High atop Vancouver Convention Centre, bees work for all of us

Allen Garr was ready for the worst when he went to check on his bees high atop the grassy roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre Friday afternoon.

If he discovered that his hives had been hit by the European Foulbrood bacteria, he was going to mix the appropriate antibiotic with some icing sugar and spread it on the frames of his four bee boxes.

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Allen Garr bees
Allen Garr uses smoke to make the bees on the roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre produce more honey. A bee's response to fire is to eat because they think they'll have to leave home, he says. - Dan Toulgoet

Luckily, he didn’t have to put his plan in place.

There were no signs of EFB, which turns a brood of bee eggs “to mush.”

It was a welcome relief for Garr, who’d already lost 80 per cent of his bees over the past year. The devastation started last fall, when there were more wasps than usual. Wasps are omnivores and eat bees. “The eat everything — you just have wings on the floor,” Garr says.

Allen Garr bees
Few other beekeepers have such a view. - Dan Toulgoet

The long, snowy winter didn’t help, putting the bees under additional stress. “I think they starved.”

When he heard that other beekeepers had been hit by EFB, he began checking his 15 hives for signs of the disease.

Beekeeping is a passion for Garr, who is also a political columnist with the Vancouver Courier. Bees play an essential environmental role by pollinating plants and flowers in their quest for food but their populations have been under serious threat, as he explored in one of his Courier columns.

Allen Garr bees
Allen Garr used to be asked if he ever got stung. Now, as awareness of bees' plight grows, it's "How are the bees?" - Dan Toulgoet

That’s why he has most of his hives in public places such as VanDusen Botanical Garden, UBC Farm and the convention centre. He wants people to see him at work and ask questions about why they must be nurtured and protected. (Granted, not many people get to share Garr’s lofty view from the convention centre as he tends his hives on Canada’s largest green roof.)

It used to be that when people saw him with his hives, the question they asked most was “Do you ever get stung?”

“Now they say, ‘How are the bees?’ Everyone, all over the world knows bees are in danger and cares. People feel it,” he says.

Now that it appears his bees have a reprieve from the EFB threat, Garr’s thoughts turn to the skies. “We need really hot weather,” the beekeeper says on behalf of his hives.

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