Nfld. & Labrador

'Really, really busy' bees building buzz in Flatrock

Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.

'Beekeeping is growing at an amazing rate,' says the president of the provincial beekeeping association

The president of the N.L. Beekeeping Association says interest in the activity is growing. (Getty Images)

The hypnotic hum of 30,000 bees at their hive home just outside of St. John's is a sound the provincial beekeeping association hopes to hear more of.

I've never been afraid of insects, and I've never been afraid of bees.- Catherine Dempsey

"Beekeeping is growing at an amazing rate," says Catherine Dempsey, who houses the hives, and is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association (NLBKA).

There are about 120 beekeepers now — up from about 30 about three years ago, according to Dempsey.

"We've gone from three commercial beekeepers — people producing honey for sale and products — and we've got 10 now," she added.

Dempsey said personally, her efforts have proven fruitful.

"Over the years myself, I've had about 30 pounds of honey. But if you had a really good summer, you could probably take 50 to 60 pounds of honey per hive," she told CBC Radio's Weekend AM.

"When I got my honeybees, the number of apples, plums and pears that I'm getting off my trees more than doubled."

The birds and the bees

Dempsey said it's not for everyone, especially those who stiffen — or scream — at the sight of a lone bee.

"I've never been afraid of insects, and I've never been afraid of bees," she said.

She was heading into retirement when she got to talking with Aubrey Goulding of Paradise Farms, a honeybee farm business that sells beeswax candles, honey and other products.

Dempsey attended a beekeeping course taught by Goulding and decided to give it a go, even recruiting her husband to build the hives.

Catherine Dempsey says bees never frightened her. That's a good thing since she now has 30,000 of them living in hives on her property. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Dempsey is knowledgeable on a lot of topics related to bees, including the social — and sexual — hierarchy.

The drones, or the males, "their only one job in the world is to mate with the queen," she explained.

"Then they have this mating flight and the queen will mate with 15 or 20 fellas. She has the best weekend or 10 days of her life," Dempsey said.

"And it better be good because she's going to go back in the hive after that and never come out again. And she will do nothing except lay eggs for the rest of her life. So it's a weekend to remember."

The queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day so "the hive can fill up really, really fast," according to Dempsey, which is crucial.

"You have to leave the hive with a huge amount of honey for the winter. That's their food, they're not making it for us," she said.

Our bees are better

"One of the lovely thing about our Newfoundland bees is that they start to build the hive again really quickly," she said.

That's not the only advantage to beekeeping on an island, said Dempsey. 

"Because of our distance from everywhere else ... we do not have varroa mites here. We also don't have tracheal mites and a couple of other diseases," she said.

Dempsey said varroa mites are hazardous to bees for two reasons; they live off of the bee itself and are a carrier for a number of viruses, like deformed wing virus.

"If you don't catch it, you could lose a whole hive by summer," she said.

Bees dip into a bowl of dry, pollen substitute that Dempsey has laid out in front of the hives. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

On the other hand, Dempsey said, a lack of spring-like conditions in the province at times has a negative impact on beekeeping.

"The queen is not getting mated until sort of July, which means we are missing out on a good eight weeks of bee activity ... so it's harder for us to grow our hives," she said.

Still, she sees a lot of potential — for people prepared to do more than just buy into the buzz.

"We have a chance to grow beekeeping alongside the growth of agriculture in the province because the province is pushing to become more sustainable in food," she said.

"It's more work than people think. People are starting out by saying, 'I want to save the bees' ... you got to pay attention," she said.

With files from Weekend AM