It was a warm, sunny day in August when I sat down with Dan to talk about his passion for beekeeping. We sipped at our drinks next to the window of a local café in downtown Bowmanville as we watched moms with their children walk by and elderly women meet for their morning coffees.
Dan is an educational assistant who works with students who have learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder or down syndrome. When asked what his dream job would be, he said either his current job as an educational assistant or being a writer. Before beginning his work with bees, he had always wanted to write fiction. Now, he has created his own blog to share his experiences as a beekeeper.
He explained. ‘[I like] helping people with challenges, viewing things from different aspects, figuring problems out, working with people to understand that there are other ways to do things, that and just meeting people and understanding people.’
When he is not working, he fosters dogs with his wife Lisa. He also helps coach the high school football team where he teaches. Some years he has even coached three different teams. Despite all of this, he still manages to make time for his bees.
As we sat down, Dan pointed out the window to a nearby home with a maple tree in its front yard. He explained that was one of the many places he has been called to collect a bee swarm. Buzzaboutbees.net explains that a swarm is a group of bees surrounding a queen that has left the original hive and is searching for a new place to live.
This usually occurs when a hive becomes too large and the worker bees can no longer smell the pheromones that the queen is giving off. They then create a new queen. From there, the old queen and those that can still smell her pheromones will leave the hive.
When a call is made to animal control about a swarm in the Durham Region, the president of the Ontario Bee Association is contacted. Dan is a member of the Bee Association and is on the swarm list. When the president receives a call, he will then send one of the association’s members to collect the swarm and prevent it from being killed. Already this year, Dan has caught seven or eight different swarms from around the area.
‘When we got started, we got the interest from a TV show.’
You never know where a passion can come from. Sometimes it can be from something as simple as a show you watch on TV or something you see on Facebook that can lead you towards a new direction in life.
For many, bees are a source of panic. With the fear of an allergic reaction and the unpleasantness of a sting, bees are seen primarily as a nuisance. Not for Dan. After hearing about the bee crisis in 2012 while watching a show on TV, he and his wife decided they would look into what they could do to help.
‘Were we looking for anything? No. Did we know what would happen? Hell no. Are we having fun? Yeah.’
This led them to a weekend course in Port Hope that taught them the basics of beekeeping. That Sunday, they received their first four hives. Now five years later, they have 23 hives. This isn’t enough for Dan though. He explained that his goal for next year is to have 100 hives and eventually wants to sell his honey in stores.
Beekeeping hasn’t always been sweet. There was a winter Dan explained, where the temperature fluctuated between warm enough for the bees to leave their hives and cold bitter nights. When spring came around, he went out to his bee yard to open his hives. Down the line of hives he went, eager to start a new season.
Fitted in his bee suit, he opened the first hive. There were no bees remaining and part of the hive looked diseased. He took apart the hive and threw the frames to side to be destroyed as any infected frames could damage other hives.
He went down the row of his then 11 hives and after each one became more discouraged that there were none remaining. Only one of hives had endured the winter.
‘That speaks louder than words in life. Either you’re going to get discouraged and give up or pull your pants up and walk on.’
He decided to walk on and despite this setback, he is still passionate about beekeeping. He explained that he stays passionate by:
‘just knowing that I’m not only helping rebuild the bee population, but I’m actually doing something for nature, I’m actually doing something that isn’t costing anything. It’s costing me my supplies, it’s costing money for boxes, but as that happens, I just created 10-15 thousand bees.’
Dan’s passion is helping a very noble cause. Honey bees are extremely important for human beings as they pollinate an enormous portion of our fruits and vegetables. In an interview with CBC, ‘Bloomberg Business Week estimates bee pollination affects “$200 billion worth of crops annually.”
Last year from April 2016 to 2017, 33% of honeybees were lost in the United States alone says phys.org. In their article on the bee crisis, they referred to a survey conducted with commercial and small-scale beekeepers. They explained that while these losses are lower than last year, they are still extremely concerning.
Dan explained that even in the last few years, he has seen an increased interest in beekeeping. When he first started out with the Ontario Bee Association, he was one of fifteen members. Now there are over sixty. While there is a large amount of work to go, Dan feels optimistic that he and the other beekeepers are making a difference.
‘not quite a learning curve, but I’ve learned a lot. When you go into something to not study them, but to do a job, you never stop learning.’
When he started out, he knew very little about the subject. The weekend course he took gave him the basic information he needed to begin, but after that, he found that personal experience and talking to others helped fill in the rest.
Dan says he has never stopped learning and doesn’t plan to anytime soon. I’m going to follow suit and learn as much as I can from the incredible people I meet.
Make a goal for yourself today. Learn something new. Talk to someone new. You never know who you may meet.
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