Plan Bee Apiaries began as something of a retirement project for Blair and Cyndy Sampson and has become a great passion for both as they continue to watch and learn from the bees at work.

GRANDE GREVE: Cyndy Sampson was not initially on board with her husband Blair’s beekeeping dreams, but after joining him for an introductory seminar, she had an unexpected change of heart.

“I hadn’t met them yet,” she says, now fully engaged in the full-time, seasonal business the retired couple have begun operating from their property in Grande Greve.

“As soon as the guy opened up the hive I thought, this is fascinating. They’re not hostile, they’re very gentle and as soon as I met them, I was okay with the whole thing,” Cyndy Sampson says.

The pair were still living in Dartmouth when they started their adventure in beekeeping four years ago.

They began the operation by constructing their “woodenware” – the boxes and frames the bees will call home – and purchasing four nucleus or “nuc” colonies from an established beekeeper. They were also registered with the Department of Agriculture, under the name Plan Bee Apiaries.

Photos by Dana MacPhail-Touesnard Blair and Cyndy Sampson, of Plan Bee Apiaries, are pictured with a starter hive. As the bees continue their work, boxes will be added to the rental hive to provide more room for honey production.

A year-and-a-half ago, they moved to Blair’s childhood home in Grande Greve and the bees came along. They keep their supplies and equipment in the steel structure or “honey hut” behind their home.

They are currently renting 12 hives – each holding about 40,000 bees, with its population growing every day – at a starting cost of $350 for one year per hive. They fully maintain the hives, conducting regular site visits to ensure the colony is “queen right” and offer 20 per cent of honey production – they guarantee six pounds of honey even if the hive fails.

The starter hives begin with two boxes of frames and as the year progresses, boxes are added on top. The bottom boxes are considered the bees “pantry.”

“You have to leave them 80 pounds of honey, which is why they’re collecting honey in the first place. You never harvest from the bottom two boxes, that’s theirs, they own that,” says Blair.

A smoker, filled with pine needles as fuel, is used to calm the bees when opening the hive as it masks pheromones that might set off alarm bells inside the hive. The smell also suggests a forest fire which leads the bees to fill up on honey should they need to flee and keeping them busy while beekeepers Blair and Cyndy Sampson do their work.

The honey they do take is removed from the top frames using an extractor. They place a sign at the end of the driveway alerting passersby that they have excess honey to sell.

They also use a solar wax melter, built by Blair, to collect the beeswax, which Cyndy hopes to use in the production of lip balms and other products in the future.

In addition to the demands of maintaining the hives in various locations, Blair and Cyndy also work to share their knowledge and experience with the public. In May they hosted a well-attended public session at the St. Peter’s library and the couple does school visits as well.

They recently brought some of their boxes to kids taking part in after-school programs in St. Peters and in Potlotek. The kids painted the boxes, which will move from the “honey hut” to hives in the area as the bees continue their work.

A special piece of equipment travels with them when they do public sessions.

“It’s called an observation hive. We found the design on-line and I built it one winter,” notes Blair of the device that holds frames of bees, ideally including the queen, and allows people to view the bees at work.

“We have to hold onto it because the kids will knock it over,” he says, laughing, “they get so excited.”

While they maintain their rental hives fully, they also welcome the interest of renters who want to be involved.

“Some are hands off, others want to be there almost every time that we’re there. We open the hive, give them a jacket, they put on the veil, they come down to the hive with us, we pull it out and try to find a queen to show them. Some have kids and they want the kids involved.”

Blair Sampson is pictured at one of Plan Bee Apiaries’ rental hives, searching for the all-important queen bee who lays upwards of 1,500 eggs a day. Along with his wife Cyndy, Blair marks his queens – through a process of gently trapping the queen and distinguishing her with a dot from a permanent, paint marking pen – making her easier to spot.

Now in their fourth season as beekeepers, Cyndy and Blair agree they are still fascinated by and committed to the bees and their intricate system.

“They are absolutely intriguing,” says Blair.

They speak respectfully of the bees, gushing about their speed, work ethic and communication skills – the bees use dance and scent to direct each other to food sources. In the event a bee dies in the hive, “they even have undertaker bees,” adds Blair.

“Sometimes you can put a little honey on your finger and go up a bee and she’ll crawl up on your finger and start eating the honey. It’s so neat to see.”

Plan Bee Apiaries maintains a Facebook page of the same name and a web site www.seabeehoney.ca with information on their rental program and general information about bees and their work.