Building the hives.


Making the first cut.

After I purchased a starter hive box with some basic frames last summer, my Husband got the big idea to make his own hives. After all, they look simple enough, and he has ALL the tools. Simple right? From that moment there was no stopping him, and before I knew it the basement was full of sheets of pine, and the table saw was working overtime. The project was slow to progress over the winter, however, with Bee Season fast approaching here on the West Coast, time is now of the essence.

Thankfully he is a mathematician and knows his way around a power tool, the hive boxes rapidly came together, the frames were pumped out like a production line and the box joins are meticulous.

We now have stacks of hives, filled with frames and foundations piled up in our basement. My Husband has been spending his evenings at a beekeeping course to broaden his knowledge and prepare for getting our first hive (or two) of bees! I on the other hand, am busy preparing these new hives to paint. I’ve got some good ideas, but it is going to be a LOT of work.

Finished boxes ready for paint.

Finished boxes ready for paint.

Assembling the hive boxes.

Assembling the hive boxes.

A stickler for details.

A stickler for details.



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Honeybees live the good life, at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Beehives at the Fairmont Empress Hotel

Beehives & observation hive | Fairmont Empress Hotel

Just a short walk from my workplace in downtown Victoria BC, is the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Besides being a world renown hotel, it is one of a chain of Fairmont Hotels across the globe that takes beekeeping very seriously.

In 2011, 10 hives were set up at the front of the property, in an area known as the Centennial Garden. Located on a small plot of grass, against a backdrop of boulders and foliage, the area is low-traffic and not visible from the surrounding roads. There are no signs pointing visitors to the location, but those lucky enough to catch on, are treated with a little piece of heaven that 500,000 Italian and Carniolan bees call home. It is really quite Empress-ive.


Honeybees | Fairmont Empress Hotel

Victoria is known as the City of Gardens and the Fairmont Empress Hotel certainly lives up to that reputation. In addition to the Centennial Gardens and the very impressive Rose Garden, the groundskeepers work year-round to ensure continued seasonal plant and foliage growth – these lucky bees have it made.

The 3,000+ pounds of honey harvested each year is used in the the various dining outlets throughout the hotel, served with the famous Empress Afternoon Tea, is packaged and sold in the hotel gift shop and they have even crafted a wheat and honey beer with a local brewery, Hoyne Brewing Company! I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit when the beekeeper is tending to the hives, but one of these days I’d like to see him in action.

As an aspiring beekeeper myself, I can’t think of a better way to spend my lunch hour, than wandering through the gardens of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, peeking inside the observation hive and marvelling at the buzz of activity.

Fairmont Empress Hotel Observation Beehive

Observation Beehive (Left) | Wasp meets Guard Bee (Right)

Honey in the Fairmont Empress Hotel Gift Shop

Honey for sale in the Gift Shop

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How to Meet a Beekeeper.

After we decided that the Beekeepers Association wasn’t for us, I was beginning to wonder where we would meet beekeepers willing to share their experiences. I specifically am interested in local knowledge from people raising bees in our West Coast climate. Who does one talk to, to get good, solid, local information?

Earlier this month, I went to a local feed/tack store, which has a great selection of beekeeping supplies. My intent was to pick up a few starter items as a gift for my husband, to start him off assembling his first hive. I stood there for some time looking at the confusing array of items to consider – suits; queen excluders; supers; frames; tools, you name it, they had it and I had no idea where to begin. Then, in walked a customer, a beekeeper to be exact. We struck up a conversation, and he kindly provided a lot of helpful information. During this time, another customer arrived and joined the conversation…and just when I thought that things couldn’t get any better, in walks the owner of a local honey bee farm, Babes Honey! Suddenly I had the undivided attention of three experienced beekeepers and an opportunity to ask all kinds of questions!

Our first hive purchase.

Our first hive purchase.

When all was said and done, we spent about an hour talking and I received so much information that I can’t possibly remember it all. They helped me pick out a super and set of pre-made frames, and advised me on what kind of queen excluder to get.

So now I know. If I need any questions answered, I’ll just head to the Beekeeping section of Buckerfields. If I hang around long enough, the answers will just come to me.

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The day the last dandelion died (in my yard).

Every spring and fall our lawn comes to life, and so too do the weeds. My front lawn is a breeding ground for dandelions and I furiously pluck the heads off each new bud before they have a chance to go to seed. A few years back I even hired a service to come and spray my lawn to eradicate the weeds. It was satisfying to see the last of the dandelions shrivel up and die. My quest was complete.

When we got backyard chickens I no longer felt good about spraying the whole lawn to control the weeds, so I cancelled the service. I then began selectively spraying the dandelions with eco-friendly sprays and plucking their heads off before they could go to seed. This was more labour intensive, but with my chickens in mind, I was happy to do it. Maybe I could strike a balance after all.

'Weeds' have a purpose after all.

‘Weeds’ have a purpose after all.

I was recently in my yard spraying and popping heads off dandelions, when a mason bee landed on a ‘weed’ I was just about to pull. I stopped to watch it in action, furiously working to cover itself in pollen – it was fascinating. Then off to the next dandelion it went, and to the next and then the next. I looked around my yard and suddenly noticed that in addition to the dandelions, a lot of the ‘weeds’ on my lawn produce tiny little white and purple flowers, bees buzzing all around them collecting pollen and nectar. At that moment, I had a revelation: these weeds actually have a purpose! I just couldn’t bring myself to pop off one more head, or spray one more leaf.

Now we are on the verge of becoming beekeepers, so naturally I want to make sure our yard is inviting and free of chemical interference. With all the information out there about declining honeybee populations, disease and crop spraying, it is only right to try to give them the best opportunity to survive as possible.

It has been a long process, accepting the weeds. Accepting that they do have a place, even if it is on my front lawn.

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Where to locate a hive?

While we are still in the planning stages, something we have been giving a lot of thought to, has been where to position the beehive on our property. We live on .22 of an acre and our bylaw only permits hives to be located to the rear of the house, and of course, a specific distance from property lines – so we are limited in terms of options. We are however, fortunate to have our property back onto a mountain, so we do not have neighbours to the rear of our home and positioning a hive in our back yard is a viable option.

One consideration though, is we have a small flock of backyard chickens that we allow to free range. Of course we don’t want the hens getting curious and wandering too close to the hive, but somehow we must find a way for them to coexist without incident.

I have included some photos of our backyard, and I am considering leveling out a space on the back slope that is currently covered in green vine, which would keep the hive off the main yard area, and somewhat away from the coop/hens. I wonder though, regardless of where we position the hive, if we should surround the hive with some form of fence to prevent the chickens from getting too close.

Do you or anyone you know, have a similar situation/setup? I would love some feedback or ideas on how best to manage bees and chickens living in such close proximity.

View of our back yard.

View of our back yard.

View of our back yard.

View of our back yard.

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Learning before I go.

I couldn’t help myself. I don’t even own bees yet and I just had to get the latest edition of Bee Culture Magazine. I’m not known to have a lot of patience, so waiting to go to our first ever meeting (9 more days, but who is counting?) with the local beekeepers association is difficult. In the meantime I of course want to fill my time learning as much as I can, and this magazine fit the bill perfectly.

Learning all I can before we get bees, and Bee Culture Magazine is full of great information.

Bee Culture Magazine.

It seems most new beekeepers have Mentors, and the more I read, the more I understand it is absolutely necessary to have someone who knows what they are doing, help you with everything from setting up, to diagnosing problems. I’m sure we’ll find a mentor in our area and I look forward to working with them to get our hive up and running.

Ultimately I want to do right by these little guys!

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