There’s a new kid in town. Quite a few of them, actually: since last Tuesday, about 24,000 (yes, you read that right) bees call the roof of 45 Willcocks Street home.

Mosaic of nine images documenting the arrival of the bees.

The arrival of the honeybees at 45 Willcocks Street. Check the bee Flickr album for more images.

The pollinators did not, of course, come as uninvited guests. Rather, the evening hours of July 17 marked the culmination of months of talks around the decision to enhance New College’s global food equity programming, as well as to contribute generally to food security and food-system balance, by bringing bees (back) to NEW. So it was that Ron Vander Kraats, the college’s chief administrative officer, and Tom Nolan, a beekeeper of eight years’ standing and a co-founder of the Urban Toronto Beekeepers’ Association (UTBA), drove to Port Hope—in waning daylight, when bees are least active—to pick up our latest NEWtonians. We spoke to Tom to learn a bit more.

Please describe the bees and their keepers

My wife Sonia Rojas and I will be managing the honeybee colonies, three hives for the moment, on the New College rooftop apiary. Sonia and I operate Hivetown Urban Apiaries. We have a few locations across the city, including a rooftop apiary at the U of T Scarborough campus, as well as a ground-level apiary on a residential property overlooking the Scarborough Bluffs. We are also both co-founders of the Urban Toronto Beekeepers’ Association, and I have been mentoring members of the U of T BEES club for the past two years. In my professional life I am the North American sales representative for Nod Apiary Products. I am really excited about being part of the apiary project at New college and look forward to engaging with the community at New College as we spread the word about the important role these wonderful bees play in our ecosystem and our challenged food system.

How long have you been a beekeeper and how did you get into it?

I have been keeping bees for eight years. I like to say I am an accidental beekeeper. I wanted to learn how to grow my own food, so I decided to intern part time on an organic farm for two years. It was while I was learning to grow organic vegetables at the Cutting Veg organic farm that I came across a beekeeper there. I was instantly hooked. I started taking beekeeping courses and did a mentorship program with an organization called Farms at Work.

How do you take care of the bees? What is the most challenging aspect of beekeeping, and what, to you personally, the most fun or rewarding?

Keeping honeybees healthy and alive throughout our Canadian winters can be challenging. Dealing with pests and diseases can also be difficult, especially with a parasitic mite called the Varroa destructor. This mite is a vector for many different viruses and can weaken and kill off entire honeybee colonies if not kept in check. Fortunately, with good integrated pest-management (IPM) strategies and the organic miticides available today, we can manage this pest. But we must be very diligent. The most fun and rewarding part of beekeeping is keeping the colonies in good health through our challenging winters — and of course the honey crop that comes from a strong, healthy colony.

Why is it good to have bees at New College?

I believe it is good to have bees at New College so that we can raise awareness around some of the negative issues that have come with large-scale agriculture and mono-crop farming. We all know that pollinators are struggling because of lack of forage, so small-scale sustainable urban agriculture, such as urban apiculture (beekeeping), is a practical model that students, faculty and staff can participate in while educating the public.

Will there be honey? Likely from which plants?

We started very late in the season, with three nuclei (starter colonies), so it will take time for the bees to build up and store enough honey to survive the winter, which means no honey this year. But we will have honey in the spring/early summer of 2019. Honeybees will fly as far as six kilometres if they can. There is plenty of nectar available from diverse plants within four kilometres of the New College apiary. It is likely that the bees will fly west to the Don Valley, around the Evergreen Brick Works area, and as far south as the Portlands, touching down in all the backyards and gardens in between.

Can students/faculty/staff get further involved with the New College bees?

I would be happy to work with the students, faculty and staff. I am open to doing tours and/or workshops or lunch-and-learns to talk about the apiary project. For more information, contact Tammara Soma.

Even if people don’t help with the bees on the roof, how can they help support our bees and bees in general in their daily practices?

The best way people can support our bees and all pollinators in general is by planting pollinator-friendly gardens. This small act can make a huge difference. Fewer lawns, more flowers.

Bee hive on the rooftop of a University of Toronto building

Another U of T bee hive in the Sky Garden on the roof of the Galbraith Building.