Hay River is now home to thousands of new residents, though most people will only feel the impact in increased harvest yields of berry crops and eventually some honey.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while,” said Andrew Cassidy, wearing a very different suit from his usual mayor’s garb. “We knew we wanted pollinators, and we figured why not have them producing something as well?”
The bees, enough to fill about a dozen hives, came all the way from New Zealand and were hived at Cassidy’s small farm in Paradise Gardens earlier this month. The farm also plays host to several acres of berry orchards and other crops, the pollination of being the main reason for acquiring the bees in the first place. While Cassidy’s partner, Helen Green, makes jams and other naturally sweetened products that will make use of the honey, he said the bees will need this year’s harvest to sustain themselves through next winter.
“The honey will be a huge benefit as well,” he said. “Just probably not this year.”
Bee-keeping is a family event at the Cassidy-Green house, with daughter Anna getting in on the action too. She said she has helped with hiving the bees and feeding them regularly.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said while putting on the suit that would keep her from being stung while checking on the hives.
Anna added her job is to blows smoke into the hives to keep the bees calm.
“So they don’t sting us,” she said.
While the colonies have been successful so far, Cassidy said there is still no guarantee that the bees will thrive in the Northwest Territories.
“It’s been done before,” he explained, referencing a friend in Fort Simpson who managed to keep bees alive over the winter. “There are examples of it working elsewhere, but it’s still an experiment at this point.”
The trick, he said, is to harvest the honey for sale and use, and to feed the bees sugar water over the winter to keep them alive until the next growing season and warm weather. The insects could be an important part in increasing the viability of many crops in the North, said Cassidy.
“It’ll be a great benefit to what we’re growing,” he said. “Hopefully they will mean more sustainable agriculture opportunities for a greater variety of plants to grow here.”