Ferdinand Verret, un gentilhomme rural

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Information on beekeeping in Quebec, in general, seems to be scarce. Finding details and photos of apiculture from the last century is even rarer. Thanks to René and his research I was informed of a wonderful site by Édith Bédard who has been recording her entire family ancestry. The family member Ferdinand Verret was probably typical of the beekeepers at the time. With her consent, I have added some of her text below. A wonderful accomplishment and dedication to documenting family history which all too often is neglected. Links follow to her site where you can read more about Ferdinand Verret and his period in history. Merci Édith.

Apiculteur passionné et reconnu. Mais c’est sa passion pour l’apiculture qui, de son vivant, fera surtout connaître Ferdinand Verret. En 1896 il se lance et achète des ruches, sans vraiment connaître le domaine! Autodidacte, il se passionnera pour le sujet et possédera jusqu’à 250 ruches au Trait-Carré. Son rucher, le Milliflora, produit un miel de qualité supérieure, ce qui lui vaudra des médailles d’or aux expositions internationales d’apiculture de Paris, Chicago et Glasgow, en Écosse. Les apiculteurs d’ici et de l’étranger  en quête de conseils se déplacent à Charlesbourg afin de profiter de ses conseils, le genre de reconnaissance qu’il ne dédaigne pas!

En 1910 il fonde l’Association (québécoise, dirait-on aujourd’hui mais ce qualificatif n’existait pas à l’époque) des apiculteurs, dont il sera président pendant 15 ans pour en devenir ensuite le président honoraire. En 1924 il préside le congrès universel d’apiculture, qui se tient à Québec. Il sera décoré de l’ordre du Mérite Agricole des mains mêmes du premier ministre Maurice Duplessis, le 5 septembre 1945, quelques mois avant son décès. Cet ultime honneur combla sûrement son cœur de « bleu » convaincu! 

Ferdinand ne faisait jamais les choses à moitié. Qu’on en juge : il ira jusqu’à produite 17 000 livres de miel dans une année! Une tâche titanesque et qui requérait de la constance et du travail. Il explique à plusieurs reprises dans son Journal combien parfois il peut être difficile de contrôler la migration des ruches. Lorsqu’une colonie décider de se déplacer et d’aller s’installer, disons sur la terre d’un voisin, il faut savoir user de diplomatie pour calmer les craintes des personnes à l’égard de ces insectes potentiellement menaçants ou à tout le moins incommodants! Sa légendaire diplomatie fait des miracles.

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Ferdinand Verret, un gentilhomme rural


Backyard Bees

backyard bees

The City of Gatineau has recently allowed the general public to own more than one beehive on their property. With this comes the question of how many hives could/should you responsibly operate in your backyard? How many hives can your residential district sustain? Of course, there is a limit but that does not always mean a property owner would know or care what that limit would/should be. Many beekeepers are new to the experience and may have illusions of grandeur. Possible dreams of becoming the next multi-millionaire in apiculture. Oh boy! Like all folks embarking on a new endeavour, many will look to the final product, honey, rather than the real reason bees need us today.

Let’s look at some historical figures: (Statistics Canada information)

Statistics Canada has been tracking the production of honey in Canada since 1924 when 22,205 beekeepers tending 280,010 honey producing colonies produced 16.8 million pounds of honey. Ontario accounted for about two-thirds of production in 1924, while Quebec accounted for one-quarter.

During the Second World War, the number of beekeepers rose from 27,150 in 1940 to 43,340 in 1945. Over the same period, the number of honey-producing colonies rose by one-third to 522,530. There were several reasons for this increase. Beeswax was a key component in making ammunition belts for the war effort. Also, sugar was rationed in Canada in 1942 and some people turned to honey as a substitute. While there was an uptick in the number of beekeepers and colonies, honey production remained similar to pre-war levels. The decade following the war saw a drop in the number of colonies, beekeepers, and production. By the mid-1950s all three were at record lows.

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Today the chart shows important figures but one stands out for our discussion.

They show the number of beekeepers dropping from 22,205 in 1924 to 10,629 in 2018. Not a good sign but one that possibly shows how the industry has evolved from small urban beekeeping to a larger scale business operation. Beekeeping was big business in 1924. It still is today and we can see that both hive numbers and honey production have increased. However large apiculture companies are striving to stay in business under intense environmental and economic adversity. In some aspects, beekeeping in the general publics mind has gone from an essential daily activity, similar to a backyard vegetable garden, to one of fear or worse, pity.

(The fear topic I will talk about in a later text.)

Let us look at the pity aspect. Lately, we have seen a handful of companies and large corporations trying to encourage the general population to support and help the bees. Some have good intentions and when done well they often have a close connection with scientific research trying to solve the problems encountered today. There is a long-term commitment by them through funding or other means to help. Results are not always immediate or beneficial to them, their shareholders or the bees. It takes good long term corporate ethics. No, that’s not you Monsanto!

