I was very excited to meet Amber Yano and her bees. Amber has infectious energy and is clearly passionate about her work. After graduating with a degree in fine arts five years ago, Amber established her first hive. At the time, Amber claims she knew nothing about apiculture (beekeeping), but was very interested in bees and insects of the Order Hymenoptera because of the ‘colony mentality’. Insects of this Order have very structured caste systems that focus on community cooperation for the success of the society rather than on the individual.
Amber’s hives are dotted across the city. She maintains roughly 60 hives, with up to six hives per site, but usually grouping them in twos. We went to visit one of her Bridgeland sites that is home to six hives. As Amber opened the first brood box, I can’t say I wasn’t scared. Dressed in a protective hood however, discomfort quickly turned to fascination. Each hive has its own unique personality and the dynamic communication within the hive is impressive.
Amber’s main role is to keep the bees healthy. Amber does weekly check ups on each hive to ensure the maintenance of healthy hives. Since she does not use any sprays, catching any imbalance early is essential. Even before opening the brood boxes (aka beehives), there are indicators of hive health: the level of activity or a dead bee discarded from the hive, for example (bees are quite hygienic and will remove a dead bee from the hive).
When inspecting the inside of the hives for signs of health, there are numerous things to look for. A few examples include:
- Ensuring there are no indications of pests, mites or fungus
- The presence of fresh eggs laid in a consistent pattern, which indicates a strong queen
- The octave at which the hive is buzzing -- a sick or weak hive will be more aggressive because they are under distress, and in turn, buzzing at a higher octave
Amber finds new lessons in each year of bee keeping. To maintain healthy hives, education is key. Amber is primarily self-educated, studying physiological, chemical and environmental factors that impact bees and bee health. Despite a mild bee allergy, Amber aims to be an apiculturist full time in about two years, once she has established about 100 hives.
While pesticides are an issue for bees, habitat loss is arguably one of the largest threats to bee populations worldwide. Loss of habitat means fewer flowers and less nectar and pollen. So this year when you’re out planting your garden, consider planting for pollinators. They favour yellow and purple flowers, but are unable to see red flowers. Furthermore, if you ever have the opportunity to meet with an apiculturist and some bees, I highly recommend it! Visiting a hive is highly energizing and educational -- there is so much to learn from bees.