To bee or not to bee

The benefits of backyard beekeeping

Kevin Curley
Published on September 10, 2015

Bees are catching on in Newfoundland, and Mike Paterson of Upper Amherst Cove is a member of a newly formed association he hopes will grow in popularity.

Bees are the only insects to produce a food eaten by man. They assist with many of the world’s crops and they’ve been around for millions of years.

But the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping association was just formed in November of 2014 with an inaugural meeting in Corner Brook and roughly 40 members.

“Everywhere has them (bee associations). Every province and certainly every state and around the world they are common. So, it was overdue, but it seems there has been a rise in interest in beekeeping in Newfoundland in the last few years,” Paterson told The Packet.

Paterson has been involved in beekeeping for five years and in that time he has noticed a lot more people are getting interested by either getting bees or becoming aware of honeybees.

“The Beekeeping Association was basically started to bring some cohesion and unity to the beekeepers of Newfoundland and also advocate for them and to make our beekeepers stronger and safer against the bringing in of diseases,” Paterson said.

Newfoundland is the only place left in the world to be completely free of bee diseases. On account of this, there are serious bee importation restrictions that require enforcement.

Association president Dan Price has been vocal in supporting the bees and the province’s unique position.

“Varroe Mites, Tracheal Mites, Fowl Brood, Hive Beetle, Wax Moth — we have none of those that plague the rest of the world,” he said. Beekeeping here, other than fact that it’s northern beekeeping and there are climate issues – short seasons, cold summers, that sort of thing – beekeeping here can be seen as much easier because we don’t have to treat and worry about these diseases and use of chemicals.

With Newfoundland being totally clean, Paterson said its beekeepers are in a tentative position and they hope to remain that way.

Paterson was always interested in bees. With his daughter, Katie Hayes, being the owner operator of the award-winning restaurant Bonavista Social Club, it seemed like beekeeping was a logical progression.

“We grow all of our own food and raise our own animals and that manifested into the restaurant. It seemed like a logical step to bring as many local products and things that have local significance,” Paterson said. “Honey certainly is that. Increasing pollination in the area enhances what we are able to grow in our orchards and they’ve been better since we got bees. We feel it helps with the berry crops which are all around here.

“To be able to offer honey that is created in the community and collected from every flower that you see is truly mind blowing to me.”

Paterson said pollination is the biggest benefit of having bees, with much of the world’s food supply being dependent on pollination.

“They are a vital link and they are in jeopardy right now and I think that part of the upswing in the interest of the number of beekeepers is in response to the threat to the honeybee population in the world. That’s one of the advantages of bees, is the pollinating, and I’d say that’s the biggest thing,” Patterson said.

Honey production is another cause in the rise of Newfoundland beekeepers. Honey has diverse sugars with antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that people use for different reasons. It can be used medicinally and the products from the hive are being used for skin creams and royal jelly.

But with only 300 hives in Newfoundland, Paterson sees a lot of room for growth. He said a province this large, with a population of more than 500,000, could stand to have considerably more.

Pete Armitage of Portland is relatively new to the beekeeping game.

His late stepfather was a beekeeper and he grew up with the smell of honey houses as a kid.

He got his first colony on July 18 and made the trek out to Pasadena to pick it up.

“A buddy of mine in town, Dan Price, who is the president of the new beekeeping association, was always talking to me about the uniqueness of this province, in terms of being free of diseases and this horrible parasite called Varroa mites,” Armitage said.

He said with 25 per cent of crops being dependent on honeybee pollination, it seemed a natural fit to get involved.

“All of the almonds we eat, and almond milk, are entirely dependent on honeybee pollination,” Armitage said.

He also pointed out there isn’t a strong agriculture community in this province.

“We don’t have to treat our honeybees with miticides, therefore we’re in a position to produce organic honey here and we don’t industrial farming where there is heavy duty use of pesticides, herbicides and pesticides,” he said.

He said there is a definite need to build the beekeeping community, and that the low number of 300 colonies is something to be improved on.

“We’re a bit of a refugia here, we have some opportunities to expand our beekeeping community and I think in the future we could start playing an extremely important role and contributing to the survival of honeybees,” Armitage said.

“And also doing our best to secure internationally the pollination that is important to humanity.”

In next week’s edition, we look at municipal laws concerning urban beekeeping and the specifics around maintaining a hive.



Twitter: @kevincurleyjr