The last time you got stung by a bee, you probably got upset, nursed the wound for a few hours and avoided anything with a stinger after.
Barrie Termeer, owner of Honeybear Apiaries in Rollyview, Alta., and his staff get stung between five hundred and a thousand times a year each. They develop a kind of immunity to the stings and don’t swell up. But it still hurts.
“We use some mind control. We’re just like guys working cattle who get kicked or stomped on all day. We just keep going.”
Termeer, 52, didn’t enjoy farming when, growing up, he helped his parents raise cattle and bees near Ottawa. Early mornings while milking he’d think: “When I’m old I’m not doing this.” Working on the 1,000 hives on the farm and get stung: “I’m not going to do this either.”
Well, after he gradated from high school, he changed his mind and got a job with a beekeeper out west, then studied agriculture at the University of Guelph. After getting his degree, he worked in apiaries in Texas and then Alberta — which is great bee country thanks to the pollen-creating crops there.
He worked briefly for a grocery store chain to help pay off his student debt, then got a management job with a 800-hive operation. He soon became partner and bought the owner out in 1987.
Now, Termeer — who’s wife Julie takes care of farm business — runs 4,000 hives.
Termeer and his staff wear special white coveralls with elastic on the legs and wrists, to prevent insects from getting in, and beekeeping helmets with veils. They’re hot, but they’re necessary.
Like any kind of farming, beekeeping’s tasks change as the season progresses.
Right now, he has five guys helping him build the colonies up after the winter. Since queens take longer to mature here, he’s recently imported some queens from warmer climates and are setting them up in new hives in the hopes they’ll be accepted and the hive will produce honey by summer.
In July, when the honey’s flowing, Termeer will have 15 farmhands helping him, and they’ll all be working 60 hours a week.
By winter, it’ll just be Termeer, repairing equipment and marketing his product. Sometimes the work is intricate, especially when they’re working inside the hive. (Termeer leaves his gloves off when he’s looking for a queen.) But it also involves a lot of heavy lifting as well. “Beekeepers are in good shape.”