Long live the Queen Bee: The frontlines of Ontario Bee Rescue

© Joanne Crockett and Lee Mann

By Raye Mocioiu

We couldn’t live in a world without bees, and we wouldn’t want to, either. These small, buzzy creatures make a massive impact—without bees, humankind would lose more than a third of our food! Honey bees perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide.

Between pesticide use, habitat destruction, nutrition deficit, air pollution, and global warming, bees need our help! Fortunately, we have the power to make an impact to save the bees—starting with leaving bee removal to the experts who aim to protect them.

Ontario Bee Rescue operates from Meadowlily Farm, a small hobby farm of five acres surrounded by over 180 acres of parkland, Meadowlily Nature Preserve and Meadowlily Woods, in London, Ontario.

Bruce and Joanne, the owners of Meadowlily Farm and the Ontario Bee Rescue, were introduced to beekeeping by Richard Durnin, a 3rd-generation beekeeper who saw that Meadowlily Farm would make a great protected spot for bees. Durnin took Bruce under his wing and started teaching as much as he could about caring for bees, sharing something new each time he came to visit the farm.

When Durnin passed away, Bruce and Joanne decided to take over caring for the bees to honour him.

Bruce took two weeks off work to meet with beekeepers, watch videos, do research, and learn as much as possible about beekeeping. A few months later, Bruce and Joanne started Ontario Bee Rescue.

Once word got out that Meadowlily Farm had bees, phone calls started pouring in from people asking for help removing swarms of bees from their backyards. Bruce and Joanne started going on rescue missions to safely remove the swarms at no charge, bringing them back to the farm.

005 Meadowlily Farm
© Joanne Crockett and Lee Mann
005 Meadowlily Farm
© Joanne Crockett and Lee Mann

The Bee Rescue Process

“Bee swarm is a natural part of their growth,” Bruce shares. “When bees are swarming, they are very docile. They are not protecting their honeycomb or babies; they are just looking for another place to live.”

“A bee extraction is a removal of an established bee colony from a wall or floor in a house, shed, or garage. It is completely different than removing a swarm of bees. When called in for removal from a wall or floor of a house, you are dealing with an established bee colony that has set up house, built honeycomb, and has baby bees.”

While removing a bee swarm is a free service, removing an established bee colony requires patience, care, and a full suit of beekeeper gear to avoid getting stung as best they can. The first step to safely removing a colony of bees is figuring out exactly how large the colony is.

“We take out the honeycomb, being very careful to keep it as intact as possible, and secure it onto frames that are placed in a hive box that we bring to the removal,” Bruce explains. “While doing this, we keep an eye out for the queen bee. The queen bee is in charge and the reason for everything the colony does. Once she is in the hive, the other bees will follow her. Finding her and capturing her can be a very long process, as she is the largest and fastest bee in the hive, and the worker bees, her attendants, will give their own lives to protect her. We then take the hive box back to our apiary, and the bees will work at putting their comb back together and gathering new food stores.”

Did you know? A honey bee produces about 1/2 teaspoon or less of honey in her lifetime. The colour and flavour of the honey depend on what kind of flowers the nectar is gathered from. © Joanne Crockett and Lee Mann

Inside the Hive

We could learn a lot about community from watching bees. Everything they do is for the good of the colony, and it relies on a system of teamwork.

Inside a colony of bees, all the work is done by females. The queen bee’s job is to lay eggs and create more bees. She lays more than her weight in eggs every day. The other female bees work as cleaners, nurses, honeycomb builders, and guards throughout their lifetimes before taking on their final job of being foragers for the last few weeks of their lives.

Male bees are called drones, and their only contribution to the hive is to mate with the queen bee. At the end of the season, drones who do not mate with the queen are kicked out of the hive.

The Future of Bees

Our industrial world harms nature, which in turn, harms bees. Even so, there are so many ways that we can make the world a better place for our pollinator friends.

Ontario Bee Rescue recommends planting bee-friendly flowers in your garden and yard and ensuring that you don’t use chemicals or pesticides to treat your lawn and garden. As well, keep the dandelions—they are a super resource for spring!

When buying honey, opt for local! And most importantly, educate yourself and your family about bees. “Every year, we drive across Canada with the Bee Trailer, which helps us educate people about bees,” Bruce shares. “We meet other beekeepers across Ontario and work with them to expand the Ontario Bee Rescue network.”

“We care about the bees, and we put them in a hive within an apiary where they can grow. If you see a swarm of bees, don’t panic! Just call Ontario Bee Rescue.”

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