PUBLIC Chats: Alveole Interview

Alveole is a an innovative Montreal/Toronto based organization that’s working to merge beekeeping and city living to keep the bee population alive and well! Read below for what Blake Retter, Alveole Toronto Manager, had to say about the world of urban beekeeping and find out more here.

Can you tell us what Alveole is all about and what your role is here?

Alveole is all about education. We do workshops to educate people about bees and the important role they play in our ecosystem. We install and manage hives at schools and organizations, using the hives as educational platforms to run our workshops with students and staff. An average days for us is making five or six stops in different neighbourhoods to take care of the hives we installed there and engage the people hosting them.

Anyone can get involved in our projects. It could be someone who wants a beehive in their own backyard, kids at a school wanting to get a glimpse of the bees, or even a business downtown. Our beekeepers assess the proposed sites and come up with a plan for the installation.

What’s exciting about what we do is that we’re connecting people to nature in a very hands-on way, offering an experience that they’ll never forget. Watching a colony grow and forage and bring in loads of honey makes people feel really connected to them.

We know that the business focuses as much on beekeeping and honey, as it does helping the bee population thrive. So what came first, the bees or the honey?

It was the beekeeping that came first! For me, it started in rural Manitoba under the mentorship of Bruce Mclean, a beekeeper with over 30 years of experience. That’s really where I fell in love with beekeeping. Managing over 1000 hives with Bruce was an incredible learning experience, seeing just about every situation you can possibly see in a hive. That’s the experience we bring to beekeeping, and our management practices are very much informed by our roots in Manitoba. We knew we wanted to continue with beekeeping and bring it to Toronto and Montreal, but also do it a little differently in the city.

For us, honey is secondary to the health of the bees. We see it more as a unique way for our clients to tell the story of what they’re doing, which is why we give all the honey from their hives to them!

What does it take to be a beekeeper?

Our beekeepers are very versatile; they have to be educators, able to engage and teach the people who host our hives, while simultaneously being focused and present in the moment, carefully observing the bees and their nest. Our job is act as ambassadors between bees and people.

Why is there such a decline in the bee population?

One of the main reasons why bee populations are declining is because of heavy use of pesticides. Being designed to destroy insects, pesticides obviously have a very negative effect on bees! Traces of pesticides on flowers can be unwittingly transported back to the hive by foraging bees and build up to toxic levels in the wax.

Luckily for us, in the city there is a huge variety of flowering plants and bans on pesticides, which means the city can actually be a lot better for bees!

A lot of people have a fear of bees, especially in densely populated areas, like Montreal and Toronto. Are these fears founded? 

A big part of what we are trying to do is get rid of these fears. Most people think bees are attracted to food for example, but they are not. If you are having a picnic outdoors, it’s the wasps that you will attract, not bees. Bees are very docile creatures and are only interested in nectar. They are not predators like wasps are.  People tend to confuse bees and wasps, so it is important for people to be able to differentiate the two.

Are you currently tracking the impact Alveole is having on the bee population (and how)?

We keep track of all our installations on our app. We can see which area of the city has more productive hives. So far, the hives seem to thrive wherever we set them up, which is cool! Even right downtown, the bees travel to Toronto Island for food.

Very cool! Lastly, how can we contribute to increasing the bee population?

The best thing that a person can do is try to be a gardener and plant native perennial wildflowers. Leave your weeds in your gardens or on your lawns and let me them grow! Also, try to eat locally and organically so that you are supporting bee-friendly farming practices. Finally, join us to learn more about how it all works and why the bees are so important in our food chain.

Trasncribed by Mia Johnston.

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