re you bee people?” The passerby’s call comes to Janet Wilson while she tends to a cluster of pastel-toned, man-made hives in the corner of this Tsawwassen farmland. It’s the unassuming home of the Boundary Bay Bees apiary, and in what might be considered a huge understatement, its founder Wilson is absolutely a bee person.
She took up beekeeping about 15 years ago, after searching for a hobby that would keep her active in both mind and body. Starting with a couple of hives in her backyard, Wilson soon outgrew her home setup, moving through a few different spots before settling into this nook of Boundary Bay. Along the way, she earned her master beekeeping certificate through the University of Montana and started Boundary Bay Bees, selling raw honey to locals through word-of-mouth and signs along local walking trails.
For Wilson, though, it’s not really about selling the jars of (delicious) raw wildflower honey—it’s about everything else that the hobby brings. “It keeps me connected to nature,” she says. “I’m physically active, I’m connected to a community, I’m constantly learning—because we’re still studying these organisms—plus, there’s a schedule to it.”
A very basic snapshot of beekeeping: when Wilson arrives at the apiary, she consults her multi-tabbed binder, where she meticulously documents the general status, abnormalities, and any other notes about the 18 to 20 hives running at Boundary Bay. She then gets to inspecting, using a spouted metal bee smoker for the safety of all nearby beings; the smoke makes the bees think their “tree” is on fire, which is their cue to fill up on honey. This slows them down and in turn makes them more docile.
From there, Wilson’s day—typically stretching for four to five hours—involves going through the hives frame by frame, checking for progress, for queen bees, for whether anything is off (and if it is, figuring out why). Is the queen missing? Has a disease plagued the hive? “Every time you look into the hive, you don’t know what you’re going to find,” she explains. “So, you get logic puzzles, which is good for the noggin.”
As for the worker bees themselves, when they’re not building their combs, caring for their queen and brood, or regulating the hive’s humidity and heat to a precise 95 degrees Fahrenheit, they buzz away to collect nectar from nearby wildflowers—here, that’s orchards of apple and cherry trees, mustard plants, and blackberry brambles—to fill their cells and make beloved honey. Which brings us back to another of Wilson’s duties: lugging the 100 pound–boxes full of honey to her truck.
“There’s that connection to something bigger than yourself.”
Still, for all the physical labor, the mental gymnastics, and the seasonal stress of what she might find after the hives’ dormant winter, Wilson’s passion outweighs it all. “You can come here on a summer night—it’s beautiful,” she says. Her voice lowers to a hush: “You can hear them in there; they’re all up fanning, and the smell of the honey is in the air—it’s amazing. There’s that connection to something bigger than yourself. We’re mortal and they’re even more mortal than we are—so I think you appreciate the preciousness of that little short life, and you can’t help but understand that you’re precious, too.”
To keep from feeling isolated in her work, Wilson formed a club at nearby Point Roberts with a fellow keeper. Not only does this “create that sense that you’re not just individuals doing your own thing,” but it also helps maintain safe beekeeping practices—such as encouraging beekeepers to breed new queen bees themselves, rather than importing them from places like Chile. Along with the process being “a gas,” as Wilson enthuses, producing local queens can be more beneficial, since imported bees have the chance of being extremely aggressive and stinging “the bejeebers out of anybody who goes near them.” Honey bees, it’s important to note, are usually unlikely to sting, since doing so kills them. Wilson is adamant about making this differentiation: wasps and hornets are the ones who sting more often.
In her mind, it’s part of a larger issue of losing connection to the natural world. “I’m really concerned that as we become increasingly urban and we listen to the nimbyism, that there won’t be community apiaries,” Wilson says, “where a kid understands what a bee looks like and sees honey being made, and where you understand how our agricultural system works.”
What if we could move away from false idealized nature, from manicured suburban gardens with immaculate flowers and lollipop shrubs, from the idea that agriculture is something messy that happens far away? Wilson’s endeavours with Boundary Bay Bees forge a sense of connection—to nature, through nature.
“I think people desperately want to care about something,” she says. “You just have to give them ways to do it.”