Meet a Beekeeper

Menno Reimer- From Belize To Tatamagouche

Menno Reimer

Menno's trajectory as a beekeeper has taken him from Belize (in Central America) through Manitoba and finally to Nova Scotia – south, north-central, east. He has had to learn and adapt along the way, though he says the basics of beekeeping and his meticulous each-hive-is-unique approach have remained constant, even as venues have changed.

Menno was born in Belize in 1961 of Mennonite parents from Steinbach, Manitoba, who, with others, had moved to Mexico in the late 40's and early 50's before moving to Belize in 1958. The members of the community were subsistence farmers: gardens, pineapples, bananas, cattle ... and bees. Menno's dad kept bees -14 hives- whose 300 pound average was the family's cash crop that could be sold or bartered at the local store if they needed anything they could not make themselves. Menno started helping his dad with bees when he was eight and by age ten he was operating the two frame extractor. (Incidentally, Menno says that Africanization now means that Belize beekeepers must suit up heavily and kept hives well away from houses.)

In 1976, Menno's family returned to southern Manitoba –literally "with just the shirts on their backs", and he saw his parents' country for the first time at age 15. His dad worked as a welder, farmed and got re-established in Canada, keeping up to 200 hives of bees as before. Menno recalls the contrast between hives in Belize that had brood and flew all year round, experiencing only a dearth in February, March and April, with Manitoba hives that experienced six months confinement after an intense summer season.

Though Menno moved to Nova Scotia in 1987, he didn't resume beekeeping until 1991, and when he did, it was with the coaching of legendary bee man Endel Karmo. Endel's health was failing and he needed a helper for the heavy lifting. Menno was the lifter. He helped Endel for twenty days through the summer and fall, imbibing knowledge along the way (and Endel's hair-raising approach to driving, too) and the pay – to be issued the following spring – was a live hive for each day worked. When spring came, Menno helped Endel unwrap –gleaning spring management knowledge that had been missed because his previous involvement had been in late summer. Endel had a heart attack in the beeyard in the spring of 1991 and died several days later. Menno has since indirectly repaid his gratitude for Endel's mentorship by helping both Dave Winsor and Bruce Isaac establish themselves as commercial beekeepers.

Shortly after getting started in beekeeping at Tatamagouche, Menno proposed to Delores –another Manitoban who was teaching in New Brunswick at the time. After she said "yes", he asked her how she felt about bees. She gave the right answer to that question, too, and so they started a partnership that has seen them steadily move ahead from a dilapidated house (that now serves as a honey house) to Delores' trailer from her New Brunswick teaching days, to the airy new home they built last year. Their land base has gone from all leased to partially owned , and their son, Joseph, now seven, smokes the bees for dad as Menno did when he was a child.
Menno and Delores have kept as many as 700 hives, but now keep about 400 – a number more appropriate for their intense management style.

They winter all their hives indoors and in the spring Menno is into all their hives every 7 to 10 days –equalizing, boosting with honey if they are hungry, and adding pollen substitute if necessary. When Menno knows the age of the queen, he marks it on the hive. He finds this information useful in deciding whether or not to give a unit a second chance.

This spring, he had many hives survive in small clusters which he transferred to nuc boxes which he close-stacked on pallets in "apartment buildings" up to three high to conserve heat. He boosted weak units with bees from strong hives so the queens would have enough helpers to start laying. By such close observation and intense management he saved and built them pollination units' hives that other beekeepers might have shaken or united.

Menno says a key difference between Manitoba and Nova Scotia beekeeping is the pollination factor. Our bees have to be stronger sooner, though our springs are not as reliable as Manitoba springs. As a consequence, beekeeper interventions are critical in getting hives uniformly up to strength.

After pollination, Menno has two major chores- taking off honey and making nucs. Menno and Delores wholesale their honey and they get a specialty price for extracting distinctly blueberry honey (in high demand, though often uncapped, and not as plentiful) and raspberry honey. Their early and mid-season honey-cropping is aided by running all hives with queen excluders over single deep brood chambers. Menno feels that by running hives "on the edge" he gets more honey production. His ten year average is about 100 pound, though he says that his yields have declined a bit lately. He attributes the declines to poor summers the last few years. He gets two, sometimes three uses out of his deep-shallow honey supers each season.

Menno nucs heavily, sometimes splitting a hive six ways and queening with cells raised from a selected breeder hive by Robert Prinzen of Princeport. Menno says that Endel Karmo liked to have nucs in most beeyards. That way he would have queens readily available for re-queening hives or making splits, and Menno has continued that practice.

Conditions vary from site to site –even between Wallace and River John, Menno says- and by close observation he aims to adjust his management to season and site characteristics.

Menno likes animals. He and Delores have thirty head of cattle and thirty meat goats. He just wishes the animals would make some real money. However, just like in Belize forty years ago, it is the bees that provide the cash.