Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In Conversation With...Amy the Bee Keeper

This is a bonus article that goes along with my conversation with Amy Tizzard (published on this blog on Wednesday, June 18).

Amy Tizzard, a 33-year-old geologist working in Namibia, Africa, but calls Cumberland County home,    has five diplomas, including a Master's degree in Geology. But rocks and minerals aren't her only interest and when a dedicated student decides she wants to keep bees and make honey, she sets about mastering the new skill with the same passion she applies to her education.

In 2004, Amy began her graduate studies in geology at the University of Victoria in B.C. It took her six years to achieve her Masters because she worked at the same time, heading off to Australia. But by 2008, she was thinking of coming home.
"I like going to new places and trying new things and I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to get bees," Amy told me. I couldn't do that while living in the city in Australia [she flew in and out of the ouback, living in the outback 90 percent of the time] so I came back home and started working independently as a geologist."
She took a contract in Botswana for four months and did a short trip to Australia but the global recession had kicked in and work opportunities were slowing down. So she had lots of free time at her parents' home outside of Oxford.
"I phoned Jerry Draheim and asked him about it. I got my first two hives from him. They both died because I didn't know what I was doing."
So Amy did was Amy does: She got an education in it, homeschooling herself in bees.
"I got fully immersed into," she said. "Extremely passionate. Bought every book, every video and just taught myself how to do it. The first ones died because I didn't secure the lids over winter. The lids blew off and the bees froze."
Amy said she was totally obsessed by bee keeping.
"With the help of a neighbour, I built all the hives myself. I used my grandfather's tools. I got up to more than 30 hives."
Now we're all familiar with the by-product of bee hives: Honey.
"You have to deal with it," Amy said. "I had a few hundred pounds the second year then the following year, I had two thousand pounds of honey."
She made it and sold it (this is how I knew of Amy: she was the honey girl. I had no idea she was a world-travelling geologist).
Bee keeping isn't for the weak and lazy. There is a lot of heavy lifting involved.
"It's hard work. On a hot sunny day with a bee suit on, lifting heavy things, it gets to be a bit much."
At the same time she was keeping bees, she was back at school getting a GIS certificate that would make her a sought-after geologist. So while the bees stayed home on the River Philip, Amy went back to work in Halifax and around the world. Eventually, when she took her current long-term job in Namibia, she had to rehome the bees. Her mother was tending to them while Amy was in the city, and Amy was coming home every weekend, but leaving the country for months at at time put an end to the bee keeping venture.
But not to Amy's love of bee keeping. She said she loved the challenge of it, of not getting stung, of not knowing anything about it.
"Learning my way through it, that was fun," she told me. "Then when you do start working with the bees and seeing how calm and gentle they are, if you're employing the right methods of handling them, and opening up the hive and seeing the whole dynamic in the hive."
As soon as she opened up the memory in her mind, she came alive like a busy hive.
"The dynamic between the different bees. The workers bees, the queen bee, the nurse bees. Each bee has its own job and they graduate to different roles throughout their lives. The final role are the field bees, the ones we see. Inside the hive, everything is very obvious. It's like a little soap opera happening in there."
She smiled. She really loved bee keeping.
"And the smell of it when you open the hive, the pollen and honey, mixed in with the smell of the wood. It's nice. Therapeutic."
While in Namibia, Amy has to worry about large spiders and venomous snakes but one day she returned to her office to be confronted with bees.
"Someone dropped a box of bees on my desk," she said. "I came into the office and there was a wooden box sitting there. I opened it and there were bees coming out. They found out I was a bee keeper and they wanted me to start bee keeping there. But they're different bees; they're still honey bees but they don't have the same personality as the bees here. They're more aggressive. As soon as I installed them into a hive, they swarmed away. It was funny to come into the office and have a box of bees sitting there."

by Sara Jewell Mattinson

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