The parking lot south of Northlands Park Racetrack and Casino hides an urban treasure. Guarded by a chain-link fence and slotted between turret-like satellite dishes, five bustling honeybee hives sit on a grass island dubbed Pollination Park.
As the training ground for the Northlands Youth Beekeeping Project, Pollination Park allows amateur apiarists to learn about honeybees and gain hive handling experience.
On Thursdays evenings, project leader Dustin Bajer holds a beekeeping class for local youth aged 12 to 18. Based on a similar course he teaches at the John Janzen Nature Centre, the class covers everything from bee biology to harvesting honey.
“It’s not something you can go to school for in the traditional sense,” Bajer said. “You’re either born to a beekeeper, or you know a beekeeper, or you get a summer job, work with them for the season and get into it that way.”
Most local beekeeping classes are intensive and geared to adults. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) offers two-day urban beekeeping classes, but applicants must be at least 16 years old to apply.
“Nobody’s doing it and there are kids that are interested in it,” Bajer added.
Now in its second year, the 20-week project gives youth like Mason Radies and Amelia Chan an opportunity to learn with a mix of classroom instruction and practical experience. The girls, both 15, have returned for another season with the project to hone their skills and develop new ones.
“I’m one of the guinea pig survivors,” Chan said with a laugh. “So I have more experience and I can be more helpful rather than be helped all the time.”
Chan has been fascinated with bees ever since she studied the insects in Grade 3.
“They’re so interesting. The way they act—the way they figure everything out,” she added. “They pick up what you’re putting down, so if you’re anxious and you’re scared, the bees will reflect that.”
She joined the project when Radies, her friend, introduced her to it last year. This year, the pair assists with classes, helping new students safely handle the hives.
“There’s a lot of community,” Radies said. “Through your learning you get to teach, and through teaching, you also get to learn, and that’s always fun.”
Students returning to the project this year also get to see how the hives have changed since last season.
“What’s nice this year is that we’re starting with bees that overwintered from last year,” Bajer said. “As a beekeeper you see new things all the time. We’re going to come across scenarios in these hives that we didn’t see last year, so it’ll still end up being a valuable experience for them.”
The City of Edmonton has permitted urban beekeeping since 2015 when city council amended the animal licensing and control bylaw.
The project is free and open to Edmonton-area youth. Classes meet on Thursday evenings at Northlands from 6 pm to 8 pm. Seats are limited. Email [email protected] to ask about openings or complete the application form on the Northlands website.
Featured Image: Beekeeping instructor Dustin Bajer (right) helps a student open and inspect a hive in Pollination Park. | Hamdi Issawi