Liz Goldie started beekeeping six years ago, but said she’s been fascinated with the insect since she learned about them as a child in school.
Growing up on a farm and moving to Calgary, Goldie decided to become a beekeeper.
“From my point of view, I just like the animal husbandry of looking after an animal and helping them produce honey,” she said. “And then of course, I get honey, which is a real benefit to any agricultural endeavour to reap some rewards for your efforts.”
Goldie is now the director of the Calgary and District Beekeeping Association, helping dispel myths and informing the public about the importance of bees.
“The biggest misconception is that (bees) are aggressive because they are not, they are very passive. Bees harvest pollen and nectar from plants, whereas wasps are predatory and they are carnivores,” Goldie said. “They’re kind of the wolves of the insect population, whereas the bee is more like a cow, so their behaviours are very different.”
The Airdrie Horticultural Society invited Goldie to host a beekeeping workshop at the Cam Clark Ford Airdrie Community Room June 21.
Although honeybees, which were brought by European settlers, are the most popular bees, Goldie said native bees help the environment in ways that extend beyond making honey.
“The reason why I’m giving this talk tonight is that just because you might not be interested in honey or looking after that many bees, there’s a lot of ways to help native bees,” she said.
Native bees operate as effective pollinators, working to facilitate growth in nearly every facet of an ecosystem. Goldie’s apple tree produced more fruit than she could manage, and the same thing happened with her raspberry bush, but she refused to give any of those away.
Goldie primarily manages honeybees on property in Pincher Creek and Calgary, but said she also has other bees hard at work.
“Honeybees are the bees that I manage. I also have some bumblebee boxes and leafcutter (bees) and mason bees to create a habitat for other pollinators,” she said. “If you provide a habitat, then we all become native beekeepers in a way because we create an environment where they can survive rather than the green-cut grass where there’s no dandelions, no clovers allowed.”
Goldie tries to provide a natural environment for her bees, providing leaf litters for bumblebees to nest under, hollow flower stems and undisturbed soil.
She said approximately 70 per cent of bees are ground dwelling, and one type called sweat bees make up the majority in Alberta.
Beekeeping is not an easy endeavour, she noted, as diseases can destroy a colony if not treated and bees may require help during different seasons.
Since the media picked up on dwindling honeybee populations due to the threat of Varroa mites – a parasitic mite that can only reproduce in a honeybee colony – the issue became a public cause and research was used to combat the threat.
“Through the understanding of the Varroa mites and the diseases, plus the better management of pesticides, we have seen a real increase in the honeybee population,” Goldie said. “The native bee population is something totally different and we really don’t have a good handle on that.”
The Calgary and District Beekeepers Association is a resource for aspiring beekeepers. The organization hosts events throughout the year to inform the public about bees, including the Calgary Stampede and Chestermere Country Fall Fair in September.
“Most of our work is outreach to honeybee keepers to help them become better beekeepers and manage their bees responsibly. The second is outreach to the community – we do a lot of school presentations (and) we go to community centres,” Goldie said. “The idea is that we want people to learn not just about honeybees, but also about the bee population and what you can do to help all bees.”
The best way to start the endeavour, she said, is to take a beekeeping course to learn how life cycles work, how to safely manage bees and how the equipment works.
The next step Goldie recommends is joining a beekeeping organization to keep learning more about bees through guest speakers and monthly meetings.
Whether it’s an urban or rural setting, Goldie said bee management practices generally remain the same.
Goldie advocates for people to get into beekeeping – even if they don’t like honey – to help the environment.
“There’s nothing better than producing your own food, to know exactly where it comes from and exactly what’s in it.”
To learn more, visit calgarybeekeepers.com