Honey Bees and Yukoners: A love story

Etienne Tardif, gloved and clothed in white, his face behind a dark mesh veil, slowly lifts a tray from one of his stacked beehives. He’s in a meadow just off the Annie Lake Road, south of Whitehorse.

“Whoah… this is heavy,” Tardif says. He looks closely at the tray, laden with sealed bees’ eggs and larvae, wax, honey and hundreds of focused bees. “God, she’s doing good.”

His queen bee is laying eggs like crazy, in a healthy roundish pattern. This means her worker bees are finding enough food to keep her going and the hive is thriving.

Tardif has been raising bees in the Yukon for about three years, having first done it in Ontario for several years. He’s one of an increasing number of Yukoners keeping bees as a hobby, though in Tardif’s case, it seems more a passion.

“It’s almost like meditation,” he says. “The honey and all that is great, and that’s what everybody asks you about. But the main thing is,” and he points to the peaceful field framed with mountains, “you’re out here.”

The Yukon Agricultural Association has noticed a sustained interest in beekeeping – hobbyists and farmers adding it to their activities, says Executive Director Jennifer Hall. They see Tardif as a local expert. He’s educated himself by constantly reading, observing his own bees, organizing workshops and establishing a network through Facebook, called Beekeeping North of 60 (Yukon).

Tardif knew of about a dozen Yukon beekeepers when he first started. There are now many more, he says, judging from the 250 members of the Facebook group, the roughly 60 people who’ve taken workshops over the last two years and the questions he gets.

“Now there’s more people with questions like ‘My bees swarm, what do I do?’ or ‘There’s no eggs in my hive, what do I do?’ So there’s more of people asking for help.”

Amanda Mouchet is one of the newbies, in her first year of beekeeping at her home on Cowley Lake.

“They’re so important on the planet, so threatened, and this is a small little population of bees we can help host in our garden,” she says. “I think that’s key… if lots of people could have small pockets of them, then we can at least be doing something to sustain them.”

The hives are a joint project with a family from Riverdale, says Mouchet, and have provided great learning for her kids. For example, 13-year-old Bella had little interest in the bees at first. Then her queen died.

“It became interesting to her as we worked on a solution,” says Mouchet. They merged the queenless hive with another and Bella became keen to see if the bees would cooperate. (They did.)

“She would say, ‘Mom! It’s sunny, can we go check?’”

Tardif, too, is intrigued by the challenges and mysteries. He measures wind speed around the hives and has installed sensors to monitor their temperature, humidity and weight. “To me it’s the science and the biology and the why.”

He knows the bees love fireweed, a wild source of nectar, so he tosses the plant’s seeds and stems around his property, inviting it to spread. He also has a test garden of scorpion weed, forget-me-nots, comfrey, arugula, borage, white mustard and saskatoons, among many others. It’s a gorgeous place of colour, sweet smells and constant buzzing, where Tardif can observe where his bees land, what plants they favour. “To me it’s relaxing, just watching the bees.”

Mouchet has also relaxed in at least one way: less lawn-mowing. “There are things I’m just letting grow a little more wild… because it’s all food now.”

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