The Mile End Buzz Around Beekeeping

This summer there has been a lot of talk in our neighborhood about beekeeping. Our elected city officials have started an apiculture pilot project, but the actual location has been kept secret.

One sunny Saturday as I cycled past the large poplar trees in the Champ des Possibles, a field at the end of our street, I spotted a small fenced in area with two supers, or the wooden boxes used in beekeeping. Hmmm...was this the borough's pilot project? Or was this some guerrilla beekeeping on the CN-owned field? A small sign had been placed in front with the beekeeper's contact information.

I got in touch and met with our apiculturist, Kathryn Jezer-Morton, at her bee station last Friday morning. The granddaughter of a beekeeper, Jezer-Morton was drawn to apiculture because of her concern for Colony Collapse Disorder, which is killing bee colonies. The disorder has been attributed to many things, such as the widespread use of insecticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified seeds and cellular phones, in addition to viruses and mites, but a consensus among scientists has yet to be reached as to the cause.

Jezer-Morton, who was 8 and a half months pregnant, told me that she had taken a beekeeping course at an agricultural college in Mirabel. She and husband Gray Miles had purchased a queen bee, a 5,000-bee colony, 2 supers and 20 frames, which fit inside the supers, for $260. They had initially planned to set up their station on the roof of a friend's home, but the climb onto the roof would have been too treacherous for a pregnant beekeeper. She and her husband consulted a group that oversees the Champs des Possibles and decided to set up their station there.

"It's the perfect guerrilla activity," I said. "There's no need to worry about vandals."

"So far, we've just had a few stakes removed from our fencing," said Miles, "but in general, the buzz of the bees triggers a flight response in most people."

The couple set up the colony in May of this year, and it has now grown to about 15,000, but apparently this was lower than expected.

"We think that our queen is old and tired," said our beekeeper. "Her pheromones, which attract the male worker bees, are weak."

Their option is to "requeen," which involves finding a replacement. A new queen can be purchased online at retailers like FW Jones in Bedford, Quebec, one of the largest beekeeping suppliers in Canada, but there are risks in retiring the old queen and bringing in a new upstart.

"There's a chance that the colony might reject and kill the newbie," said Jezer-Morton, "We're hoping that the colony might raise its own queen."

How would you feel about having a bee colony close to your home?

Of course, most of you will be wondering about honey. Just how much might an operation this size produce? Our novice beekeepers said that it was difficult to know for certain. They didn't want to take away too much honey, as the bees feed on it throughout the winter. In the coming years, Jezer-Morton and Miles would have a better idea of how much honey they would be able to give away. I'm sure that I will not be alone in wanting to pick up of some of the excess product.

As for this being the borough's beekeeping pilot project, I was sorrily disappointed. Our beekeepers were not involved, but expressed an interest in participating. We discussed how a barter system among city beekeepers would be beneficial, as would a collective for purchasing costly equipment, such as an extractor, which could be shared by everyone. Jezer-Morton also thought that it would be a great idea if the city employed an adviser who could visit the various beekeepers and offer some tips.

The presence of honey bee activity has many benefits for the Champs des Possibles. According to the author of Guide to Urban Flora, Roger Latour, honey bees help our native bees with pollination. Here is what the urban naturalist had to say about bee activity in our immediate area:

There are many apple trees in the Champ des Possibles. Native bees (like the bumblebees) don’t always cut it when it comes to thorough pollination. The honeybee systematically explores all the five corners of every apple blossom. We’ll get far more apples this year. Even more next year.

Although a bee sting is a painful and sometimes a scary experience, we can't forget that we would not have any fruit or other foods if it weren't for the pollination efforts of our busy bees.

For some great pictures of this beekeeping project visit Flora Urbana.

Picture top left by Eloi Champagne 

Other Guerrilla-related posts:
Delinelle Park and Garden: Adjectival Transgression
The Fate of the Delinelle Community Garden and Park
Trespassers in St. Henri Win City Gardening Contest
Liz Christy Seed Bombs and Some Not So Covert Bombing
More on Guerrilla-ing in NYC and St. Henri
Attention Guerrilla Gardeners: the Liz Christy Seed Bomb (a how-to)
What Exactly is Guerrilla Gardening?
Guerrilla Gardening: Tips for the Novice



Anonymous | August 21, 2010 at 4:03 AM

Bee good if they can breed their own. My cousin Trevor has been breeding Queen bees for many years & yes, sent them to Canada too.

Heather | August 21, 2010 at 4:09 AM

Yes, I just learned from our beekeeper that bees are actually sent in the mail! Who would've guessed!

Kimberly Walker | August 21, 2010 at 6:07 AM

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting... of course I had to swing by and check yours out... great blog! I am now following and look forward to reading more of your stuff.
All the best,

Sandy | August 21, 2010 at 7:46 AM

I remember the first time we purchased bees through the mail about 30 years ago. We received a panicked phone call from the post office saying "your bees are here. Come get them NOW!" Although the majority of the bees are caged with queen in her own little cage inside, there are always a few stragglers who hang on to the outside for the 'ride.'

Beekeeping is a fascinating endeavor. It's not like any other that I have done. I encourage anyone who is interested to take a class, hang around a bee yard, read.....we need all the help we can get with the CCD. Great post.

Heather | August 21, 2010 at 8:47 AM

Thanks a lot for stopping by Kim, and great comment Sandy. I can just imagine the frightened postal worker upon discovering that s/he had a colony of bees in his/her hands. I must admit that I find the whole beekeeping project fascinating. I especially liked the smoking part. Apparently, when bees smell smoke they think that they're home is on fire, so that start eating as much honey as possible. While they are busy doing this, the beekeeper swoops in and does her work.

Anonymous | August 21, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Fascinating subject, hope you keep track of the ongoing saga.


Ramil | September 23, 2010 at 9:09 PM

Yeah and it said that Honey bee’s beekeeping is one endeavor that is both gratifying and pleasurable. For one, the beekeeper contributes to the pollination of plants in the neighborhood. At the same time, he is able to produce honey.

Theoretical Shopaholic | November 9, 2010 at 2:50 PM

Does anyone know where exactly she learned about it in Mirabel? An agricultural school, a special class?

Heather | November 9, 2010 at 2:56 PM

Sorry, she didn't remember the name of the CEGEP. You might be able to find her on Facebook and ask her. H

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