Meet a Beekeeper

Phil Janz (deceased)

We would like to note that Phil has now passed away and will be sorely missed by the beekeeping community.

Phil and Heide Janz embody the 70's vision of back-to-the-land and independence, and they stuck with it and have been living that vision, through ups and downs, long after most of their peers had left the land and accepted commuting and suburban living as their lot. There have been prices to pay, most recently and severely in the last few months, when a crippling back injury of undetermined cause, at age 65, obliged Phil to sell all but a few of his hives. (When I interviewed Phil for this piece, he was more or less housebound, using one crutch to help get around, but was hopeful of getting medical answers and cheerful and thankful for his years of independence and beekeeping.)

Phil's first experience with bees was as a young child on his uncle's farm in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. The smells of the smoker, bee suit, propolis and honey stuck with him and led him over twenty years later, at age 29 in 1975, to get a couple of packages when he was living at the time in Burnaby, BC. He was working for TransMountain Pipeline at the time and a retired employee of that company kept six hives at the tank farm compound, so Phil thought he could, too.

When that retiree, an ex-pat Brit, (and Phil noticed that many BC hobby beekeepers were Brits) got sick, Phil became an eight hive beekeeper. The following year he wangled his way into an intermediate beekeeping course on the lower mainland, and in 1977 he quit his pipeline job, and he and his wife and young family moved to Gabriola Island where they had previously purchased land and built a house. The hives went with them on the two ferry rides to their new home.

Bee-wise, "everything that could go wrong did go wrong," Phil said. For instance, like many starting beekeepers he was keen to find the queen, and on advice did so by sieving the entire hive through a queen excluder. On another occasion he got 180 stings after unsuccessfully trailering a five high hive across a plowed field. (No worries, he told me: LD50 is over 1100 stings). He persevered and joined the Nanaimo Beekeeping Club. One of the perks of membership was the right to place hives in a club owned yard on a fireweed clad cutover. Big crops but big bear worries. Phil said the six foot high bear fence was nicknamed the Maginot Line and consisted of strands of electrified barbed wire at six inch intervals, capped with concertina wire, with a perimeter of chicken wire laid out to make a good ground, but when the battery died, a plucky bear did once get in.

The Janzes lived on Gabriola until 1981, generating some income with carpentry work while doing those 70's pioneer things: keeping small stock, beekeeping, gardening, gathering clams and oysters, making cider, splitting wood. An early B.C. land boom and rising real estate prices in 1981 led them to sell their lot, pack their three children and possessions into a '63 Econoline and trailer and follow the Trans-Canada to the Martimes where a dollar could buy what a dollar should. They rented a farm briefly in Petitcodiac until they located and purchased a property in New Annan-East Wentworth.

Honey and maple was the plan, and Phil spent the winter of 1982 building gear to house 60 packages of bees. This was the time of cyanide and $26.00 packages, a time when many local beekeepers gassed off their bees after taking off their honey crop. Phil secured 25 hives that were destined to die, fed them and gave them new foundation to draw so as to give his planned packages a good start. It worked. Six of the doomed hives wintered and the 60 packages got a good start on drawn foundation and produced a 70 pound average raspberry honey crop. They expanded to 90 hives, along with hens, goats, pigs, organic veg, baking and part-time carpentry subsistence living.

Phil detoured into maple production from 1985-90: 5,000 feet of mainline and 40,000 feet of secondary on snowshoes on a 15 degree slope. The work was hard and intense and the deep snow a nightmare.

In 1991 Blueberry producer Wendell Purdy bought Phil's bees on condition Phil would become his beekeeper. On a friend's advice he agreed to the deal and for the first time in a while he had a reliable income and help moving bees, permitting him to keep 275 hives for Wendell and, eventually, 170 for himself. Along the way the Janz's relocated to Crowe's Mills and then Maitland, where they currently reside.

Phil learned by slow experience what a member of a beekeeping family or commercial employee might have learned sooner. 12-14 hour days, seven days a week will wear you down. Phil says he came to see that there are three kinds of hives: duds (shake them or forget them), average hives (that need no work) and boomers (that should be used to make increase). The days of looking for the queen were long gone. He would locate her only when splitting, and usually by inserting an excluder.

Virtually all individual hive attention, like splitting and equalizing, would be doled out before blueberry pollination (i.e. April and May). After that it was hands off as much as possible. Phil's operating principle became "What can I not do and still makes a living keeping bees?" and his constant question was "Why am I doing what I'm doing?" Not surprisingly, Phil's skepticism and his habit of testing and re-testing received wisdom make him a contrarian. For instance, Phil found fumadil expensive and sugar syrup feeding messy and time consuming. He experimented: leaving honey in the second super, reducing feeding from 2 ½ gallons to one gallon, then testing for weight and feeding only the light ones.

In 1998 he did an experiment on a 24 hive yard, feeding 12 hives fumadil and 12 none. The results: 4% more honey but no splits out of the treated twelve; 25% increase (splits) from the untreated twelve. On the basis of this experience he has stopped using fumadil. ** Though he feeds singles and nucs, he tries to do so as much as possible by switching comb.

Phil runs his hot room at 93 degrees Fahrenheit (hive temperature) and does not heat or filter the honey. He keeps melter honey separate and discounts it to bakers. His creamed honey is a lovely product ... but only available at the door, since he prefers beekeeping and wholesaling to marketing.

Though efficiency and minimal intervention has become his principle of hive manipulation and beekeeping, such common sense does not extend into other areas of his life: Phil likes boats and sailing and has built a few (definition of a "boat"- a hole in the water to put money in); he collects old outboard motors; he likes planting honey plants like phacelia and locust trees though he says personal planting is a hopeless way to increase bee pasture.

When they came to Nova Scotia in 1981, Phil joined the NSBA and has been a member since. He became VP in 1993 and was president in 1995 when the original border study was done. He served as Maritime Canadian Honey Council rep in 1996, 97, 98 and in that time did a turn as VP of CHC. He is currently a director of the NSBA. The organizational involvement at times brought stress, but it also offered an opportunity to meet and learn Nova Scotia Bee News from a cross-section of beekeepers and glean ideas to implement and test.

Phil's beekeeping has been with single hives, but he has come to think that for a commercial beekeeper involved in pollination, palletizing and all the expenses of truck trailer and loader are a necessity that must be accepted, and he currently has the crutch to back up that assertion.

Heide had the last word. "It's been really good. Phil was home a lot. He had time with the kids. There were ups and downs, but we managed to support ourselves.

**Editor's note: Phil's fumadil experiment precedes nosema cerana becoming a bee health issue.