What’s an Apiarist? It’s a beekeeper and I’m so excited about my interview with Abigail who keeps bees as a hobby.
I’ve been exploring various eco-friendly hobbies and passion projects lately. Last week I interviewed Amanda from Butter is Better. She had a lot of insightful information to share about her homemade skincare line. This week, I’m sharing an interview with Abigail.
Through my twin sister Julie, I’ve had the pleasure to make Abigail’s acquaintance. My twin sister really has the coolest of friends!
My husband, my 7-year-old son and I have talked about “what if” we kept bees in the back yard. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a serious conversation.
We don’t want to pursue it seriously, but we definitely love the idea of an apiary and we are very interested in the topic, so I’m so happy to share this interview with you.
1. Tell me a little about yourself?
I am a geologist who is lucky enough to have a great job. I ‘read’ landforms and sediments overlying bedrock then model how the different layers fit together. The models are used to help find and protect groundwater.
I am passionate about creating beautiful, chemical-free wildlife gardens that feed people and bring joy to the soul. I love long-distance hiking in the hills and mountains of Europe, Nordic skiing, birdwatching, cooking and knitting. I do not like leaches!
2. Why did you get into beekeeping?
As a teenager, my husband worked in an apiary near the northern extent of the Saskatchewan agricultural belt. Our move to northern Ontario rekindled that interest and after some convincing I agreed to give beekeeping a go.
3. Did you use a mentor? How did you get started?
Setting up a hobby apiary is an involved process, and so we joined our local beekeepers club. We attended meetings and participated in a hands-on introductory beekeeping course.
My husband had the opportunity to assist another beekeeper one summer, and this gave him valuable hands-on experience in setting up an apiary and working with bees. Finally, we were ‘bee ready’ and our first hives were delivered.
I didn’t think it was possible, but I fell in love with thousands of insects!
4. Do you need a large property to keep bees?
An apiary doesn’t take up a lot of space. However, provincial regulations state that hives have to be 30 m from property lines that are adjacent to buildings, parks and public places. Our property isn’t wide enough and so some good friends allow us to keep our hives on their property.
Together we selected a beautiful site surrounded by wildflowers, set up a solar-powered electric fence and installed concrete pads made from surplus building materials.
5. What’s the biggest challenge of beekeeping?
Our first winter was a sobering lesson in the difficulties of beekeeping. The hives did not make it. Rather than giving up, we obtained two new hives and haven’t looked back since.
Over the years we have experienced swarms, hives that died over the winter and even a bear attack. That was horrible! Our fence wasn’t functioning properly and I got a text the last day of a holiday saying a bear had trashed two hives.
There have always been challenges with beekeeping, but environmental stresses have made things increasingly difficult in recent years. Disease, parasites, loss of food supplies and changing weather patterns are just a few.
As beekeepers, we have become very aware of the destructive force that humans have on our planet.
6. What’s the biggest reward?
I think the biggest reward has been realizing how interconnected things are, and seeing how even small changes in our lifestyle can have positive impacts.
Have you ever gazed out over a city filled with decks, patios, gravel and lawns, and wondered where the bees, butterflies and birds have gone? It’s simple…no food means no wildlife.
Since becoming beekeepers we have replaced our lawns with perennial gardens filled with hardy and drought tolerant fruiting shrubs, flowers and herbs that provide food and habitat.
7. What types of plants should one plant in their backyards to attract more bees?
Bees LOVE bee balm! There are loads of varieties that clump rather than spreading everywhere. Russian sage, Bethlehem sage (lungwort), heuchera, milkweed, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan’s, asters, blazing star, tickseed, goldenrod, joe pie weed, thyme, oregano, catmint, sedum, cosmos and marigolds are other big hits in the garden.
8. What advice do you have for someone’s who’s looking at starting beekeeping
The best advice I can give is to spend a year or two learning before getting your bees. Joining local clubs, helping beekeepers throughout the season and doing on-line or in-person courses (such as the University of Guelph technology transfer program) are great ways to learn.
9. How much of a time commitment is beekeeping?
There is quite a lot of work in the spring and early summer. In June, July and August regular inspections and adding honey boxes happens every week or two. Then there is another busy period in the fall with harvesting the honey, timed medications and prepping for winter.
9. Is this an expensive hobby/ passion project/ job?
There is a lot of investment at the beginning, setting up a fence (with a good deep-cycle marine battery, solar panel and zapper), protective gear, getting all the hive boxes and frames, purchasing bees, and getting medications and supplements.
Then there is an ongoing cycle of replacing frames to keep diseases down. Equipment for extracting honey is also pretty expensive. I am talking thousands of dollars not hundreds.
10. Any final Words of Wisdom?
There’s a saying that you aren’t a beekeeper until you’ve been stung. So true! Also full brood boxes and honey supers are HEAVY and you have to be able to lift up them several feet and carry them with your finger tips. Having a partner makes all the difference!
So, now you know what is an apiarist, and what it takes to be one. Do you think you have what it takes?