Phil Ellis places the white beekeeper suit on the lush lawn. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts, he unlocks a chain-link cage in the back of his Garibaldi Highlands property.
Hundreds of bees buzz around his bare skin. Some land on his arms. Others get a quick rest on his hands. There's risk in being bold, Ellis admits. Although he loves his bees, they don't always return his sentiment.
“They are very protective of what they have,” Ellis says.
Only when Ellis is ready to take off a lid to a hive does he reach for his suit. Today the bees ignore him, continuing with their work. Sheets of honeycomb are alive with movement — larger drones focus on the queen, nurse bees busily attend larvae and the wax producers build cells.
The bees are tasked with every component of the hive's livelihood, from collecting water to grooming and feeding the queen — who, by the way, can't feed herself. A few guard bees fly up to check Ellis out.
They're all accustomed to him. After, all he is their keeper.
“For most people that are beekeepers, it is because you love them,” he says.
Ellis is a bee master. He received the title after attending beekeeper courses at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia in the '60s. However, his interests in the insects goes back to childhood.
Ellis's mother was a beekeeper. Growing up in Brockville, Ont., he would accompany her to the hives. Beekeeping rubbed off on Ellis. Today, he sells his honey at the Squamish Farmers' Market — Phil's Bee and Honey Farm.
Ellis and his wife, Hazel, moved to Squamish in 1968. At the time, there were many beekeepers in town and some of them were highly involved community members — Squamish's “queen bee” Mrs. Axen and the main driving force behind the practice, Don Ross.
But at least since 1981, the District of Squamish had banned the keeping of bees in urban neighbourhoods. It was a decision Ellis says he doesn't understand. As a result, many longtime beekeepers hung up their bee suits, he says.
Last month, council took the first steps toward reconsidering its policy. And it's about time, Ellis says.
“They are needed so much,” he says. “We should respect them.”
Bee colonies have collapsed around the world, states a 2011 United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) report. The documents cited more than a dozen reasons for their demise, from the use of memory-damaging insecticides to declines in the populations of flowering plants.
The way humanity manages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define the future of the 21st century, the UNEP's executive director Achim Steiner said in a statement.
“The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees,” Steiner said.
Ellis believes a beekeeping resurgence is unfolding, but policies need to be in place to encourage it. Beekeeping is no easy task, he notes. The income he generates from the farmers' market helps him pay to indulge his passion.
Ellis bought the chain-link fencing to keep bears' paws out of reach. He also has an electric fence that he placed near a shed, which holds equipment to separate honey from the comb. And for the bees themselves, Ellis purchases organic medication, to keep them safe from mites and virus.
You have to admire bees' work ethic, Ellis says. They don't stop until their wings wear out. Once their lives have come to an end, they neatly place themselves in specific honeycomb cells, where they wait for death.
“[Bees] are just riveting,” Ellis says.