Beekeeping 101

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Beekeeping 101

May 17, 2024
BeeKeeping 101


Are you comfortable putting your hand into a hive with 60,000 bees? Are you attentive enough to keep a hive healthy and have a good production of honey? These are questions inmates ask themselves before deciding to become beekeepers.

Beekeeping is demanding, challenging, and fulfilling. It is also one of the Employment and Employability Programs offered by CORCAN in three Correctional Service Canada (CSC) facilities at Joyceville and Collins Bay institutions in Ontario, and Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba.

Boxes with beehives in tall grass. Person in distance wearing beehive suite, working on a box.

Beehives with white supers at Joyceville Institution agriculture sites.

CORCAN is a special operating agency within CSC that helps offenders gain certifications, vocational trainings, job training, apprenticeships, and experience working on sites. Offenders can apply these skills and experience when they transition back into the community. CORCAN has five business lines: construction, manufacturing, services, textiles, and agriculture. Beekeeping falls under the agriculture training program.

Participants in the beekeeping program learn how to problem solve and manage their time effectively. They learn to communicate about what they see happening in the hives, to adapt to changing weather, and to work together to find solutions to any problems that arise. Afterall, they are responsible for a living colony! 

“The bees are an important part of the ecosystem, pollinating plants, gardens, crops, and trees,” says Melanie Kopilas, an instructor at Stony Mountain Institution. “The benefits stretch beyond our little institution’s colony and allow participants to see a broader connection to the surrounding areas, as these little bees stay busy all season foraging and pollinating for miles!” 

Working with bees can have a positive impact on mental health and motivation. Participants benefit from the connection to nature. They also see the results of a successful hive firsthand when the busy bees produce honey. Honey is a wonderful, multi-functional product that tastes great. It is loaded with health benefits, such as antioxidants, nutrition, antibacterial properties as well as aids with digestive issues, soothes a sore throat, and calms a cough.

Stony Mountain works with Saskatraz bees. These bees are developed in Saskatchewan to be disease resistant, docile, mite tolerant, high honey producers, and better prepared for the harsh prairie winters. As beehives can be fragile, all three institutions with beekeeping programs are paying extra attention to the biosecurity of their hives to maximize their success. This includes working to introduce more hardy honeybees. With the help of community partners, program participants are strengthening the well-being of their hives and the ecosystem for the community to enjoy.

The sites have four harvests between mid June to the end of August. For protective equipment, Dustin Hoffmann, the production supervisor at Stony Mountain Institution, explains that the offenders are provided with beekeeping jackets and long cotton/leather beekeeping gloves to wear during while participating in the program.

He says, they wear a “full coverage heavy cotton white suit with a built-in zipper closed hood. The hood is expandable and has a black mesh to see through. This allows the participants to stay safe during the extraction process when examining hives and pulling honey supers for extraction.”

Box covered with bees with hand sticking ruler into it

A super that is divided into 10 frames at Joyceville Institution.

Boxes, called supers, are placed over the hives. There are 10 frames per super. Each hive has one to five supers depending on the honey flow. As the supers become denser, more supers are added on top so more honey can be collected.

“Before being able to harvest the honey from each hive, the bees must be removed from each frame with minimal stress and disturbance,” says Melanie.

Escape boards are placed under the honey frames in each super to allow the bees to leave the hive and forage while the honey is being extracted. However, these boards prevent the bees from returning to the honey dense supers. 

Person in beehive suit sliding piece of wood under box with bees on it

Offenders putting escape boards under the frames at Joyceville Institution.

“After 36 to 48 hours, these supers are collected. While a few bees do remain, they are gently brushed back towards the hive entrance,” explains Melanie. “The honey dense supers are then covered for transport to the honey extraction room so that the bees are unable to re-enter them. The few bees buzzing around, then quickly return to and remain with the hive [which is not moved]. In covering each super, we eliminated any bees following the transport vehicle to the building where honey extraction was taking place.”

Once in the extraction room, the honey is taken off the frames and strained through various strainers and sieves. The straining system clears the honey of wax before being put into 55-gallon drums, which weigh about 600 lbs. 

Stony Mountain’s beekeeping program is available to offenders in the minimum and medium security levels of the institution. For the minimum level program, about eight offenders work on the hives at a time. The medium level has four offenders working. For the 2023 Stony Mountain honey collection season, 1,300 frames were harvested at the minimum level program from 14 hives. At the medium level program, 490 frames were harvested from four hives.

Beekeeping is fascinating and no matter how much experience you have, there is a constant learning curve. For some participants, learning to take care of bees and hives has inspired them to consider beekeeping as future employment. In partnership with the University of Manitoba, offenders at Stony Mountain Institution can participate in the “Beekeeping for the Hobbyist” program and receive a certificate.

“Offenders at Joyceville Institution and Collins Bay Institution can take a two-day Introduction to beekeeping course in conjunction with Algonquin College,” says Tiffany Babcock, an instructor at the Ontario beekeeping sites.

Hand holding frame scraping honey into metal pail

Beekeeping program participant removing honey from the frame, draining out any impurities from the hive.

Close up of bees on a piece of hive

Worker Honeybees on the honeycomb produced in one of the hives at Stony Mountain Institution.

Stony Mountain Institution partners with the Bee-Maid Honey Cooperative. The site packages up the honey and delivers it to them in drums. You can purchase the Bee-Maid honey from retailers such as Costco, Sobeys, No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, and more. The extra honey that does not fit in the drums is packaged in 375 ml jars for purchase through CORCAN.

To make an order, you can contact a CORCAN sales representative by visiting or call at 1-800-267-0354. Shipping fees will apply if you are not able to pick up the honey in the National Capital Region. 

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Let’s Talk is a publication of Correctional Service Canada (CSC). Let’s Talk shares stories new and old of the people and programs at CSC. These stories provide an engaging window into how CSC fulfills its mission of contributing to public safety and assisting in rehabilitation. Let’s Talk is your home for informative articles, podcasts, and videos about CSC.

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