Bee keeping is sweet and not just for honey anymore.
The art of apiculture is a growing trend in North America and people in the West Kootenay are joining in the movement.
The number of managed hives across Canada was 576,000 in 2009, which was 5,600 more than in 2008 according to Statistics Canada’s most recent report.
For several years scientists have fretted over the future of bees, and during the fall of 2006, beekeepers around the country reported massive losses in their colonies.
Bees were flying away, leaving their hive and live queen behind.
Becoming a honey bee steward is more about supporting a sustainable ecosystem that collecting nature’s nectar, according to Ootischenia resident and beekeeper Jo-Anne Stoltz.
In 2007, after watching a documentary about the decline of the honey bee and how critical the tiny animals are to food supplies worldwide, Stoltz and partner Paul Taylor have been keeping bees.
“I got up off the couch and said ‘that’s it,’ we are keeping honey bees next year,” said Stoltz. “I took a course that winter and the next spring we started.”
“It’s more than a hobby,” said Stoltz. “It’s a lifestyle that includes gardening, attention to food sources and the environment.”
Stoltz said keeping bees is interesting because honey bees are considered animals and are free to roam, and not “like keeping a dog in a fenced yard.”
“It’s about providing an ideal environment for them so they want to stay and forage for nectar and pollen. If all goes well and you manage the hive properly, they will stay with their queen.”
And what a beauty the queen bee is, added Stoltz. “I call her the super model, she’s elegant, lean and has a gorgeous long torso.”
Honey is the only sweetener used in the Stoltz/Taylor household.
“The honey itself does play into a holistic lifestyle but is not the focus,” she said. “It’s more about contributing to a sustainable ecosystem.”
The hobby of beekeeping has changed dramatically over the 40 years former Trail resident John Howieson has been practising the art.
Howieson’s family kept bees for generations in Scotland and after immigrating to Canada half a century ago, decided to keep the tradition.
Howieson now lives and keeps six apiaries (hives) near his Winlaw home.
He has witnessed the plight of the honey bee first hand and remembers the problems the little animals faced when he first kept hives in Trail.
“It took me a few years back then to realize that you couldn’t keep bees in Trail,” said Howieson. “The biggest challenge was the pollution from Cominco that killed them off back then.”
Howieson eventually relocated his hives to secure areas in Bear Creek, Waneta and the Pend D’Oreille.
“The bees were safe there,” he said. “Then the problem was bears, but nothing an electrical fence couldn’t fix.”
Back then, Howieson “gassed” his hives in the fall, killing the honey bees.
Each spring, “old George McIntyre from Rossland” would travel to California to bring back “three pound honey bee packages” to restart the colony, explained Howieson.
“You can’t do that anymore,” he said. “Importing bees from the States, and certain honey isn’t allowed anymore.”
This year, Howieson imported his bee colony from New Zealand, and these days he keeps the animals alive through the winter.
Pollution no longer kills the bees, now it is various diseases and mites that invade the bee hives, causing a colony to collapse.
“There are so many more problems now than when I first started,” he said. “Now we have a hard time with a disease which came from Asia and a small hive beetle from Africa. Keeping the bees has gotten a lot harder and takes more work these days.”
Trail, Castlegar and Nelson do not allow beekeeping in city limits, citing the practise as a noisy “nuisance.”
However, a city bylaw is not going to keep Trail resident Karen Godbout from supporting honey bees.
She stopped into the Beaver Valley District Library on Wednesday to talk to a group of youngsters about the importance of supporting bee colonies worldwide.
“Having your own honey is really cool,” she chuckled. “But it is only a fringe benefit,” adding, “It’s really about food security and supporting biodiversity in the environment.”