Catherine, President of Newfoundland And Labrador Beekeeping Association
A look at why Newfoundland has some of the healthiest bees in the world and a discussion with the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association on how they work to protect the bees in the province.
Newfoundland has some of the healthiest bees in the world. And, although that may be surprising, it makes sense once you consider the logistics. Newfoundland is an island and is therefore secluded from any travelling pests and diseases that may be on the main land, so, until these are carried over, bees, or any other living thing, can live without the threat of these pests and diseases typically carried over by human actions. In addition to being pest and disease free, Newfoundlands has less agricultural development than other provinces so there’s less use of pesticides and herbicides. So, obviously Newfoundlands bee population is special and, with anything thats special, there needs to be protection to ensure its life and safety; thats where Catherine and the Newfoundland And Labrador Beekeeping Association comes in.
Catherine is what you could call the ‘Queen Bee’ of the Newfoundland And Labrador Beekeeping Association. Being the president of the organization, Catherine’s passion towards bee keeping, especially in Newfoundland, is obvious as she explains the logistics throughout the province. Her understanding and focus of associations and non-profits shines through her years of experience working for a not-for-profit organization that worked on history and heritage of Newfoundland. The only difference now is, instead of history and heritage, she’s focused her energy on bees and beekeeping within the province.
Catherine ultimately gained interest in bee keeping having initially never had a problem with insects or a fear of bees in general, but was primarily inspired by watching Queen Of The Sun and realizing, from that documentary, that beekeeping was definitely possible. She explained, “if people can keep bees on a rooftop in downtown Geneva, Switzerland or on top of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, then I can keep bees. People weren't being fancy about it, they just had a hive slapped up against a wall, and it looked like it was possible! Maybe not easy, but definitely possible”.
From there she found mudsongs.org where they explain, in detail, everything you need to build a hive and from that blog she had her husband build her first hive. Conveniently enough, her husband, being a skilled woodworker, succeeded in the project and with the help of another local beekeeper’s blog and some gifted beekeeping books found herself housing bees on her property after about a year’s period.
Considering beekeeping was still relatively new to the province at the time, Catherine quickly found herself making friends with other beekeepers and, through a suggestion from a fellow beekeeper, they found themselves forming the association in January, 2015. Having recently retired, Catherine was excited for the opportunity to volunteer her time. She explains, “I reached out to a few people I had met, and all of a sudden somebody else said, “You know, there's enough of us around now, we should form an association. We're the only province that doesn't have one and there's at least 30 of us keeping bees in the province.” And I said, “I'll help. I'm retired, I used to run an organization; if there's something I know how to do it's not for profit stuff. I'd love to be part of it.” The province was interested in having people doing this because they already knew of three commercial bee-keepers in the province.”
Probably the association’s biggest task is ensuring that Newfoundland stays free of the pests and diseases taking over the main land. Throughout the main land pests such as varroa mite, tracheal mite, small hive beetle, and wax moth have all had an affect on the bee population, but not only are these diseases and parasites bad for any bee keeper, they're particularly bad in Newfoundland. As Catherine explains, “People have lost a huge number of hives on the main land, and if we got those parasites here, we wouldn't be able to face our horrible spring. Our weather is way behind and we have an extra six weeks of ‘not spring’, which means we have six weeks less time for a hive to grow and collect and do well. So you really can't have the disease then.”. So, essentially if those diseases were to reach Newfoundland, beekeeping could almost be impossible to maintain.
Since the association can’t oversee every bee related transaction, their best approach is through education and encouraging the acquiring of queen bees and other materials from other beekeepers within the island and not overseas. “To avoid having to ship in from off the island we're trying to grow the production of queens and nucs, as well as the production of everybody dividing their own hives so everything stays within the island” she explains, “We're up from 300 to 500 hives so far!”
Although the actual number of members fluctuates, the association is growing and, at this point, “although the association is new, and most beekeepers only have a few hives, we seem to have a high percentage who join!”. So, obviously something is working. In addition to recent successful educations lectures, two recently released pamphlets, and continuous growth in hives across the province, they have also extended their efforts to educate on local ecosystems and the importance of native/wild pollinators.
If one were to have any interest in environmental issues, it’s hard to avoid the fact that our bee populations are under threat. With the use of pesticides such as Neonicotinoids and other insecticides within agriculture we’re essentially killing off our bee populations and other various pollinators that are essential to any healthy ecosystem. When these issues are brought up with Catherine her best advice, similar to her association’s mandates, are to educate yourself. “BEE aware! Be aware of your native pollinators and plant things that are going to grow from early spring until late into the fall” proclaims Catherine, “plant native to your area and avoid introducing new species of plants. And, don't be afraid of bees! Bees don't care about you, it’s only the wasps that are the real assholes.”
For more information on the Newfoundland And Labrador Beekeeping Association please visit: http://www.nlbeekeeping.ca
If interested in what your local native pollinators are there’s a wealth of information online but a great resource can be found HERE.
And, if interested in helping your local pollinators here is a list of a few common plants that will help in your gardens:
Finally, for more information specifically on how to garden for local pollinators you can visit HERE.