They’re a familiar sight all over Pictou County and beyond in the summer: little fuzzy black and yellow bumblebees buzzing from flower to flower collecting pollen to bring home. Whether you like them or like to avoid them, the busy bees are always hard at work pollinating flowers and making honey.
After a good summer honey flow, Donald Dunbar of Dunbar Apiaries just past Hopewell, is hoping for a good fall honey flow as well. With five sites all over the county, Dunbar is just as busy as his bees during honey season going from site to site. The summer honey flow saw two of his sites perform really well, one good and two not as well as the others, which could be for a number of factors including other bees moving into the area.
“It’s getting to be a better year than last year,” said Dunbar.
During a honey flow, he can collect 100-150 pounds per hive. With extreme heat this summer compared to previous years, he shared that usually unless the heat gets too far above 25 degrees it doesn’t bother the bees, but it may affect the honey crop due to the flowers and other plant life that the bees collect pollen from wilting in the heat of the sun.
The bees on Dunbar’s site at home have their own little sanctuary in a wooded clearing protected by a fence from raccoons, skunks and bears. Dunbar shared that although he does get stung sometimes, it’s usually due to his own clumsiness. He has to be aware of each little bee and be careful to try not to squish any as he pulls out or slides a frame, the part that the bees build honeycombs on, into a super, the name of the boxes that hold the frames.
“It’s not unusual to get stung and it’s not unusual to not get stung,” he laughed.
Along with an area for hives, Dunbar has his own honey house on his property. He shared how he takes a frame of honeycomb and turns it into a jar of his wildflower honey. Beginning with the hives themselves, Dunbar must use a special layer at the entrance of the hive to prevent the bees from getting back in once they leave. After some time he will return to the hive and take the frame full of honey out and shake off the few remaining bees. Frames are taken to the honey house from there.
The uncapper, a heated metal tool, removes the caps on the honeycombs of each frame and 10 frames are put into a big metal drum called the extractor. From there they spin rapidly to make the honey come out which all drips down into the clarifier where the honey is heated. It goes through a filter and then into another drum that Dunbar uses to fill various buckets or containers with the finished product.
“I started when I was 16 or so but I haven’t been doing it continuously,” he said, adding that he put what was then a hobby to rest while he went to college and did some other things.
“I’ve been keeping bees (continuously) since 1977.”
Over the years he has slowly been expanding his hive numbers as a hive gets bigger to prevent swarming. Beekeepers separate a few supers from the main hive, these are called nukes. A nuke is then left to pick a new queen and rebuild their hive into a thriving one or be robbed by stronger hives in late fall early winter after the fall honey flow. Nukes help beekeepers make some extra money by selling them or expanding the number of their hives to recuperate from winter losses.
After taking half their honey, Dunbar usually gives his bees a bit of feed to help them survive the winter. The spots he chooses are also important to help the bees.
“You want to have a sheltered, sunny location with good air flow,” he said. As he can’t own land all over the county, he finds spots that would suit bees and aren’t too close to other hives, then asks the landowner if he can use the space.
“The landowner gets 10 kilograms of honey as rent,” he laughed.
A frame covered in honey bees is inspected by beekeeper Donald Dunbar. (Brimicombe photos)