Meet a Beekeeper

Jerry Draheim- The Flower Child

Out-migration has been the bane of the Maritimes for many years; you can read about it in the Herald almost daily, but it hasn't always been so. Maybe there has been a gradual net loss, but people do come here, and not always to the metro region. There is a small "British invasion" underway now, and in the 1970's we enjoyed a major influx of Americans who wanted the rural life. Jerry Draheim was one of them. And he has made a good life for himself and has
Nova Scotia Bee News January 2015 made good contributions to his chosen home.

He and his wife vacationed and toured in Nova Scotia in 1971 armed with a list from the Farm Loan Board of rural properties for sale. No purchase in 1971, but they returned to Nova Scotia in 1972. Jerry got a job in Halifax and they found their 70 acre Roslin property (between Oxford and Pugwash) through a newspaper ad and moved up-country. It all sounds so familiar and Green Acre-ish: ducks, chickens, goats, bees, gardens combined with a Local Initiative Project that provided temporary employment followed by UI. The UI funded a one week March beekeeping course with Endel Karmo in 1974. Endel was the NS provincial apiarist for many years.

Endel had previously inspected Jerry's initial bee purchase in 1972 and determined that he had bought AFB infected used equipment and that was why his package bees ($7.50 including postage) were not thriving. Endel told him to gas the sick bees with cyanogas and he did so. Jerry was reluctant to burn the gear, but serendipity kicked in: he stored the empty infected supers in a shed and, during the winter, accidentally burned the shed down when dumping stove ashes. Next year he started again with more packages and new gear. Though package bee-keeping and gassing bees off was still the Nova Scotia norm at that time, Jerry opted from the get go for over-wintering his hives.

The price of honey doubled in 1976 and by that time Jerry was already committed to beekeeping as an income stream, with increases as follows: 1972(3), 1973(5), 1974(15), 1975(30), 1976(55), 1977(100 ...aided by a 50% expansion grant). By 1980 he had 250 hives. His initial build-up was by packages and swarm capture, but by 1980 he shifted to splitting.

It wasn't all beekeeping in Roslin. There was orchard planting, getting by through selling eggs, providing pollination services to Bragg Lumber starting in 1975, a working trip in Peace River country in 1978 with a commercial pollen producer. This trip led to Jerry producing and marketing pollen at local health food stores and by mail - to the tune of 800 to 1000 pounds a year at $20.00 a pound - until the market tanked because of imported pollen. However, he still collects some specific pollens for pharmaceutical use and receives $30- $40 a pound for them.

In 1981 Jerry had one hive that produced 250 pounds of honey and he wanted to know how and why. "Genetics," Endel Karmo suggested. Jerry went to California in 1982 for a couple of weeks to learn about mite control and in 1983 he returned to California from January to April to work for queen-rearer Steve Taber III and learn about the magic of good genetics. In 1984 Jerry put his new knowledge to work. He built 200 mating boxes and started producing about 400 queens a year. Jerry selects breeder queens for gentleness and honey production and hygienic behaviour (tested for by the timed cleaning of dead larvae). He selects breeders from his own hives and, morerecently, has also brought breeder queens from BC to NB and then brought the eggs under permit to NS for grafting. He has also imported queen cells from the Saskatraz project under permit. In parallel with the early days of his queen-rearing, he started a landscape business and ran a garden centre in Pugwash from 1983-88.

In 1986 Jerry cut back his personal bee numbers to 100 hives and in 1988 he re-entered the wage economy -sort of- by running a queen-rearing project for the NSBA in the summers from 1988-92. Jerry's period of exploration and experimentation is now reduced. Beekeeping clearly became his main thing in the 80's, and he estimates the various income streams as 35% from honey, 20% from queen sales, 20% from selling nucs and hives, 25% from pollination. He mentioned a new bee-related venture: "rent-a-hive" and custom beekeeping. His blueberry pollination fee is $165, and some people with fruit trees and acreages elect to rent hives for the year for $185. Jerry maintains the hives and the renters have the option of buying the honey collected on their own property. He also maintains about ten hives for people who only summer in Nova Scotia. So Jerry looks after them spring and fall and the hive owners do the summer care.

