campus intends to host the Buckfast bee, one that, through a specific methodology, has been bred to be one of the most docile breeds today.

“The idea is that we wanted to connect the community and the student community who wanted to have opportunities over the summer to volunteer and we can show them how to look after the hive and just how great honey bees are,” said Richelle Monaghan, assistant professor at the Laurier Brantford campus.

Here, students will be able to adorn the cliché beekeeper suits, smoke the hives and learn all about the different roles bees take on inside the hive — contrary to popular belief, there is a rigid job structure bees abide by; they aren’t just a big swarm of angry needles.

“We would like to see it grow, but the issue is the Bee Act of Ontario. It has a lot of wiggle room in it. It says a collection of hives becomes a commercial endeavour, which does not define how many bee hives,” said Monaghan.

To start, the campus will be getting two hives and, depending on the outcomes of deliberations with law makers, more may sprout up providing us with more honey to reap in the fall-time. Nonetheless, it will take time for the community to learn about bee husbandry before we’re able to take on a larger role in preserving one of nature’s most vital insects. The larger your colony develops, more aspects come into play.

There is clear trend with young people gaining an interest in beekeeping and an overall understanding of the roles that bees play in our world, apart from being a creation of big pharma to push Epi-pen sales. And experts are seeing a bit of a resurgence.

“We don’t know where exactly the slight increase in bee population [in recent years] is from,” said Monagan.

“It could be from conscientious individuals that are doing their part and becoming beekeepers.”

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