Chassagne is an excellent location for encouraging honeybee and honey production. It has a variety of native wildflowers, plants and weeds, several natural water sources, untouched natural pastures and rolling hills, no other hives nearby, and hundreds of acres of pesticide free hay fields on and around it. We were particular in our search for a skilled beekeeper who would tend to his hives for several years and in return we would receive a portion of Chassagne Farm honey annually.
Ten hives of honeybees were established at Chassagne during the summer of 2010 thanks to the expertise of apiarist Doug McRory. Doug has recently retired from his position as Provincial Apiarist for Ontario and he has been a beekeeper for 45 years. Doug is an optimist hooked on bees and he is dedicated to this insect and its management. He carefully scouted the property to find the ideal location taking into account various factors such as prevailing winds, location of wildflowers and plants, protection from direct winds, and situation in relation to the sun. The bees are motivated in the mornings by adequate heat hitting their hives to go outside and get to work. If they are shaded too much they just hang around lazily in the hive. It has been such an education to learn about bees. It seems that apiarists are truly infatuated and very caring about their bees. Finally the hives are situated on a protected little piece of land nestled into the side of a hill with the century pines protecting them from the north wind. They face east and are on the edge of huge hay fields. There is a nearby pond and plenty of highly desirable wildflowers. Doug took careful attention with the bees in order for them to increase their numbers over the summer, ideally peaking at 35,000 to 45,000 thousand bees in each hive.
The history of beekeeping, known as Apiculture, is fascinating. While it is estimated that honeybees have been making honey on earth for 10 to 20 million years, man has been practicing beekeeping since about 700 BC. Closed pots of honey were found in the tombs of the pharaohs and it is still edible two thousand years later. Napoleon Bonaparte used the Bee as a symbol of immortality for his military forces. The body of Alexander the Great was embalmed in honey, and Albert Einstein was said to have commented that without bees on earth, man would be extinct within four years.
Honeybees play a role in pollinating a number of Canadian fruits, vegetables and crops, particularly cucumbers, melons, blueberries, cranberries and canola, according to the Canadian Honey Council. A 1998 study by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated the value of the bees to pollination at $732 million, a value the Council now says has climbed to more than $1 billion. There are about 10,000 beekeepers in Canada, operating a total of 600,000 honeybee colonies and 76,000 of them are in Ontario. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba produce about 80 per cent of Canada's 154 million kilograms of honey annually. By 2007 staggering percentages of cultivated honeybees died rather suddenly from Colony Collapse Disorder. Since then experts including our Doug McRory, have been rushing to prevent further losses by studying the combined causes of mites, movements of commercial bees contaminating healthy colonies, the effects of pesticides and herbicides, studying the effects of global warming resulting in more viruses, mites and fungi surviving through milder winters, and developing organic solutions to rid hives of mites. In Canada our honeybee losses have not been as dramatic as in the USA for various reasons. While we do have commercial bees shipped about for pollinating, our bees are not moved about as much and our bees tend to stay healthier and not be as exhausted from working. We have different climactic conditions in Canada and it is normal to have 10% winter loss of bees. We have in every province conscientious beekeepers who tend to the hives very well and network with each other in beneficial ways. In some regions higher winter losses have been reported, especially when there was a wet or dry summer season and plants did not grow as expected, thereby causing bees to not be able to collect enough pollen and nectar to make enough honey for their winter survival.
The honeybee (Apis mellifera) is the only insect that produces food eaten by man. Honey contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and water. A honeybee visits 50-100 flowers on a collection trip. Worker bees are female, live for approximately six weeks and they do all of the work. The Queen is the only one that lays eggs and she can live up to five years, laying up to 1500 eggs a day in the summer. The male honeybees (called drones) have no stinger, do not work and their sole purpose is to mate. A hive of bees has to fly 90,000 miles, the equivalent of three orbits of earth, to collect one kilogram of honey. The hexagonal design and construction of the hive is an example of natural extraordinary engineering as a comb weighing 100 grams can hold 4 kilograms of honey.
During 2010 the nearly half a million bees were encouraged to get established in their new colonies at Chassagne. Each hive develops its unique odour so that its inhabitants can identify their “home” by using their precise and highly developed sense of smell. The honeybees were regular visitors to the new herb and flower gardens located about the house. We are hopeful that in the summer of 2011 we’ll be able to harvest some of the fruits of their labour. It is normal to be able to get sixty to one hundred pounds of honey from each hive in a very good year and twenty to thirty pounds in an average year. …SWEET!