Beekeepers embrace warm spring, begin prepping their hives for the season 

By Katlyn Streilein 

Some beekeepers around Manitoba are prepping their hives earlier than usual this year, thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures.

Beeproject Apiaries’ founders Chris Kirouac and Lindsay Nikkel are taking advantage of the extra time, as bee season is relatively short in Manitoba. 

The company’s hives — populated by the common Western European honeybee — are most active from late April to the end of August. 

 A summertime hive can contain more than 50,000 bees./Photo supplied by Jordan Janisse.

Kirouac and Nikkel were working in nursing before turning urban beekeeping from a hobby to a career. 

“We were really captivated by the magic of the honeybee,” Kirouac said.

He added it became apparent to him right away there are links between beekeeping and public health, animals, and farming. He said this discovery sparked his interest in educating the public about the role of pollinators in Manitoba’s ecosystems. 

“We love beekeeping in the city because of the educational opportunities,” Kirouac said.

This year, the company is figuring out new ways to engage with the public in lieu of in-person workshops. 

“With our virtual workshops, we were hoping to include things like a remote honey tasting. So, sending out tiny packages of honey for individuals to taste while we talk through the different characteristics of honeys,” Kirouac said. 

A honey’s colour relates to where it gets its pollen. Some flowers contain pollen that yields lighter honey, whereas buckwheat — a plant that produces grain-like seeds — creates a deep, molasses-coloured honey. 

Honeybees will fly up to a mile away from their home base to get the good stuff.  

Right now, Kirouac’s hives are gearing up in the countryside near Gimli. He hopes to operate up to 30 hives in the city this summer if Beeproject Apiaries’s hive-share program gets the same support it did last year. 

Beeproject Apiaries uses the hives, in part, to build community while teaching the public about the importance of protecting pollinators, Kirouac said. 

From 2017 until last summer, Manitoba Hydro hosted a set of Beeproject Apiaries hives on the third-floor rooftop of its downtown office. 

Chris Kirouac tending to hives on Manitoba Hydro’s downtown roof in 2017. “It was also great our hive was helping other plant life in the downtown area,” said Riley McDonald, media relations spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro./Photo supplied by Manitoba Hydro.

“We have a variety of native Manitoba plants and flowers planted in this space, so we were happy to have bees help pollinate them,” said Riley McDonald, media relations spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro, in an email statement. 

The staff reaped the benefits of having the bees around, too. 

“The honey was delicious — sweet and surprisingly floral — we packaged it as ‘Hydro Honey,’ sold it to employees, and donated all the profits to the United Way of Winnipeg,” McDonald said. 

If pandemic restrictions loosen in the upcoming months, McDonald said Manitoba Hydro will look forward to welcoming staff — and the bees — back to 360 Portage Ave. 

Jordan Janisse of Sweet Makers Honey Company is also getting a head-start on the season. 

Janisse said Sweet Makers Honey Company’s honey bees wintered well this year./Photo supplied by Jordan Janisse.

“This is the earliest I’ve ever been able to go into my hives,” Janisse said. “Some spring bees are already being born. It’s a transition between old winter bees and the new spring bees that’ll kind of run the hives into summer.” 

Janisse began keeping bees with a group of friends in 2012. Just like Kirouac, beekeeping started as a hobby and snowballed into a full-time job. 

Today, Sweet Makers Honey Company operates 32 hives around Winnipeg. 

In addition to keeping bees, Janisse helps run the provincial honeybee inspection program. 

The government contracted him and a group of other enthusiasts to monitor hives across the province for American foulbrood — a “highly contagious” bacterial disease that can kill bee larvae. 

“If we find it, we can treat it and diagnose it and help the beekeeper through that,” Janisse said. 

Each year, Janisse inspects nearly 5400 hives across Manitoba. 

“It’s kind of a way for the province to stay in touch with all the beekeepers throughout the province,” Janisse said. 

As soon as the city’s flowers burst into bloom, the bees will emerge from the hives and carrying about their business, making hundreds of trips back and forth each day to fill their hives with liquid gold.