Bees: they sting us in the summer, but need us come winter

Two box beehives at Humber North. (Humber College)

Patrick Simpson

Environmental Reporter

As temperatures plummet, people can adjust by simply putting on a jacket, but Humber’s seven bee hives require constant adjustment and tender loving care from humans.

John Coffman is part of a duo of veteran beekeepers that work on making sure the bees at Humber stay warm and healthy during the winter season. He said the best way for bees to survive the frost is to ensure they have plenty of honey and are free of any parasitic mites that may carry diseases.

For the most part, the bees keep themselves warm with giant group hugs.

“They huddle together in what they call a cluster around the middle of the hive where they have access to food, their honey source, and they will move around in that cluster, in sort of a ball shape,” said Coffman. “The queen is in the center, and they’ll keep her warm and keep the hive warm to about 30 degrees.”

Parasites are not something the bees can deal with alone. Bees enjoy showers just about as much as cats do.

To deal with these parasites, Coffman uses sugar dust, which knocks off the mites and helps feed the bees. They also use a natural acid pesticide that kills the mites.

Outside of parasites and honey, the beekeepers plan to set up a windbreaker made from straw and a tarp to cover and insulate the box hives.

The bee project started when the Humber Arboretum installed two box hives. Those two hives were monitored by former Humber horticulture technology professor Heather Somers, who was being mentored by veteran beekeepers Fran Freeman and Coffman. However, when Somers retired from Humber and the Arboretum, the project slowed down.

But in 2014 the idea of installing hives on campus was jointly proposed by Humber Sustainability and Freeman. The two beekeepers and Sustainability Humber placed five more box hives on campus, two at Lakeshore and three at North in 2015.

Freeman said she had been interested in putting a box hive at the Lakeshore campus for years.

“I think it’s really important for people to make the connection between pollinators and environmental issues and the food they eat,” she said.

Freeman said honey bees are the type people tend to know about. However, she said there are a number of native bees found in Canada which get pushed aside due to habitat laws and pesticide use. She said the best thing people can do to help native bees is by planting native plants.

Humber Sustainability manager Lindsay Walker said the reason Humber installed the box hives was because of their importance to daily life.

“They almost check a lot of boxes in terms of sustainability, not just as an endangered species, but their significant impact on the environment and on our food systems,” Walker said.

Humber Sustainability is currently looking into creating workshops about bees and beekeeping.

The college harvested about 100 jars of honey last spring, but Walker said honey gathered from the Humber bees will not be sold. Instead the honey will be given as prizes, raffles and as gifts for special guests.

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