Local bee project gets ‘a lot of buzz’

There is a quiet hum growing in the Highland Creek area of east Scarborough as the honeybee population increases. The honeybee is nature’s unsung hero, collecting nectar for their queens while pollinating crops and flowers. The surge in bee numbers is due — in part — to the efforts of a student group at the University of Toronto Scarborough and a local beekeeper. They want to bring attention to the plight of our tiny black and yellow friend.

In May 2010, four bee hives were placed on the roof of the Social Sciences building at the Military Trail and Ellesmere campus. The bee yard is meant to raise awareness about the importance of honeybees and other pollinators.

After two successful seasons on the roof of UTSC, the university and beekeeper Brian Hamlin are planning on expanding the Honeybee Project into the Highland Creek Valley behind the Scarborough campus. The expansion would include three additional hives and allow opportunities for the community to take part in beekeeping.

Billi Jo Cox, project coordinator with the office of business and administration at UTSC, is excited about the additional apiary in the valley.

“It’s such a great project, it’s really getting a lot of buzz, if you will,” Cox said. “We also want to put in a pollinator garden to create awareness about flowers and plants that actually support the honeybee and other pollinators.”

It’s such a great project, it’s really getting a lot of buzz, if you will.

— Billi Jo Cox

Community engagement will be an added benefit of the move, but bee health is a key motivation. The rooftop apiaries were modeled after similar ones on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. However, the buildings there have a natural wind and weather barrier in the surrounding skyscrapers that the buildings in Scarborough do not have.

“Here there aren’t as many tall buildings sheltering the hives, and last year we had to replace three of our four hives, the queen bees had died over the winter because of the wind and other things that we didn’t know because we were in the pilot phase,” Cox said.

The current rooftop location has also proven to be a barrier to students and the community who do not have access to the roof. The valley hives will be used as teaching aides for both students and neighbours who want to learn about ecology and conservation.

“Brian [Hamlin] is going to mentor members of the community that are interested and essentially teach people how to bee keep,” Cox added. “It will be a lot more accessible for everyone.”

In addition to extra hives a pollinator garden will also be added to the valley’s various community gardens. Pollinator gardens feature a variety of flowers and plants ideal for honeybees to collect nectar and pollen utilized in the honey making process.

Hamlin, who has been a beekeeper for 37 years, emphasized the importance of diverse plants and flora in natural honey production. Hamlin said it helps to not only increase quality, but honey made from the distinct plants and flowers of an area has a distinct taste. Eating local honeys has medicinal benefits as well, according to some.

If you would like to volunteer and learn more about beekeeping you can contact Billi Jo Cox.

“Honey has traditionally been used by many ancient cultures as a healing medicine,” said Hamlin. “Recently because of environmental issues, people have become aware of what’s going on with the planet, there seems to have been a reawakening of some of these things that are quite ancient.”

Hamlin is equally excited about the opportunity to expand his bee operation and engage those interested in beekeeping.

“I enjoy what I’m doing, it’s a passion. My idea was to make connections with the students and the community and by having them on the roof it isn’t really happening,” Hamlin said. “If it was in an accessible area people could actually observe them.”

Last year he was able to collect 70 pounds of honey from the hives in Scarborough, which quickly sold out at local farmers’ markets.

As part of his sustainable business model, proceeds were reinvested into the many hives Hamlin manages around Toronto and in the surrounding areas.

Hamlin and the UTSC hope to have the valley apiaries and garden ready in May.

With files from Nino Meese-Tamuri