In the winter of 1997 Jerry spent three months working for an NGO in Nepal that was helping local beekeepers transition from log hives to modern equipment. The Nepalese beekeepers were keeping Apis cerana. Jerry also got to see Apis dorsata, the giant honey bee whose open combs are prized by Nepalese honey hunters. On a 2003 vacation trip to Costa Rica Jerry and his school teacher wife, Carol, got to work for a day with a local beekeeper and his Africanized bees. Everyone was well suited and the bees were very aggressive, but despite the aggresssion the beekeeper had good honey crops and successfully marketed honey, salves and candles.

Jerry has experimented with getting young mated queens through the winter. He has tried several methods: (1) over-wintering queens in small mating nucs (2) over wintering mated caged queens banked in queenless hives (3) over wintering late summer splits made in mid-August with a raised queen. The latter method has proven the most successful. He winters some five frame nucs outdoors in "apartment buildings" over strong colonies; others he winters indoors in a friend's facility. Since queen rearing is an emphasis, Jerry is concerned about good nutrition, and since he wants drones early for queen rearing, he starts feeding pollen substitute in late February and the substitute contains 30% pollen that he has collected the previous year.

Jerry keeps his bees in single deeps and uses queen excluders. All hives have screened bottom boards for monitoring. In 2015 he plans to use a Miller style bottom board to give the bees more space to hang out at the bottom of the cluster - a plan that may be more appropriate for single than for double brood nests.

Cumberland County is bear country, and Jerry recently lost one yard to bears. Trappers and hunters informed him that they took eleven bears from the devastated yard and that the bears had come in three generation posses to dine. The message: fence early in spring with good ground rods, a ground wire around the perimeter and a ground wire between the bottom and the second live wire on the posts, and smear a combination of peanut butter and bacon grease bait on tinfoil and wrap it around the live wires as training bait.

Jerry thinks that beekeeping has changed a bit in the face of climate change and the expanding blueberry business. Big honey crops are harder to get. The once dependable golden rod has become more problematic and with it the fitness of hives for winter is not so certain. There is less wasteland around blueberry fields and so bee health and nutrition suffer from lack of varied pollen. Also, blueberry fields are stocked with a greater density of hives. Nonetheless, Jerry feels there are still beekeeping opportunities in Nova Scotia, though they may involve a kind of in-province migratory approach if the good bee pasture is distant from where beekeepers live.

Jerry is prepared to test received wisdom and offered a couple of examples that others could try rather than just accept common practice as gospel. One example involves moving bees in day time. Jerry finds it necessary and convenient to do so in support of his queen rearing, and feels that it is not a big problem as long as there are hives left at the original site to collect orphaned field workers. His other example involved the handling of brood combs with open brood in chilly temperatures. Again, it is because of queen rearing and grafting that Jerry has had to pull frames with young larvae in less than ideal conditions. Most of us are reluctant to pull comb in such conditions, but Jerry feels that a drying wind and desiccation are more of a problem than the cold. He has pulled open brood, wrapped it in a damp towel and kept it in the fridge overnight and then re-inserted the frame in the hive the next day and watched for brood mortality. None, he claimed. It seems like an easy exercise to replicate, and one which -if it yields Jerry's results -might give a person more confidence in opening hives in marginal weather.

Over the years, Jerry's original farm property, has, under his guidance been partially re-forested. He has planted red pine, white spruce, tamarack, hybrid poplar, black walnut, hazel nut, heartnut and linden. And he has experimented with planting bee pasture, typically growing three or four acres which might be planted in buckwheat, phacelia, borage, sunflower, crimson clover and oil seed radish.

Jerry participates in the community through the local chamber of commerce, the Pugwash Curling Club, the North Nova Forest Co-op and the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association where he has been a long time supporter of bee research, a commercial beekeeper rep and member of the Joint Pollination Committee which harmonizes the interests of beekeepers and blueberry growers. He occasionally mentors new beekeepers. Over the years a lot has happened to and been done by the flower child who came to Nova Scotia on a road trip.