In the last episode we talk a little about permaculture garden designs, and how they tend to be very efficient from a “calories in/calories out” ration point of view. Well what could be a more efficient way to produce calories and bee keeping? The bees do all the work and you eat half their honey! In this episode, we talk to Cory Bergman of Top Bar Honey Bee Co. about bee keeping using “Top Bar” hives, a very simple approach to this ancient practice, and very doable for the backyard gardener. These show notes comprise an abridged transcript of the Q & A that Dave and I had with Cory, and I have paraphrased everything to keep them short.
Q1. How did you get into bee keeping?
Cory: I grew up working on farms. I always wanted to have a farm myself, but I lived in the city. After doing some research, I found that bee keeping was an option that could work in an urban setting. The hive design that I use (Top Bar Have) was designed in Canada (Guelph, Ontario) for the purpose of arriving at a design that could be adapted from a broad variety of materials, cheaply, anywhere in the world. I make mine of Pine. I started with two hives, then went to ten, and now have thirty. I sell honey and wax products, and also build and sell the hives for customers. The top bar hive is very easy maintain, and requires no heavy lifting, so a very broad range of people can enjoy keeping bees. Finally, I really enjoy mentoring and sharing the art of beekeeping with my customers.
Q2. When do you harvest the honey?
Cory: You honey comes at the end of the summer. You harvest 2 or 3 combs every two weeks in August and September, and then leaver half the combs for the bees so that they can make it through the winter.
Q3. Can anyone keep bees? What is the law pertaining to bee-keeping?
Cory: Here in N.S. we have the Industry Bee Act. Anyone can keep bees, inside or outside city limits (HRM) but you have to register with the province. Urban bees in fact do quite well, because there is a lot of different kinds of flowers in urban and suburban areas. Every province has some form of legislation, so be sure to check that out if you are interested in taking up bee keeping.
Q4. What kind of work is involved in keeping bees?
Cory: At the beginning of the year you have to treat each hive with medication so that the bees can handle the presence of parasitic mites in their hive. Throughout the season you inspect your hives periodically to make sure the queen is doing o.k. (like 20 min every two weeks). If the spring comes late you may have to provide them with a little pollen to help out – but other than that you need to leave them alone most of the time because they do not like to be bothered. The most difficult task occurs in May, when the bees swarm. At this time, you have the opportunity to split your hive in two, and thus grow your bee population.
Q5. How do you process your honey?
Cory: You need a bread knife, a bucket, and a paint strainer. You chop the honey comb up, pour it into the paint strainer, and in the heat of August, the honey pours though, while the wax stays in the strainer.
Q6. What is the current state of the bee population, in N.S., Canada, North America, and the rest of the world.
Cory: Following WW2, agricultural practices changed, and began to use the monoculture approach and apply a lot of pesticides. This was very bad for bees and the bee population suffered as a result, but in recent years the efforts of concerned groups and individuals has led to a full recovery of our bee populations.
Q7. Do you get stung often, and what sets them off?
Cory: I do get stung sometimes. When you open the hive, the temperature change gets them angry. You deal with that problem with smoke, and wearing protective clothes. You also do your everything at midday, when half the bees are off gathering honey.
Q8. Does different flowers actually affect the flavor of your honey?
Cory: Yes, but more importantly, the flowers need the bees to procreate, so it’s all connected.
Q9. Do you provide everything needed to get people set up?
Cory: Yes, just check out my facebook page, and I have all the information needed there.