Recently a particular cereal company may have stretched their marketing campaign a little too far. To obtain a free packet of sunflower seeds from this company, producing pollen for the bees, you must share,  excessive personal data. At first glance, it all seems admirable, warm and fuzzy. However, as the image of varroa mites clinging to my bees comes to mind, I personally do not agree with this parasitical information gathering method of marketing aimed at making me feel guilty. For lots of reasons I can feel guilty all by myself, thank you. Can I be assured that with their piddly* sachet of free sunflower seeds exchanged for personal details, I and the bees, can sleep soundly? That will not correct the bees’ problems. Just like an absolution in a confessional box given out in a seed-filled packet. It’s just not that simple.

More than any other time in history it is the bees which need our help. Perhaps in ways, we have never before contemplated. Possibly with methods that have no personal /corporate financial return. Now is the time to correct the imbalance in their environment that we have put out of whack*. Urban beekeepers could/can play an important part in re-establishing the honey bee back into our daily lives. Like the photo below suggests, bees and their hives can be a stimulating backyard activity and thanks to the support of the City of Gatineau, this is a step in the right direction.


Photo: Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec


“out of whack” North American, Australian/NZ – out of order; not working

“piddly” adjective – pathetically trivial; trifling


Winter colony losses- 2018/19


We have lost all four of our hives this winter. A repeat from last winter. We are unsure why as I am sure this will be your first question upon hearing this news.

The above photo shows the normal arrangement of dead bees with their heads plunged into empty cells. They all died rapidly and from starvation early in the winter. But that was a consequence of the real problem…we think. As is the case in beekeeping, the causes are not always easy to see. At the beginning of winter, all our hives were overflowing with honey reserves. They were also overflowing with bees. Too many bees! As we progressed into the winter season we may have had too many summer bees rather than winter bees. These winter bees are laid specifically by the queen, to protect her from the long cold months. We have to remember that summer bees live an average of six weeks and winter bees three to four months. If we look back past the winter to our summer and early fall period we will remember the extreme temperatures we had in mid-July. These reached 37 to 39 degrees Celsius for nearly three weeks straight. We experienced a dearth and the honey production stopped and did not start again for 2018. The queen however still kept up her egg laying and probably increased production throughout our fall syrup-feeding period possibly laying not enough winter bees or perhaps she did not have enough cell space to lay those winter bees or … or you get the idea. You are most welcome to contact us and give your advice. We welcome all possible explanations to help us through the next winter.


Our hives have been cleaned, moved to a new location (back to their old sight) and await the new colonies of bees from two sources. (photo above) We have been lucky to find new packages as the winter losses have been high and replacements are scarce. We start the new beekeeping year optimistic as always! And to prove that beekeepers have what it takes, well the photo below describes it all.

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Photo credit: unknown (merci)

Are honey bees detrimental to native bees?

Many thanks to Barry and Terrance in supplying the following text. It is greatly appreciated. One note to mention, the text is really a question for Newfoundland only. Mainland areas have different issues. One is that they have feral honey bees.

Text: Dr. Barry Wicks

Photography: Terrance Hounsell


Are honey bees detrimental to native bees?

Newfoundland and Labrador have a very small bee fauna compared to mainland Canada; a product of our isolation and cool maritime climate. There are around 80 species of bees in 5 bee families. The most recognizable native bees are the bumble bees (Genus Bombus). There are 12 species recorded but in reality, many of the bumblebees species are not abundant and people likely only see 4 of the most common species (example, Bombus vagans bolsteri in the east and Bombus ternarius in the west).

The western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is not a native species to North America. Here in Newfoundland, honey beekeeping began in the 1930s by a small number of individuals. In the early days the hives died off every fall and new bees were obtained from mainland suppliers in the spring. For a history of beekeeping in Newfoundland, see Hicks (2014). By 2010, beekeeping was still a small endeavor with 5 beekeepers maintaining around 100 colonies (Shutler et el. 2014). Around that time there was considerable media attention given to declines in honey bee numbers on mainland North America and elsewhere due to Colony Collapse Disorder. There was a concerted effort by non-governmental agencies for honey bee conservation. It seemed like everyone wanted to “Save the Bees”. The most well-known campaign was by a popular cereal brand, which appealed to the general population to help save the bees and to plant seeds that they supplied. The impact of planting non-native seeds is a different problem that is important but outside the scope of this thesis. Newfoundland and Labrador have seen an explosion in the number of people becoming beekeepers and in the number of colonies in the last 8 years. We went from 5 beekeepers in 2010 to over 100 beekeepers presently (and that is a conservative estimate). We have gone from 100 colonies in 2010 to an estimated 600-700 colonies. A couple of years ago there was an importation of 150 colonies from Western Australia into Newfoundland. That importation doubled the colony numbers at the time. We can assume that the beekeeper has increased the number as his intentions were to increase the capacity of his company as a supplier of bees to the local market.

