Oh honey! Kids young and old learn the art of beekeeping in Yellowknife

From drones and queens to honey and beeswax, 12 families have been learning all about the art of beekeeping in Yellowknife this summer.

Since June, Jennifer Skelton's yard has been home to two hives abuzz with honey bees. She was part of a beekeeping collective when she lived in Toronto years ago and now her nine-year-old son Jordi Cassus is taking up the hobby. 

"Since he was about three or four [he] was super interested in beekeeping and his favourite bedtime reading was a university textbook called Biology of the Honey Bee," she said.

"He [was] just very persistent over the last several years — 'we've got to get bees, we've got to get bees.'" 

Emily Blake/CBC

Members of the beekeeping collective in Yellowknife check the hives every two weeks. They look to see if the queen is laying eggs and if the bees have enough food and room to grow.

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, decked out in a white beekeeper suit, Cassus helps to check the hives, removing the frames and smoking the bees to calm them.

"I was checking the hive like to see if the queen was there and doing well," Cassus explained.

He said other people should get involved in beekeeping because "it's fun and a good thing to do." He added his favourite part is "probably collecting the honey."

Skelton said a lot of kids involved in the group have a natural interest in bees.  

Emily Blake/CBC

"They learn a lot, like they ask questions and they get right in there," she said. "They're learning about bees and their life cycle, they're learning about honey and then they start getting interested in flowers and where are the bees going to get their nectar and their pollen."

"We're not expecting to get loads and loads of honey out of the deal — hopefully some — but yeah it's also an educational experience." 

The hives, which have roughly 30,000 to 40,000 bees, belong to Matthew Vincent. He helps to mentor the collective along with Skelton. 

"It's just a bunch of lovely folks all in the Trail's End area. A lot of interest in learning how to beekeep," he said. 

Emily Blake/CBC

One winter four years ago, Vincent said he started reading and watching YouTube videos about honey bees.

"How the organization or the hierarchy of the hive works, how they work as a single unit is completely fascinating," he said. 

The following year, he got a hive to see how the bees would handle winter in the North. Now he has six hives in his backyard and last year helped bring 26 hives from Alberta, which have gone on to Gameti, Norman Wells, Inuvik and Yellowknife. 

Skelton said the harsh winters are the hardest part of keeping bees in Yellowknife as the hives can't be opened in the wintertime and the bees need enough food to survive.

"They kick the male bees out which are the drones and so it's the workers and the queen and they'll move through the hive consuming the honey and the pollen and keeping the queen in the centre so she's always warm," she explained.

Emily Blake/CBC

Skelton said she hopes the collective will grow and that they're planning to apply for funding to have their own hives next year.

"We're excited. We're hoping that this will continue and that we'll keep going over the next several years."