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Bob's Bees

A day with a local Sudbury beekeeper

by Karen Bringleson

A stack of bottom boards Bob made for his hives
A stack of bottom boards Bob made for his hives
Bee boxes and parts
Bee boxes and parts
Hive cleaning tool
Hive cleaning tool
Smoker
Smoker
Bob feeding his bees
Bob feeding his bees
Bob's Bees
New and used box frames
New and used box frames
Feeder from the top of a hive
Feeder from the top of a hive
The bee yard
The bee yard
Honey extraction equipment
Honey extraction equipment

Finally a sunny, warm day; well, not that warm because we're all wearing jackets but spring-like at least.  It's been a harsh winter - the coldest temperatures and most snow northern Ontario has seen in nearly twenty years.  We're in the last week of April and there's still a lot of snow piled up in shady areas but it's going.

I'm as close as my fear will let me be, watching and snapping pictures.  He's moving slowly between the rows, tending to his livestock.  Each stack of plastic wrapped wooden boxes is surrounded by a huge flowing swarm.  The hum feels like it is coming from everywhere.  The whole scene is full of life and fraught with danger.  If I ever saw this many bees in any other situation I would have bolted by now.  I am afraid; he is clearly not.  The beekeeper is not wearing the protective gear I expected -  no suit, no mesh covered hat to protect his face, only gloves.  His movements are careful, deliberate and cautious but he is calm, talking to me and to the bees the whole time.  

Watching the bees and the keeper changed a tiny piece of my world view.  In my world, bees are bugs - flying insects that I mostly don't even distinguish from other flying insects like hornets or wasps; and they scare me.  I have always vaguely known bees are important pollinators but I am mostly just afraid of being stung.  This man has a relationship with these insects.  They are little "feeling" creatures - not bugs to be swatted or squashed.  He is a farmer and these are his animals.  He cares for them, worries about them and works every day to ensure they are safe and comfortable.

Bob Dewar has an apiary at his home in Lively.  He's been keeping bees for more than 20 years.  Bob is admittedly addicted to bees.  When I called, asking if I could come and see his operation, I could hear the giggle in his voice.  "I can talk bees all day".  He has a big sign he puts at the end of his driveway "Honey for Sale" but he doesn't do it for the money.  Bob's bee yard, like most of the 300 or so apiaries in northern Ontario, is not a commercial operation.  It is more of a hobby that supports itself.

As part of his work with the Sudbury District Beekeepers Association, Bob mentors new beekeepers and organizes an annual one-day beekeeping seminar for beginners.  Bob seems to me, the perfect guy for the job.  Two fledgling apiarists were busy assembling and painting their bee boxes the day I visited.  The new hives will be housed in Bob's bee yard initially so that the new keepers can benefit from his experience and advice.  These folks were very excited about their bees!

There is a lot more to beekeeping than I could have imagined.  What looks like Bob's garage from the outside is actually a bee equipment building full of bee boxes and frames, treatments for diseases, equipment for cleaning hives and collecting honey, and a bee jacket which Bob says he only needs to wear when he is taking honey from the hives.  "They know I'm taking their honey and they don't like.  They make it for themselves, not for me."  There is also an epipen hanging on the wall, just in case.  Bob says he has been stung but not very often.  

Alongside the bee yard is a little honey house with several specialized pieces of equipment Bob uses to extract about 1400 pounds of honey annually from his 16 hives.  He sells raw honey, honey comb and cream honey.  The surfaces in the honey house were, not surprisingly, very, very sticky.  

The first time I spoke to Bob Dewar he warned me about getting "hooked" on beekeeping.  I assured him I was in no danger of becoming addicted.  This whole thing started with a beekeeping seminar Eat Local hosted in January.  I had been hearing so much on the news about bee losses, colony collapse disorder and chemicals in the environment. I wanted to understand.  Tracey and Dan Seguin's excellent presentation just made me want to learn more.  

Bob has invited me back for another visit once the hives are fully open.  "Don't worry" he said, as he brushed away a really friendly bee who had been paying me way too much attention.  "We'll dress you up in that bee suit over there and you can look right inside the hives".  

I'm afraid but I'm going back.  And I'm going to the May meeting of the Sudbury District Beekeepers Association.  I think Bob may be right - beekeeping is a slippery slope.


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Karen Bringleson (Karen Bringleson)
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Member since Novembre 2013

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