How Are You Handling Things? Q&A with Alumnus Paul Kelly

Posted on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Head shot of Paul.

*** Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing a series of Q&As featuring OAC community members to showcase how people are coping with our uncertain - but collective - state. We’re hoping these will help connect and support our community (in a small way) during these isolating and challenging times. Look after yourself and those around you. ***

Paul Kelly is an OAC alumnus (BSc. Agr. 1983) and the research and apiary manager with U of G’s Honey Bee Research Centre. Although mostly working from his home in Fergus, Ontario, Paul has essential work to be done caring for the bees on campus. We recently chatted with him to see how he is doing and to learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting beekeeping across Canada.

What’s your current situation? 

 I’ve been working from home for the most part but have been coming into work when necessary. Caring for our bees is an essential activity and we’ve already started the spring beekeeping work.

What are some of the unique ways that Covid-19 is impacting the HBRC?

We would normally have a large team from all over the world working out of a small house. Needless to say, that’s not currently possible. Our work is time consuming and labour intensive so many hands are required. We also include numerous people on our team to provide learning opportunities. We really enjoy all the energy created by this diverse group of individuals and are missing that aspect of our work.

Public education and beekeeper training are a focus here.  We’ve had to cancel all courses, tours, demonstrations for beekeepers and travel to present at beekeeper’s meetings. In a way this will allow our small core working group to focus on caring for our bees and essential bee health research.  We are still able to teach beekeeping on a global scale with our Youtube ‘How To’ video series. Our channel is getting over 50,000 views per week now.

Close up of a honey bee.

How do you anticipate that the pandemic will affect beekeeping across Canada?

The two most significant issues for beekeepers related to COVID -19 are the supply of imported bees and the availability of workers.

Canadian beekeepers import queens and some package bees (bulk bees in a screen box) to help make up for winter losses and expand colony numbers. Queens are used when dividing populous hives in the spring; package bees are used for starting new colonies. Logistical issues are limiting these importations. Most bees come in on passenger planes as they have climate-controlled conditions. In Ontario we’ve worked for many years to improve our self-sufficiency. This is paying off now.

Labour is another story. Our commercial beekeepers have come to rely on employees in from Mexico and some other countries. These employees are highly skilled as they return year after year for 6 to 8 month work terms. They become part of a beekeepers extended family. This year the workers will be allowed in but there has been much uncertainty and delay. They will be quarantined and not allowed to do any work for 14 days. The federal government will pay for salaries during the quarantine period. Most beekeepers in this situation have a house for their crew and each employee has their own room. Physical distancing is possible in this case but I’m sure there will be some last-minute construction to adapt accommodation or a reduction in staff numbers. Securing flights for employees is difficult. Beekeepers are resourceful, and they will meet this challenge, but the COVID situation has exposed the vulnerabilities of relying on off shore labour.

How are you finding physical distancing?

I keep busy and connect with people over the phone, text, email and now video conferencing. So far so good. Once we are back full time at our workplace and out in the bee yards there will be lots of opportunity for more direct connections. Winter is when I take vacation days, so I’ve been at home in my workshop building things when I’m off and have an office set up in my workshop for when I’m doing work for the University. I’m in a good situation and feel very fortunate.

Thinking back my workplace in early March we went from hugs to elbow bumps to 2 metres distance over the course of a week.

What are some ways you are staying in touch with friends and family?

We sure don’t have a shortage of ways to keep in touch. I’m attending my first online yoga class tonight with my buddies from ‘Yoga for Stiff Guys’!

What’s brought you the most joy over the last few days?

A colleague from China got in touch last week to check in on my family and I. He had heard that personal protective equipment is hard to find here and arranged to send me a parcel full of gear for work and home use. A very kind gesture.

Going for bike rides with my daughter, a University of Guelph graduate student. The smiles and greetings from folks we encounter at a distance. Everyone seems to want to make a friendly connection. We are all in this together!

Do you have any advice for your fellow OAC community during these uncertain times?

Keep busy like a bee!

Paul working in the bee yard.

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