Week 2 – The Honeybee Research Centre

This week, we walked through the Arboretum in the afternoon and arrived at the University of Guelph’s Honeybee Research Centre. It was lovely sunny weather, and we went into the relatively unpaved forest, weaving under a metal gate and over a highway to reach our destination.
Before we were introduced to the beekeepers of the Research Centre,  Professor Borsato introduced the social hierarchy of bees and basic bee biology to us, drawing upon her experience as an amateur beekeeper. We passed around her beekeeping equipment to examine, such as her bee smoker, an old honeycomb super, and a queen cage (used for transporting queen bees through the mail).
After the mini-lecture, we put on hats and beekeeping veils, and the beekeepers demonstrated the use of a bee smoker and talked about the history of their beehives and operation.
The beekeepers took out the honey supers (the frames inside a beehive) and helped us look for the queen, dotted with a pink sticker, and passed around juvenile honeybees (they couldn’t fly yet) and some bee drones (they can’t sting) for us to hold gently in our hand and examine more closely.
We also took turns “petting” the bees, placing a hand gently onto the slow moving mass. They were fluffier and softer than I expected!
After that thrilling experience, we had a chance to dip into the bees’ supply of honey, tasting honey straight from the honeycomb and made from local wildflowers. I personally wasn’t a honey lover, but even I could appreciate the freshness and sweetness of the local honey.
To end the lesson, we sat beneath the trees and had a picnic with Professor Borsato’s own honey, bread and butter while discussing what we learned during this lesson, and enjoyed the last of the afternoon.
After this experience, I went home and watched Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?, a documentary that focuses on colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where the majority of worker bees in a hive flee the colony, abandoning the queen and their honey.
The film interviews various people of interest, spanning 3 countries and several continents, such as nature authors, professional and amateur beekeepers, bee historians, scientists and more, covering diverse aspects of beekeeping. Besides introducing the viewer to the history of bees, from the spiritual reverence for honey to the industrialisation of beekeeping, and the rise of domestic beekeeping in the form of rooftop and backyard beekeeping in urban cities.
The film also explored possible causes for bee colony collapse, such as the migratory beekeeping practices in order to pollinate California’s almond farms, monoculture, genetic modification, pesticides, chemicals used to alleviate bee diseases etc.
Queen of the Sun is a good introductory film towards the issues that bees face in the present, touching upon many facets and potential causes of colony collapse order, and is a must-watch for anyone interested about this keystone species.

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