At University: Beekeeping at the COC
Fred Davis is prying apart and lifting segments of a bee hive, as if pulling folders from a filing cabinet.
"This is a drone layer," he says. "Not good. She's laying drones. She's not mated."
So Davis the beekeeper launches a plan. He'll combine this hive with another in the hope that female worker bees will ensue instead of drones. "I'll let the queens duke it out."
In a word: reginacide. Which seems apt, since the hives in question are on the roof of the Canadian Opera Company's new home, just above the spot where commuters alight from eastbound streetcars at Queen E. and York Sts.
This might seem like a strange locale for a pampered colony of bees, but the Paris Opera House has been doing a flourishing trade in honey for years, which is where Davis got the idea.
At the height of summer, more than 300,000 honey bees will call the COC home, residing in six hives akin to little wooden apartment buildings.
To the delight of gardeners, they'll forage up to five kilometres away, pollinating all manner of plants as they buzz from blossom to blossom. Which translates into a lot of honey.
This past year, Davis harvested roughly 250 pounds of honey from his hives here and at Casa Loma, leaving just enough to nourish a much reduced colony over the winter.
By the time the snow flies, each hive will house only a queen and between 2,000 and 5,000 bees. All the rest will have died off or been banished by their former peers, as if to proverbial ice floes. And that includes every single drone, those layabouts whose only work all summer has been trying to impregnate whichever queen they can tempt.
The royal one and her little coven, meanwhile, will spend the winter nibbling and lounging under a heavily insulated "bee cozy," awaiting the first clover, dandelions and basswood blossoms of spring.
For the queen, especially, it's a well-deserved rest. After her nuptial flight, in which she'll have mated with half a dozen drones, the queen has spent the summer laying up to 1,200 eggs a day.
She is, after all, a queen in name only. "The queen is not in control," says Davis, who is just finishing his second year of beekeeping at the COC, which gets to keep half the honey he produces there.
"She's pushed around by the collective. They tell her when it's time to lay. They tell her when it's time to swarm."
The latter event is precisely what beekeepers don't want to happen, since decamping for a new location "takes half your production away from you," says Davis, who toils by day as a contract manager with Accenture. "They take the factory workers."
The other danger: varroa mites. That's why a recent afternoon found Davis on the roof, cleaning up the hives and inserting yellow wafers of the pesticide Thymovar, which resemble melba toast on steroids. "If you don't medicate, they'll destroy your hive."
Not that there are as many simple certainties about beekeeping as you might imagine. "If anyone tells you they know everything about beekeeping, he's lying," says Davis. "You're always learning."
Beekeeper Fred Davis tends to one of his six hives on top of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen and University. To the delight of gardeners, they'll forage up to 5km away, pollinating all manner of plants.
LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR
Beekeeper Fred Davis keeps about 300,000 honey bees on top of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at the height of summer. This past year, Davis harvested roughly 250 pounds of honey from his hives here and at Casa Loma.
LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR
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