It’s a sweet, sweet life

For Louella Hoskins of Kingsford Township, north of Emo, September brings sweet rewards.
Hoskins is a apiarist, and a busy one. A wet spring followed by hot summer sun doubled the clover in area fields and her honeybees made good use of it. Of the hives she and her son David Hoskins supervise, at least one is expected to produce 250 pounds of honey alone.
That kind of harvest makes 2005 a banner year. And Hoskins, who is 82, has had years of experience to compare it to.
She’s been in the beekeeping business since 1946, just after she married her husband, the late Les Hoskins who passed away in 1992. When they started their apiary, it included 25 hives.
“We were in the business from the time we were married, and he was in it on a smaller scale before that,” explained Hoskins, during an interview on the century old farm that once belonged to her husband’s grandfather and where she has lived for nearly 60 years.
Les Hoskins was “bitten” by the honeybee bug when he was just a boy and worked his way up in the apiary world. He learned the trade from the late Albert Ewen of Emo, who at one time was a “bee man” in the district.
Les Hoskins also was a provincial apiary inspector for the Rainy River District in his day.
“When Les was 12 years old, he sold his nanny goat for his first hive,” recalled Louella Hoskins, who carried on the business by herself for about eight years after her husband’s death.
Today she manages the honey extraction and marketing to customers, with David Hoskins heading up the more physical work of hive care.
“This year was an exceptional year [for honey production],” David Hoskins noted.
“Yes, in my recollection we’ve never had a year for honey as good as this year,” agreed his mother.
Honeybees are, by no stretch of the imagination, amazing insects. In each hive there are three types of bees: a single queen bee (who can lay up to 1,800 eggs a day); as many as 200 drones (male bees who mate with the queen); and thousands of worker bees (sterile females that raise larvae and collect nectar that will become honey).
A healthy hive colony can average between 40,000 and 80,000 bees.
The worker bees live only about three weeks, and literally work themselves to death. That “fact of life” doesn’t give the little critters much time to get acquainted with their human bee keeper, who risks getting stung during close acquaintance with the hives, as is the case when lifting frames from the hive “supers,” and brushing off bees prior to extraction of honey at the end of the summer.
David Hoskins isn’t use to being stung by his “employees” but he does have some tolerance for the frequent occurrence–and some advice.
“Yes, I’ve been [bitten] many times [and] it’s not really that bad, as long as you are expecting it,” he reasoned. “You have to be in amongst them quite a bit, especially in the spring when they are first getting established and [that’s when] you get stung.
“But it’s a lot better if you’re around them in the nice weather, in the sunshine when they are working,” he added.
“If a person was to go into them today when it’s cloudy and they’re not working, you’d get stung [for sure]. They’re mad because they are not working,” he noted.
Interestingly, worker honeybees can only sting once, as the barb rips loose from the bee’s abdomen and it dies.
According to “Wikipedia” on the Web, during a “sting operation,” the bee also will release alarm pheromones along with the stinger.
If done so near a hive, the scent may attract other bees to the location where they will also exhibit defensive behaviors. (Alarm pheromones have been characterized as having a “dirty socks” smell, which is why amateur beekeepers will often bathe and change into clean clothes before working a hive.)
Among the stories David Hoskins remembers his father telling him as a boy, was a time when the honey house (where extraction, straining, and jarring takes place) burned to the ground. It was 1955–and the loss was devastating to the business. Equipment, and the summer’s honey stock, were a total loss.
“I can remember Dad talking about how the vats of honey burst [from the heat] and all the honey rolled down the hill and was gone,” recalled David Hoskins.
The honey house of today has been in use since 1978.
After the honey harvest and nearer to the cold weather of fall, the Hoskins’ bee hives are wintered over until spring.
They are packed in insulation and tar paper, and left with enough honey (about 40 pounds per hive) to sustain them over the winter months.
But for now, “Hoskins Apiary” is buzzing as old and new customers come by to get their honey jars and pails filled for the season.
And as tradition would have it, Louella Hoskins also baked up a batch of biscuits, served up with spoonfuls of honey to celebrate the harvest.