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Virden-area beekeeper turns his yard into a hive of activity

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Three years ago, Jessie Mason considered following in the footsteps of his grandfather by dabbling in beekeeping.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/07/2017 (1975 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Three years ago, Jessie Mason considered following in the footsteps of his grandfather by dabbling in beekeeping.

Today, Masson’s yard south of Virden is home to 100 hives, with anywhere between 20,000 to 80,000 honeybees living in each hive.

The hives’ populations run on the larger side as the season progresses.

Michaela Solomon/The Brandon Sun Jessie Mason showed off one of his 100 hives on Sunday morning. He lives south of Virden, and has chickens and pigs that he looks after with his wife, Julie.

“I started off as a hobby beekeeper,” Mason said. “I don’t know how many I’m going to get up to. I think next summer I’m going to try for 200 or 250 hives.”

Mason is one of a growing number of Manitobans taking up the art of beekeeping in the province.

Mason got into beekeeping after being inspired by his grandfather, Jack, who also kept bees — up to 700 hives at his home in Lenore.

“They say I’m the exact same as my grandpa,” Mason said.

“It’s become quite a passion of his,” said Mason’s wife, Julie. “He gets the American Bee Journal in the mail, and he’s always researching bees, and looking at videos.”

Mason’s passion and dedication to educating himself in the practice of beekeeping has paid off. This year, he expects to extract 20,000 pounds of honey from the hives, which he and his wife sell locally through their Mason Honey label.

Each female worker bee produces one teaspoon of honey in their lifetime, Mason said.

In fact, female bees do most of the work. Worker bees are all female, and bring pollen, nectar and water to the hive. They make honey and serve the queen.

Male bees are called drones, and do not have stringers, nor do they gather pollen or nectar. Their primary purpose is to mate with a fertile queen.

Mason discussed the process of requeening a colony.

“They can either do it naturally when they need one, and create their own new queen,” Mason said. “Or you can remove the existing queen. You need to give them a few days to let them realize that they’re queenless, and then add a queen cell, or introduce a live queen and they’ll accept her.”

Mason thinks more people should get into beekeeping, and said he encourages anyone with an interest to give it a try.

“Jump into it. Get a couple and see if you like it. I bet you you’ll love it,” Mason said. “But do your research.”

Doing their research seems to be exactly what those with interest are doing.

The University of Manitoba’s non-credit beekeeping course has been overflowing with students since a jump in enrolment in 2014.

There’s been a 10 per cent increase in beekeepers in Manitoba since then.

Interest in beekeeping seems to have been piqued after 2012, when the declining bee population started getting significant media coverage.

Ontario, in particular, took to the cause, restricting the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in corn crops to keep bees from being poisoned.

Although the rising number of beekeepers helps to maintain the productivity and population of honeybees, varroa continues to be a major issues.

“Left untreated, varroa, this parasite can wipe out entire colonies,” said Jason Gibbs, an assistant professor of entomology at the U of M.

Varroa are an external parasitic mite, and have had a significant impact on the beekeeping industry. It is one of the main factors of collapsed colonies in North America, Gibbs said.

“The mite is sort of like having something the size of a dinner plate, sucking on your blood,” Gibbs said.

Honeybees are susceptible to a bacterial infections and viruses as a result of the open wounds left behind by varroa. This can leave entire colonies weak, and cause them to collapse easily.

Controlling these mites takes diligence, and a lot of time spent carefully applying anti-mite chemicals.

“I would say if people are concerned about honeybees, the best thing they can do is plant native flowers.” Gibbs said.

He said the flowers create habitat for the bees, and provide them with a highly nutritious diet to help combat mite-related infections and disease.

» msolomon@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @mdsolomon

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