'Swarming season' might sound scary, but N.L. beekeepers are buzzing at beginning of new season

·3 min read
Beekeeper Paul Dinn said a honeybee's swarming season can last about three months. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)
Beekeeper Paul Dinn said a honeybee's swarming season can last about three months. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)
Beekeeper Paul Dinn said a honeybee's swarming season can last about three months.
Beekeeper Paul Dinn said a honeybee's swarming season can last about three months.(Heather Gillis/CBC)

The idea of a honeybee's 'swarming season' might sound terrifying to some, but it's music to the ears and the start of a new year for beekeepers across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Paul Dinn, a beekeeper at Adelaide's Newfoundland Honey, said the season usually lasts about three months, and helps bees reproduce, prosper and find a new home.

"The queen that's in the hive now, and about 60 per cent of the bees in the hive, will actually leave the hive and go looking for a new home," Dinn told CBC News. "A new queen will emerge, and reproduce and start a colony there, and the old queen will find a new home."

When a group of bees leave their old hive they find a new home in trees or buildings. Dinn said once the process of creating a new home is underway, the image can almost look like a basketball made up entirely of bees.

"They might find a crack in a little side of the home, get into the eve, and then the bees will start to actually build honeycomb and establish themselves," he said. "That's what we want to prevent. We want beekeepers to learn how to prevent swarming in the first place, but then also if they need to rescue the bees we want to do that safely."

Swarming bees can end up in tree branches or inside homes and chimneys.
Swarming bees can end up in tree branches or inside homes and chimneys.(Submitted by Adelaide Newfoundland Honey )

If a swarm does pop up in areas like a home or a yard, Dinn said it's important not to panic, assess the risk and contact a beekeeper to help. Safety is a priority for beekeepers like Dinn, who work to protect both the bees and the public, he said.

"You want to make sure that you're safe so you can keep the bees safe," he said.

Dinn said swarms can also impact beekeepers, as less bees in a colony can often mean less honey for people to harvest.

"Newfoundland's going to have a great future in bees." - Don Paul

Outside of the swarm, however, beekeeper Don Paul hopes a new bee colony isn't the only thing that will grow this year.

Paul is the first beekeeper to begin operations on Fogo Island, after moving there from British Columbia where he kept bees for 20 years. As the 2021 season begins, he said he's happy to get started on the island.

"Fogo Island is such a wild and wonderful location," Paul told CBC Radio's Weekend AM. "It's just been my goal to start growing bees on Fogo Island, to see if I can create more for Fogo and of course for Newfoundland."

Both Dinn and Paul said the province's bees are unlike anywhere else in the world, which puts the province in a unique beekeeping position.

Paul said Newfoundland bees are free of varroa mites, which have ravaged bee populations across North America. Because a portion of the province is an island, paired with strict provincial importation rules, Newfoundland is one of only a handful of areas in the world without varroa mites.

Don Paul, left, operates on Fogo Island.
Don Paul, left, operates on Fogo Island.(Fogo Island Beekeeper/Facebook)

"The Newfoundland bee is hearty because of our northern climate, and has to winter longer. It makes the bees clean and strong, and they survive really well," said Paul.

The uniqueness also presents an opportunity, according to Paul, who said sending clean bees across Canada could be possible as the beekeeping scene develops.

In the mean time, Paul said he hopes to continue to expand around Fogo Island as beekeepers elsewhere in the province look ahead to the new season.

"I've been hearing nothing but happiness from all the beekeepers that have made it through the winter with their bees this year," he said.

'Newfoundland's going to have a great future in bees."

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