Blenheim couple converting their land into a bee habitat

Dr. Henry Svec speaks about one of the bee hives on his property in Blenheim on Oct. 7. Tom Morrison/Chatham This Week Tom Morrison / jpg, CA

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When Dr. Henry Svec takes someone on a tour of the bee hives scattered across his 50-acre property, he can’t hold back his excitement.

“It’s really a blast, I’ve got to tell you,” the Blenheim man said. “I’ve only been stung 15 times this year. That’s my record. Last year it was eight.”

Svec is now in the second year of a five-year plan to convert his family farm into habitat for honey bees and other pollinators. He now has 31 hives on the land and hopes to eventually have 50, but he said that may depend on how many can survive through the winter.

This was the first year he took corn and soybeans out of production. He planted various types of clover and wildflowers this year and he plans to have more of the land filled in with tallgrass prairie this month.

“We want to get them diversity,” said Svec, who also works as a psychologist. “The reason we put all the clover in is because it’s kind of like a great grocery store for them.”

Many of the hives are placed off of pathways at the back of the property. Svec said he wanted to create “micro-habitats” by spacing out the hives, rather than grouping them together in one area.

The most “intense” area has six hives near each other, he said.

“The question is, how will they compare to the ones that were all over the place?” he said. “That’s one of the things we’re doing the first few years and then we’re going to figure out the best habitat here for them and that’s when we’ll be able to take care of them.”

Rather than trying to sell honey, Svec said their business model will eventually include selling hives to people. He said he and his wife Mary may have to approach it similar to pet adoption, where the prospective owners of a hive are interviewed before they can purchase one.

Svec said this is because owners of a hive need to know certain protocols, such as when trees should be sprayed with pesticides if the bees will be using them.

Dr. Henry Svec opens one of the bee hives on his property to show a “moisture blanket” with pine shavings meant to collect moisture during the winter. Tom Morrison/Chatham This Week Tom Morrison / jpg, CA

Right now, Svec has set up a few different types of hives and placed them near different plants or trees. A couple of the hives, for example, are placed near a cluster of pine trees.

“The question is, is this good for them or not? No idea,” he said. “For the first year or two, we’re trying to find, what’s the best micro-habitat for them? Where is the best place to put them?”

Placing the hives apart from each other also protects them from what he called “drift,” where some bees will go inside a wrong hive nearby.

When this happens, the bees could carry disease across different hives, he said.

“I think keeping them away from each other is probably a good thing because in nature, hives don’t set up beside each other,” he said.

Svec and his wife also recently launched a “virtual field trip” series. Mary, who is a videographer, will film a hive close-up for up to 15 minutes at a time and they will pick out something interesting they witnessed and have the video available to schools that subscribe.

A video available on Svec’s website, www.wildflowerbeefarm.com, shows two bees preventing a yellowjacket from entering a hive. It ends with one of the bees performing a backwards summersault on the yellowjacket in order to get it away.

The virtual field trips sometimes also include an assignment for the class. Svec said they have asked the students to determine how many acres of wildflowers or clover could be planted on the side of the road from their property to Niagara Falls, and how many bees this could support.

Svec said the bees unfortunately don’t have many areas they could fly to find pollen and nectar, but this also means they can keep track of the bees on their farm.

“Really, they should be able to go anywhere, they should be able to fly, but we don’t have that,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just kind of the way we’ve come.”

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