Friday, June 12, 2015

Hamilton Urban Beekeepers

The air was warm that mid-spring afternoon, and although the likelihood of rain was high, we weren't too concerned--the rain would hold off for our visit to the beehives.
Juby and I (Beatrice), accompanied by Amina Suhrwardy on her bike, met up with Brandi Lee Macdonald, urban beekeeper and instigator of the OPIRG McMaster working group for the Urban Bee Keepers (HUB). The other partner to the project is McMaster Beekeeping Initiative, that have helped establish  the hives on the northwest side of campus.

Created to respond to the decline and colony collapse, HUB offers
 hands-on workshops for the community on responsible urban beekeeping and organize field trips to local apiaries. HUB partners with academic departments to offer an experiential component to students conducting research on honeybee colonies
They also sell honey! Most delicious on lightly toasted bread, with a dab of butter.

I was a little nervous about being stung, but Brandi had Juby and myself, well suited up to face the two hives.
Brandi directed us to come in from behind the hives, since the front of the hive is directly in their flight path. "Approaching the hive from the front, or standing in front of it puts you in their flightpath and in their way as they zip in and out of the hive," she explained.

It was astounding to hear that bees have facial recognition, that is, they are able to recognize individual human faces! We learned that in winter, there are around 10,000 bees per hive (the Queen bee stops laying eggs in winter) but at peak season, each hive has over 80,000 bees. Each hive can produce up to 80 to 120 pounds of honey.

The Queen lays around 1000 eggs a day, lives for 2-3 seasons and peaks in the summer.
"Bees are curious," Brandi shared with us. "You can tell what their temperament is. These are sweet natured."
She approached them with smoke, talking softly to them: "Smoke calms them down," she explained. Pausing to listen, "You can tell by the sound they make what mood they are in."

The hives are made from Langstroth style wooden hive bodies and frames, and wrapped with black corrugated plastic. Even in winter, they stay nice and cozy, at 30 degrees in temperature, the heat being generated by the bees' bodies (metabolic heat) as they cluster in a big ball.

Brandi delighted us by removing the frames so that we could get a first hand view of the bees in action. The frames inside the hive are where the honeybees draw wax comb for storing honey and pollen, and rearing their brood.

The first hive was very active, the bees sprung off, whizzing around our well protected heads! The second hive was far more sleepy.

It was also interesting to see the different colouring of the bees, some black, dark brown and others yellow and orange--a reflection of their genetic diversity in the hive since the queen mates with multiple drones on her mating flight, so there is a healthy genetic mix in the hive population.

We learned that the colour of the pollen also varies. The bees bring in pollen from different flowering plants (which are different colours), as they are in bloom throughout the season. We observed white pollen from nearby willow trees opening up on Coldwater Creek, and a dark, indigo-coloured pollen from some variety of Phacelia.

We discussed the possibility of offering a tour of the beehives in partnership with the Pollinator Paradise Project, likely to happen in upcoming weeks, so please stay tuned.


As we ended our visit, the racks of bees securely back in the hives, the sky opened up and we made a dash to the bus stop, Amina pedalling away swiftly and Brandi dashing to her car!

Check out the Hamilton Urban Beekeepers.

The Art department had students in the environmental art program create artful bee hotels from recycled materials to attract native bees (as opposed to honey bees, which are European). Here are some examples of what they came up with. Love them!