How I Became a Beekeeper

Photo by Emily Sytsma.

In grade six, our teachers made us take these personality tests that were supposed to determine what our ideal careers would be. The outgoing and persuasive students would receive predicted career paths like law or entertainment, while the creatives were destined to be artists and graphic designers. I, however, was destined to become either a tow-truck driver, or, ranking in at number one, a beekeeper. Neither of these options inspired lofty hopes or dreams and, as a fragile 13-year-old, I slumped into a feeling of pre-emptive failure and doom.

As years passed, I largely forgot about the bleak future that had been bestowed upon me, and moved into adulthood free of both large hauling equipment and stinging insects. That is, until a week before I started my degree at Trent. I stumbled upon the Trent Apiary listing on the Clubs and Groups page, and, remembering my foreshadowed beekeeping career, fired off an email – just out of curiosity. As luck would have it, it was two days before their honey harvest and I was welcome to come along. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I wasn’t sure that I liked bees. I thought I might be a little afraid of bees. But as an agriculture student, I was determined to get involved.

I headed up to campus in my seldom worn rubber boots and, after a warm greeting, was climbing into a for real, full-on bee suit! I felt indestructible. We were led up to the hives, and I was handed a hive tool, basically a small crow bar for prying open bee hives. I had no idea what I was doing, but after prying open that first hive and pulling out a single frame, dripping with fresh honey and crawling with hundreds of furry, gently buzzing honeybees, oblivious, going about their business, I was hooked. How so many tiny creatures can work together seamlessly and meticulously, yet willingly yield to us, still fascinates me today.

I joined the Trent Apiary Club right away, helping out whenever I could. Over a two-year period, I learned the ins and outs of responsible beekeeping, bee biology, the global honey industry, and the growing plight of pollinators everywhere. Today, as co-president of the Trent Apiary, along with the ever-supportive Brazil Gaffney-Knox, I feel personally and emotionally attached to our sweet bees. I worry for their safety over the long, cold winters. I worry that the land our bees occupy will be lost to development, or pesticides, or both. In the mean-time though, we will continue expanding our humble apiary. We now have seven healthy hives, and are able to provide local, responsibly sourced honey to students, faculty, and community members alike.  We are able to share our mandate surrounding the issues of responsible animal husbandry, healthy pollinator habitat, and thriving local food systems. Furthermore, we meet with wonderful volunteers who help out with hive inspections and honey harvests, who share that same first powerful experience with beekeeping that I had.

In all honesty, it is unlikely that I will pursue a career in beekeeping. The industry is highly competitive and can be risky, but I feel it will be a lifelong hobby. It’s been a long-time coming since that fateful, albeit once discouraging, career test, but it just goes to show, opportunities and passions can arise out of the most unlikely scenarios. The important thing is to step of your comfort zone from time to time, and stay curious. Hey, maybe next time I’ll give tow-truck driving a try.

The Trent Apiary was founded in 2013 by Trent alumna Whitney Lake, who completed her master’s thesis on bee biology; is a full-time apiarist; and teaches beekeeping courses through Traill College. Without her, none of this would be possible. We are truly grateful for her ongoing inspiration and guidance.

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