Meet a Beekeeper

Kevin Spicer

Kevin Spicer started in with bees when he was 13. His dad signed him in to take a course with Gerry Smeltzer in the winter of 1973-74 when Kevin was hampered by a broken leg. In the spring he got a couple of packages of bees from Georgia and installed them and kept them for the summer. Then, following the practice of the time, he gassed them with cyanide at the end of the fall honey flow, to go bee-less for the winter and start the same routine the following year. He recalls feeling bad and that it was a wrong thing to kill the bees off this way and he never did it again; though package beekeeping continued for many years after his first experience, Kevin was an early adopter of over-wintering.

He kept bees through high school and during the summers worked as a beekeeper helper for MW Graves. The company had a beekeeper on staff and kept bees for orchard pollination. When Kevin went to the NSAC in the early 80's to do a technician diploma his brother kept the bees at the home place in Berwick. A little later Kevin did a business degree at Acadia which led to his working in agricultural management positions for the Nova Scotia Grain Commission, East Cost Commodities and Kings Produce. Located in the Valley as he was for school and work, Kevin resumed his beekeeping at a hobby and sideline level through the 80's and 90's.

A key encounter in his beekeeping was his meeting with Don Amirault, a beekeeper and RCAF guy from Greenwood. Don spearheaded the introduction of Buckfast stock into Nova Scotia and raised and sold Buckfast queens. Kevin became his helper and eventually partner. Over the years the relationship changed and evolved and now queen rearing is a big part of Kevin's enterprise and Don helps Kevin from time to time. Kevin tries to maintain the Buckfast bees that Don Amirault and Norm Donovan introduced with their project in the 1980's.

In recent years Kevin has developed his bee business and with his brother operates the orchard business that had been in the family. The enterprise currently encompasses 45 acres of apples, a woodlot and 600 hives used for pollination, queen rearing and honey production. His brother's main focus is the orchard and Kevin's is the bees, but as the need arises staff from each enterprise is commandeered to help the other. 400-500 hives are rented for blueberry pollination. Kevin has a Kubota articulated loader and loads his palletized hives on a big fifth wheel trailer for transport to the Parsboro blueberry fields. The transportation is out-sourced so he can stay on the farm. He retains about 120 hives in the Berwick area for queen rearing and has queens available for sale from mid-June to early September. He sells about 2,000 queens a year, mainly in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but he has sent them all across Canada. He does not pack or retail honey, rather, he sells his surplus to a local packer and concentrates on his core business.

The queen rearing is what sets Kevin apart from most beekeepers and it is the topic which animates him when he talks bees. He has worked hard with Don's help to perfect a system for rearing queens and he is proud of his method and success.

It all starts with a shook swarm, left queenless for several hours. Kevin grafts larvae from his mother hives into queen cups and gives them to his starter units to raise for about eight days. Then comes the step he has developed. Kevin has 1200 mating units. They are single frame units about 30 cm by 30 cm sided with plexiglass for easy inspection, but made so they can be cloaked in closed cell styrofoam panels for insulation. Kevin takes the capped queen cells and installs them in the mating nucs. The work is done in a building maintained at 22 degrees C or more. The mating nucs with cells are kept in the heated building until the queens emerge. They are then taken to mating yards, supported erect on the ground by the bases that have, until this time, been folded in to save space. Entrances are open; the queens are left to mate and collected roughly a week later once they have started to lay. The nucs are returned to the building and the queens removed and caged. Then the process starts again.

The queen rearing takes about 80% of Kevin's time for the ten weeks that he is at it. He figures he averages two days a week making shook swarms, grafting and installing queen cups in starters. Another two days a week are spent inserting capped cells in mating nucs, setting the nucs out and bringing others in and caging queens. Help gets pulled in from the orchard to do the grunt work.

Most of Kevin's queens are open mated. Every two or three years he selects what he judges to be superior stock and propagates them in an isolation yard to strengthen the Buckfast attributes.

In winter Kevin uses indoor storage for all his hives in a fully climate controlled building that features heat, cooling and ventilation. In summer the building is his grafting and mating nuc HQ.

Over the last ten years Kevin has developed his bee business to be able to make a living and he foresees the possibility for more expansion if he can solve the labour problem. He has recently used the pollination expansion program to good effect and would like to see it continue as a way to get more beekeepers up to the commercial level.

In the past, Kevin served a term as president of the NSBA. Currently his energies are fully engaged in developing his business and helping his son and daughter pursue their interests in hockey and ringette. Kevin has coached soccer for seven years, ringette for six, and is working to improve his certifications as a coach in both sports to better help his kids. His 13 year old son, Matthew, has a keen interest in following in his father's footsteps by learning as much as he can from him, in the hopes of taking over the family farm upon graduating from University. Just like his dad, he envisions attending both Acadia University and NSAC. This has been his dream since he was a toddler, sitting in his lap on the tractor, or helping to plant and harvest crops. His dream has never wavered. He was given his first beehive to look after this past summer, and in the winter can often be found in the basement building bee frames. His 11 year old sister, Kathryn, was given the job of keeping all the queens awaiting pick up at their Somerset home hydrated, via the use of a little eye dropper. In addition to both kids playing a variety of sports, they are both very actively involved in 4H and have done particularly well in public speaking, creating leaders for the future of agriculture, both winning provincial titles, keeping Kevin and his wife of 16 years, Rose, very busy.

A small business success story ...making a living in rural Nova Scotia ... and loving it.
You may contact Kevin Spicer at kspicer@ns.sympatico.ca or (902) 538-7922