Honey bees are known to natively impact the diversity and abundance of native bees (Torne-Noguera et al. 2016). The honey bees are exploitative competitors of wild bees for floral resources (Cane and Tepedino, 2017). In high abundance, honey bees strip flowers of their nectar and pollen preventing wild bees to go without or to use sub-standard nectar resources. If the wild bees are specialist feeders, these bees are unable to use resources from other flowers and thus will be more impacted then generalist bees. New queen bumble bees are produced in the late summer and fall and they must feed to build up fat reserves to successfully over winter. The limited floral resources at that time of the year will be overexploited by nearby honey bee colonies to the detriment of the bumble bee queens. Of most concern, is pathogen spillover by shared flower use of honey bees and wild bees. In recent years, a plethora of literature has been published showing that diseases that were once believed to be restricted to honey bees actually occur readily in many different bee species (see Singh et al. 2010, Furst et al. 2014, Dolezal et al. 2016, , Tehel et al. 2016). The viral (eg. Deformed Wing Virus) and fungal (eg. Nosema ceranae) diseases negatively impact wild bee populations and are transmitted through shared flower use.


In recent years the number of apiaries established around the St John’s area (and the Avalon Peninsula) has increased significantly. A conservative estimate would be close to 50 apiaries in the area. At this time we do not know what abundance of honey bees that will negatively impact native bees. But it is something that we should be thinking about since the native bee diversity is naturally low in the area. We cannot afford to lose any biodiversity of bee species. Studies should be initiated to determine whether native bees are being negatively impacted. On a final note to consider, native bees are much more important to Newfoundland ecosystems than honey bees will ever be. If native bee diversity and abundance declines, we will see significant changes in Newfoundland ecosystems, as many native plants require pollination by these native bees. Honey bees, while important in some cropping systems (eg. almonds in California) they are not important or required for the pollination of any Newfoundland plants. Honey beekeeping in Newfoundland is mostly as a hobby and people should reconsider beekeeping if their intentions are only as a way to “Save the Bees”. Saving honey bees may kill off the more important native bees. Something to consider.

References (all these are freely available on the internet)

Cane J.H. and Tepedino V.J. (2017) Gauging the Effect of Honey Bee Pollen Collection on Native Bee Communities. Conservation Letters 10(2):205–210.

Dolezal A.G. et al. (2016) Honey bee viruses in wild bees: viral prevalence, loads, and experimental inoculation. PLos ONE 11(11): e0166190

Furst M.A. et al (2014) Disease associations between honeybees and bumblebees as a threat to wild pollinators. Nature 506:364-366.

Hicks B (2014) The history and present status of honey beekeeping in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Osprey 45(3):11-14. (Available from the NLBKA website)

Shutler D, et al. (2014) Honey Bee Apis mellifera Parasites in the Absence of Nosema ceranae Fungi and Varroa destructor Mites. PLOS ONE 9(6): e98599.

Singh R. et al (2010) RNA viruses in hymenopteran pollinators: Evidence of inter-taxa vius transmission via pollen and potential impact on non-Apis hymenopteran species. PLos ONE 5(12): e14357.

Tehel A. et al. (2016) Impact of managed honey bee viruses on wild bees. Current Opinion in Virology 19:16-22.

Torné-Noguera A, et al. (2016) Collateral effects of beekeeping: Impacts on pollen-nectar resources and wild bee communities. Basic and Applied Ecology 17:199–209

Winter varroa treatment

The Honey Collective decided that today would be a good day to visit our comrade bees. The idea was to give them a treatment of oxalic acid mixed in with sugar water to eliminate any vestiges of varroa mites which might have survived the Fall treatment.


The day was a particularly mild with temperatures hovering around zero Celsius. Much to Comrade Clive’s delight (yes, the same one who was recently appointed Senior Member of the Strategic Operations Unit in The Third International), the bees were all in fine form: healthy populations and not too aggressive – probably in large part due to the relatively cold temperatures for bees. Comrade Norman and Comrade Luc (yes, the same one who was recently re-elected for a 2.76-year mandate) neglected to bring their bee suits. The heavy lifting and spraying had to be shouldered by Comrade Clive, who, in spite of being the only one with protective clothing, managed to get stung by these lethargic, shivering bees…


The collective was very happy to see that our beehives all seemed healthy, judging by the populations clustering at the top of the hive as well as the numbers flying out to greet us (and take the opportunity to relieve themselves of their “waste” that had accumulated in their gut over the winter so far).

We will next visit them mid-winter to clear out the entrances that may be blocked by snow and to remove dead bodies from the bottom board to allow for better egress. This will also allow for better ventilation to remove humidity that could build up in the hive.

The collective will now retire and go back to having meetings (plenary and local) and discussions to try to come up with a 5-year plan for the re-education of swarming bees.

Norman Paul