Meet Janet – Our Beekeeper at the River District Apiary

The colonies at the Apiary here in River District are a-buzzing and the bees are busy as ever during the warm summer season. Thanks to our Master Beekeeper Janet, all the bees are healthy and are doing an amazing job at producing our River District honey.

You may have seen Janet working, or even stopped by to chat with her about the bees! We asked Janet some questions on all things bee related, from how she got started to beekeeping to what it’s like working at the River District Apiary.

What inspired you to start beekeeping?

A few things came together to bring me to beekeeping. I was always enchanted with wild places and wild creatures of all kinds, and had been an avid gardener. So as my children grew up and one by one made their way in the world, I realized I needed to find some endeavours or occupations that would serve me as I grew older. Something outdoors, connected to the seasons, something science-based that required constant learning and puzzle solving, and something to keep me connected to my community.

Beekeeping seemed to tick all those boxes, so I tried one hive in our backyard… and the rest is history!

How did you become a Master Beekeeper?

My beekeeping education has been both formal and informal. I began with a weekend beekeeping course, and when I got my bees, I realized I really had to learn a lot more. So I took advantage of our geography, and joined the Bellingham-based beekeeping club so that I could take the Washington state Apprentice-Journeyman-Master Beekeeper stream of courses, which are offered in every state in the USA. It took a few years but I finally graduated with my Master Beekeeper from the University of Montana. Meanwhile, I was keeping more bees and honing my practical beekeeping skills.

What does a day in your life as a beekeeper look like?

A beekeeper’s day begins with a cup of coffee, and thinking ahead to what the bees are up to, and what they will need today! Referring to my bee notes, I take time in the morning to prep any equipment or feed I will need for the bees, and then on sunny afternoons you can find me going through the hives in the beeyard. Bees need to be checked regularly for health and vigour, so that is the main focus of my time in the beeyard. And in the evening I go over my notes for the day and generate my worklist for the next day.

What’s been your proudest achievement as a beekeeper?

My proudest achievement as a beekeeper is becoming skilled enough to help new beekeepers. My Journeyman beekeeper was an amazing instructor and bee mentor, and she asked us all to “pay it forward”. Beekeeping is very confusing at first and I really like helping people achieve success with their bees. I am also very proud that I have been conducting a queen improvement project and my queens are starting to be something very special. That is a great feeling!

How does taking care of the colonies in River District compare to other colonies you’ve taken care of in the past?

You can’t beat that Fraser River location, can you?! It is a beautiful location and I especially enjoy that the Apiary is close to the river trail, so I get lots of questions from the people passing by. It is a real pleasure to introduce them to the bees and show them how bees can prosper in an urban environment. It has meant a lot to me to get such great support from Wesgroup and the management team that oversees the beeyard. Our barn is a huge help and people love the gardens we have planted there. I am really looking forward to our public engagement activities and courses once the pandemic is behind us.

For anyone who’s had a bad experience with bees or is simply afraid of them, what advice would you offer?

We are all afraid of stinging insects! But most of the time, the stings come from hornets or wasps, who are quite temperamental. Honey bees are very different, very placid and calm, and focused on finding flowers. They are so easygoing that on most days (sunny, warm ones) I can beekeep in a tee shirt and shorts. That really surprises a lot of people, that the bees are that calm. Honey bees only sting if you vigorously harass them. That comes as a shock to most folks!

If you find yourself around an upset stinging insect, the best thing to do is calmly turn away and leave. That usually is all the insect wants you to do. But, if a wasp or bee does sting you an icepack really helps!

HONEY FOR SALE

Our busy bees have been making honey all spring and summer! To purchase your jar of honey, visit riverdistricthoney.eventbrite.ca (while quantities last).

For each jar of honey, half of the proceeds will be donated to support local charities. The other half goes towards the growth and maintenance of the Apiary.