Joe Lomond with a beehive at the Ashcroft Fall Fair.

Joe Lomond with a beehive at the Ashcroft Fall Fair.

It’s a sweet job as long as the bees are willing

Joe and Marg Lomond are still learning from their bees after nearly 40 years of beekeeping.

Everyone is familiar with the honeybee and whether we love them or are terrified of them, we can all agree that we need them.

Traces of beeswax have been found in the middle east that date back to 7000 BC. Egypt, China, Mesopotamia are just a few countries that have a long history of beekeeping. Production may have changed over the centuries, but the attraction is still the same:

“I like the tranquility,” says Joe Lomond. “Being out by myself in the fresh air.”

The honey is just the icing on the cake.

Lomond and his wife, Marg, operate Ashcroft Honey with their bees. What began nearly 40 years ago just out of interest – because it was different – has become a consuming fascination with common honeybee.

It began with two colonies in their backyard on Brunswick Place in Ashcroft in 1979.

It grew quickly to 500 colonies over the next few years as they bought more hives and moved to Thompson River Estates.

The early days were good and the bees were producing up to 40,000 pounds of honey. The only known enemies of bee-dom were the poisons that people carelessly applied to their lawns and gardens. They lost their first two colonies that way.

But everything was fine until the early 1990s when they lost 70 per cent of their bees – possibly to the varroa mite which was just making itself known among honeybee colonies. The mite has caused serious destruction among honeybee colonies throughout North America.

“I would say there are very few totally healthy beehives left,” says Joe.

“They’re all infected with the varroa mite,” adds Marg. “We have to learn how to manage them.”

“Until they find something that would just kill off the mites naturally or without harming the bees they won’t be able to eradicate them,” says Joe. “Mankind is its own worst enemy. He’s the one that moves diseases and mites…”

“All over the country,” says Marg.

“All over the countryside,” Joe agrees.

In the Spring, says Marg, “you may see a big truck going down the highway with a big net on it. They have 400 hives on it, moving them from the south back up to the Peace River. In the Fall they move them back down to the coast for winter because the winter is milder there.”

Joe says in the U.S., beekeepers move their hives from  Pennsylvania, New York and along the eastern seaboard in the Fall. They go to Florida for two months where they make their splits – or “nucs” which are starter beehives – and make new Queens. Then they’re all hauled across the country to California for almond pollination in February. After that they go up the west coast to Oregon and Washington for soft fruit pollination (peaches and apples). In June they go across the Dakotas for summer honey crop, after which they head back to New York and Maine for buckwheat and a couple of other crops. Then by September it’s back to Florida.

“And they move diseases wherever they go,” says Joe.

The Lomonds use miticides in their hives to manage the mite population.

“Beekeeping’s been good to us,” says Joe.

They travel around the province, attending conventions and meeting other beekeepers. Every Spring they hold a field day at their house for other beekeepers to share knowledge.

“We don’t know very much about them and we’ve been doing it for 38 years,” says Marg. “There’s always something to learn because there’s always something turning up.”

Swarms probably provides the most excitement for Joe. If the hive is getting too small for the Queen, she will leave and take most of the bees with her.

“And there goes your honey crop,” says Joe.

He says the best part of beekeeping for him is “probably catching a swarm that’s left one of your colonies. Go catch ‘em and put it back to work again for you rather than go some place wild.”

He’s caught swarms with a dipnet and a sack, he’s cut away walls to retrieve them, taken them out of a chimney, out of electrical boxes …

“He goes out in his shorts,” says Marg.

“It’s gotten now so that I work with no gloves,” says Joe.

“Living dangerously,” says Marg, shaking her head.

They import their Queens from countries with warmer climates so she can start laying her 1500 eggs per day to populate a new generation of honeybees each year.

The Lomonds extract most of their honey by hand, using minimal equipment. It’s heavy lifting, says Marg. The supers weigh about 80 pounds each with the honey and wax inside.

“We have to let the bees escape the honey boxes,” says Joe, either through controlled escapes “or we have to blow them out or brush them off the frames – you don’t want to take them to the honey house with you.”

They they remove the wax, spin the honey out and then strain it. Then they bottle it.

They send bees all over BC, says Marg. Last year they sold 150 nucs. A nuc is four frames of bees and two frames of brood with a new laying Queen.

They’ve sold over 100 nucs so far this year.

At their annual field days, beekeepers learn how to put frames together, put the wax in and how to pick up a Queen by its wings and mark them.

Ashcroft, Cache Creek, and area have several small beekeepers and about 50-60 in Kamloops.