A poster outlining distinguishing features of bees, wasps and flies. Click on the image to see it full sized.

The differences between bees, wasps and flies

This video shows a honey bee along side a group of wasps, and illustrates some of the latter's eating habits (warning this video is a little graphic):

Check out this citizen scientist pollinator monitoring guide for more details on the differences between bees, wasps, and flies.

There's also a great video here that offers a fascinating overview of the many different types of bees.

Photo credits:

Title : Honey Bee Macro by Karunakar Rayker (CC-BY-NC)3A wasp by Trounce/Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY)

Intro: Blue by Louise Docker (CC-BY)Native bee by Nuytsia@Tas (CC-BY-NC-SA)Female Metallic Green Bee by sankax (CC-BY-NC) Nomade -- Cuckoo Bee by Gilles Gonthier (CC-BY) After the heat by Jean and Fred Hort (CC-BY-NC) Large Cuckoo Wasp (Stilbum cyanurum) by David Cook (CC-BY-NC) Wasp in low light by jeevan jose (CC-BY-NC-SA)My best pose by Buddy Venturanza (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Anatomy: IMG_2996 by klaas de gelder (CC-BY-NC) European Wasp on a white background by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos ( CC-BY-NC)

Food: Bee by Trey Ratcliff (CC-BY-NC-SA) Abeille (me tirant la langue) sur une fleur de pissenlit by Thomas Bresson (CC-BY) Hungry bee by Jaume Tor�n (CC-BY-NC-SA) Metallic Green Bee_crop by mommamia (CC-BY-NC-SA) Thread-waisted wasp with prey by Patrick Coin (CC-BY-NC-SA)Meat Bee by Beej Jorgensen (CC-BY-NC)Blue Flower Wasp by Louise Docker (CC-BY)Apple eaten by wasps by metal213 (CC-BY)

Nest: oh, hi! by Rob Cruickshank (CC-BY)Bees Nest by Steve Harris (CC-BY-NC)Apis mellifera by Ernie (Public domain)Hylaeus emerging by Rob Cruickshank (CC-BY)Save the Habitat! by Karunakar Rayker (CC-BY)Paper Wasp (Polistes major) by Bob Peterson (CC-BY-SA)10 wasp nest by Sharon Brogan (CC-BY-NC-SA)Zeta argillaceum's nest construction process by Alex Popovkin (CC-BY)

Flies: Thick-Headed Fly? by Bob Peterson (CC-BY-SA)Sicus ferrugineus by Christophe Quintin (CC-BY-NC)Spot eyes by Jean and Fred Hort (CC-BY-NC) Marmalade Hoverfly by Goutam Gujjar (CC-BY-NC-SA)Florida Bee Killer (Mallophora bomboides) by Bob Peterson (CC-BY-SA)Hoverfly by Dendroica cerulea (CC-BY)


Hive Tracks

Handy free web site which allows you to keep notes and records of multiple hives in multiple bee yards. This tool lets you check key some of the hive info at a glance. One of the notable extra features is the google map with different forage distance rings showing.

By using the this tool you are giving them a bit of personal info, they claim they will keep it private but that they will use the data to publish general trends for a broad geographical area.


Estimate Wood Movement Calculator

Update: Unfortunately this calculator no longer appears to work.

When constructing your own hives it is useful to remember that wood shrinks and expands in relation to the moisture content of the wood. This means you might want to leave a little extra room for bee space if you expect your wood might become drier during use than it currently is.

According to the site If you are using kiln or air dried lumber you are probably in the area of 7 - 19% moisture. In North America it's typical for the moisture content in unfinished wood to fluctuate between 4 - 14%. So plugging those numbers for dried wood into the calculator, estimating about 1 cm of change in the depth of a hive box seems reasonable.

This is relevant to take into account as frames are made with the grain running parallel to the direction of the wood grain in hive bodies. So hive bodies will shrink and frames won't.

Note: the 'relative humidity' and 'moisture content' labels on the link seem to be reversed at the moment of writting this post. As each option allows different number ranges you can check you have selected the correct option by entering 101 for 'initial Relative Humidity or Moisture Content' and take note of which option the subsequent error message thinks you have selected.


Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley

Honeybee Democracy is one of my favourite bee books. The book summarizes Seeley's life long quest to understand the natural behaviour of this marvellous insect. Rather then talking about what we should do to our bees, the book focuses on what and how the bees, when left to their own devices, decide to do some of the things they do.

Seeley goes into the details of his ground breaking experiments which encompass most of what we currently know about feral hives, the communication processes involved during a swarm and the characteristics of a good bait hive. We also get some insight into Seeley's scientific process and the creative approaches used to uncover honeybee mysteries.

While I consider this a valuable read for all beekeepers, the stories describing the honeybee's sophisticated approaches to communication and decision making will also appeal to the non-beekeepers with a healthy sense of curiosity. You can find a copy on Amazon here.

The following video lecture gives a summary of the ideas discussed in the book. Watch with caution if you haven't read yet read the book. You might spoil some of the suspense.


PDF of Abbé Warre's Beekeeping for All

The full 12th edition translated into english by David Heaf (one of the more prominent modern day users of the the warré hive.)

The book covers a bit of beekeeping basics, Warré's analysis of some of the different hives of his time, a few interesting observations of bee behaviour in addition the specifications and rational behind his own hive design. Many interesting things in here even if you are an experienced beekeeper with no interest in using a warré hive.

If you assume it's not possible to put natural comb without frames in an extractor have a look at page 63.

In the 5th edition warré discussed the option of using frames in his style of hive.

There's another video in which David Heaf goes through the different pieces used in this hive and some of his construction methods that is worth watching as well:

As my SO is a fudge lover, making her a batch for valentines day was an obvious gift. The only thing about fudge that i'm not crazy about is all the sugar that goes into it. So I set out to make a fudge using honey.

double pounding heart honey fudgePhoto by: Shawn Caza / CC: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

I used this recipe from the Joy in My Kitchen blog with a few modifications.

