NL·Point of View

Let it bee: How an infestation led me to become so passionate about the beauty of bees

Carolyn Stokes recounts how a fluke encounter started a journey that changed how she looks at honeybees and their world — and our world, too.

I started a journey that changed how I look at bees and their world. Our world, too

CBC reporter Carolyn Stokes was a little nervous about whether this protective gear would be enough when the time came to move her little housemates. (Carolyn Stokes/Twitter)

Rare are the days I don't hear the question, "How are your bees?"

It comes from strangers in the supermarket, people passing on the street, acquaintances, colleagues, friends, family — pretty much everyone. 

It's a question that always elicits a wide smile and an exuberant update, one that usually includes an unsolicited fun fact (or two) that I've learned about bees.

It tickles me to the core to share what I've learned since I discovered our house had become a home to 40,000 bees — give or take — and started on a journey that has changed entirely how I look at bees and their world. Our world, too. 

I've learned so many fun facts, like this: Did you know a queen bee can live up to five years, and only leaves the hive once to mate with a dozen or more males who die immediately after "the act"?

And, that after one mating flight, the queen lays up to 2,000 eggs a day?

Did you know the queen can choose the gender of each bee she creates?

And that male bees, called drones, don't have a father, but do have a grandfather?

Amazing, right?

Wait, there's more

I also learned that pure honey, when it's sealed, never goes bad. That bacteria and microorganisms can't survive in honey because it has too little moisture and too much acid.

Critically, I learned that Newfoundland is one of few safe havens for honeybees — in the world — because it is untouched by the vicious Varroa mite that is decimating global bee populations. Our island isolation means our honeybees are extra-precious creatures.

Believe me, I could go on, but when I do, the poor person who asked that simple question — "How are your bees?" — usually takes a subtle step backwards as their eyes skirt around for an exit sign.

Honeybees and wasps may look similar from a distance, but up close, there's a distinct difference. Note the orange clumps are pollen that honey bees collect using special baskets on their legs. (Carolyn Stokes)

That's my cue to rein in the enthusiasm.

For now.

Yes, honeybees have become something of an obsession. And it has been this way since August.

That's when that hive was discovered in the walls of my house. At first, I thought it was a wasp nest in the dormer above a window, but after using an inspection camera to peek inside, and then posting that video on social media, better-informed people jumped to correct my misidentification.

Let it bee!

4 years ago
Duration 8:58
Watch how a fluke encounter started a journey that changed how Carolyn Stokes looks at honeybees and their world.

The bee discovery was a strangely coincidental and delightful shocker.

Strangely coincidental, because a few weeks earlier, I had interviewed a local beekeeper, Paul Dinn of Adelaide's Bee Reserve, about a swarm of bees he rescued from a high voltage area at the Avalon Mall.

Off-camera, we chatted about beekeeping as a hobby. I pummelled him with questions, and realized how little I actually knew. I couldn't even tell the difference between a honeybee and a wasp.

How to get started? I had no idea

Being an avid gardener, the idea of caring for bees was deeply appealing to me. My husband and I talked about it in the past, but I had no idea how to get started.

My interest in beekeeping clearly made an impression. Dinn later emailed me the message, "You are going to be a beekeeper someday! I'm sure you have caught the bee-bug!"

As it turned out, "some day" had already arrived, but I didn't know it yet. A mere two days after Dinn's email, I posted the video of the misidentified "wasp nest," and Dinn quickly emailed again, this time to declare that bees had adopted me!

I was gobsmacked.

And then the drama began.

From a house to a hive

Dinn had rescued many swarms before, but had never transported a colony from a house into a hive. He and his wife, Brenda, eagerly accepted the challenge.

Moving bees to a hive was not an easy process. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

The mission was to open the wall, and then gently transplant the bees and their honey into a proper hive by attaching each slab of honeycomb into an empty frame that slides into the wooden box.

My husband was out of the country, and I enlisted my handyman father to saw open the wall to expose the inside of the dormer.

Yes, honeybees have become something of an obsession. And it has been this way since August.

The four of us donned the beekeeper suits, and Dinn lit the smoker to keep the bees calm.

The room immediately smelled like a camp fire. (In fact, it still does.)

I realized I had no idea why bees get more docile when exposed to smoke.

Dinn explained that smoke is effective for two reasons: it interrupts bees' pheromonal communication so they can't warn each other about a threat. As well, it triggers survival instincts.

If bees sense a forest fire, they gorge on honey in case they're forced to abandon the hive. Full bellies make bees sluggish. Imagine that feeling you get after a big feed of turkey dinner. 

Despite learning that fun fact, I worried the bees would attack and wondered if the suits were really enough protection.

We were, after all, dismantling their home. Surely the bees would not allow that to happen without a fight.

Carolyn Stokes was more than a little surprised to learn how many bees had been living in her house. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

After some cuts with the electrical saw, we created a door to the hive and I braced for a biblical-style descent of winged demons, hell-bent on stinging us to death.

It didn't come.

Instead, the bees seemed to ignore us, as if they all had better things to do.

My jaw dropped as I peered up to see a dozen slabs of honeycomb smothered with bees. They were moving as if the sum of thousands made a single creature, and a deep, visceral humming noise filled the room.

Surprisingly, my skin didn't crawl — instead, I was dazzled and filled with high-pitched excitement. An uncontrollable squeal of delight burst from my throat like air escaping an inflated balloon with its opening pulled taut. 

Keeping the bees safe and sound

It felt like receiving an extraordinary gift.

With the close guidance of the Dinns, I wanted to protect that gift. I decided to keep the bees.

It took the entire day to carefully transplant each slab of comb into the hive. Then, we had to wait until dark for the forager bees to return. No soldier left behind!

At midnight, Paul Dinn came back to the house and sealed up the hive for transport to his bee reserve in the Goulds area of St. John's, where they care for 52 other hives.

The bees had to leave temporarily. Even though their honey was moved, they would still consider the dormer their home.

Sharing the pleasure of the experience

We had to put some distance and time between them so the bees could adjust to the new, temporary hive. Plus, there were repairs to be done. After a couple of weeks, Dinn would bring the bees back and transplant them again into a bigger, permanent hive that I would have the pleasure of painting myself, to put my own personal stamp on it.

A hive is not a home until it has some bright colours. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

I wanted to share every part of the experience — from the bee rescue, to painting the hive, to the return of the bees, and whatever new delightful idiosyncrasy I had learned about the precious pollinators.

I have been posting videos online and continue to talk about the bees on Here & Now. 

It has turned into something of a saga that, for some reason, seems to resonate with people.

And, indeed, it continues to be a topic of conversation everywhere I go.

I couldn't "bee" happier!

Colony of bees — and pounds of honey — found living inside Carolyn Stokes's house

5 years ago
Duration 4:22
Meet the colony of about 40,000 honeybees found living on the top floor of CBC host Carolyn Stokes's St. John's home. Paul and Brenda Dinn of Adelaide's Honey helped Carolyn take the bees into their new home in the backyard.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Carolyn Stokes


Carolyn Stokes is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and frequently cohosts Here & Now.