Ingredients (The following quantities made a heck of a lot of fudge. Feel free to adjust to your needs.)

  • 3/4 C organic butter

  • 1 1/2 C coconut heaven Chocolate from Chocosol

  • 3/4 C crystallized honey from our hives (any raw honey will do, but crystalized probably gets the final texture a little more solid quicker)

The chocolate I used was 65% cacao and already had some sweetener and coconut butter added. So I ended up using much less honey and butter in proportion to chocolate than the original recipe called for. As a sweet fiend I think it's still good and sweet and I probably would have cut back on the honey regardless.


The chocolate came in bar form so the first step was to turn it into a powder in the food processor. Then I mixed all the ingredients together in a large bowl. I used a hand blender to achieve a smooth finely mixed consistency. The result was a very soft fudge that was very easy to mold and a taste I'm totally in love with.


Thinking of becoming a beekeeper?

Start with our list of the top ten questions you need be think about before getting started.

I also run a hands-on, season long, beekeeping course. More details on the Toronto Honeys site if you are interested in applying.

Why Urban Beekeeping?

As an city-boy the draw to beekeeping was simple. I was generally concerned about the environmental impact of industrial agriculture, and the quality of my food supply. As a result I wanted to become more involved in the production of my own food. While working at a community garden I learned there was a group doing beekeeping.


At the time the notion of keeping bees seemed like a wild dream. I do love honey so I decided being able to see how it's made was an opportunity I should jump at. Never mind the fact that I had up to this point been afraid of bees and was uncertain if I was allergic to their stings. I was careful my first season as a beekeeper and didn't get stung at all. I've since learned that I'm not allergic and very few people really are.

urban beekeeping


Challenges to urban beekeeping in Toronto

The greatest impediment to keeping bees in this city is the Ontario bee act. Though many cities around the world have recently opened up the doors to beekeepers, our provincial law specifies that hives must be kept at a distance of 30m from property lines (or 10m from highways). Though the act isn't enforced unless someone complains about your bees, it makes me reluctant to keep a hive at my own house and drives others to practice beekeeping covertly without the benefit of the provincial inspector.

On the other hand there certainly seems to be wide spread interest in beekeeping, and many different parties are competing for locations. Without the 30m rule, we'd likely need some form of regulations around hive density or we'd see an over abundance of bees in the city similar to what has been reported in New York and London.

So far both the local media and the public have been very receptive to the concept of urban bees. So I can't exactly say public relations is a problem, but it is certainly something I think about a great deal. Many Toronto beekeepers are just jumping in and hoping to figure things out as they go. The problem is, even among those who've been doing this for a while, it's a very small minority that have a reasonable sense of what is involved in managing population growth. This has resulted in some overcrowded apiaries, lots of swarms getting away from beekeepers, and feral colonies setting up homes in places where they are not wanted and need to be removed.

So far not a big deal, but I fear as our cities bee population grows we might see a backlash similar to what New York experienced after a few swarms clustered on busy public streets. With this in mind, I've put in a great deal of effort towards mastering the art of population control and have established relationships with farms where I can bring bees if my city locations exceed capacity.

I'd also say some work still needs to be done increasing the general public's comfort level around bees, showing that these generally docile creatures are not a serious threat and that they differ from wasps.

bees exchanging nectar


Why not move to a farm if you want to keep bees?

Well, there is a great deal I enjoy about the urban lifestyle, but I probably would move to a farm if I saw it as a good opportunity for me. It's just very difficult to see myself becoming a full time beekeeper at this time. It's a profession that is facing some monumental challenges and it would make for a very risky career move.

There might be a great deal of concrete here but there is also a great diversity of flowers. In contrast, much of our agricultural land has been transformed into large mono-crop operations that depend on the heavy use of pesticides which consequently makes it uninhabitable for bees.

bee nose


Where do city bees find flowers?

The quality of forage varies widely by neighbourhood, a few well planted gardens here, a street lined with a bunch of the right kind of trees there, an empty lot over grown with wild flowers before being developed does add up.

On the other hand, with some locations we've seen our hives consistently under-produce, and have had to accept that there was simply not enough forage in the area for the number of hives that had been set up in the area.

Honey bee on clover at Downsview park Toronto.


Beekeeping groups and associations

Resonating Bodies - "A series of art and community projects which focus on pollination ecology, with special attention paid to the intersection of native bees, habitat and coevolution of plants and pollinators of Toronto, Canada and beyond"

Urban Toronto Beekeepers' AssociationThey've been meeting once a month since 2013. Meetings typically feature a speaker presenting a topic. They also have a facebook group.

Toronto Beekeepers Co-op - This group has been operating at different sites in Toronto since the early 2000's. A limited number of new members are accepted every year. Members learn the art of beekeeping along side staff beekeepers through the collective management of the hives.

Toronto District Beekeepers’ Association - Membership is open to all. The groups meets once a month throughout the beekeeping season. The group has been around over 100 years and attracts all sorts of beekeepers. The meetings are held just a little outside of Toronto at the Kortright Centre in Vaughan.

U of T B.E.E.S. - The university of Toronto's student beekeeping club at the st.George campus.


Bee supply shops

It's a bit of a niche market, and there's not a whole lot of options out there. If making a long trip it's not a bad idea to call ahead and make sure that they have what you need in stock.

Propolis-etc. (Near Keele and Sheppard) - They also have a few shops around Ontario and Quebec.

A list of equipment suppliers for all of Ontario can be found on the Ontario Beekeepers' Association's site.

You can also have supplies shipped to you from Bee Maid in Manitoba.