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The minister with a passion for bees

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Minister Walter Roban, Beekeeper (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Minister and beekeeper Walter Roban (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Walter Roban, beekeeper, Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, suits up before checking on the honey supply in beehives at Locust Hall, Devonshire (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Walter Roban (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Walter Roban, beekeeper, Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, foreground, with beekeepers Tommy Sinclair and John Furbert (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

It’s a side of Walter Roban that is a million years away from politics, yet he uses it to be informed about the environment. Reporter Sarah Lagan meets the Minister of Home Affairs as he tends to his passion – bees

Beekeeping is more than just a hobby for Walter Roban; it is a discipline that helps him to better fulfil his role as the minister responsible for the environment.

The Deputy Premier was enticed by two friends in 2018 to take a course in beekeeping and he hasn’t looked back since.

He took time out of his schedule to share his passion with The Royal Gazette at a collection of hives nestled deep in the woodlands surrounding Locust Hall in Devonshire.

Suited from head to toe in his protective mesh beekeeper’s suit, Mr Roban said: “As minister of the environment, I felt a need to have a better understanding of some of the essential issues that pertain to our environment and to get a better appreciation, hands-on.

“This is a way for me to have a real understanding of the bees and their relationship with the environment, and to build a greater appreciation in some of the decisions I have to make on policy that would impact our environment, agriculture, sustainability and the issues we are having with climate change.”

Mr Roban was accompanied by John Furbert, a beekeeper and son of the late Randolph Furbert, who was known as the father of modern beekeeping in Bermuda and was a former president of the Bermuda Beekeepers Association.

Mr Furbert said his father had “an insatiable drive” and would emerge from his bed at dawn to watch the first bee of the morning take off.

Also in attendance was Tommy Sinclair, Principal Agriculture Officer with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who is also a beekeeper and former president of the association.

We made our way down a country path to a set of dual-chambered beehives to check on the honey supply.

The honey bees, which are different from Bermuda’s native solitary species known as leafcutters, generally begin producing in April and reach peak supply around August.

Each man had a smoker in hand — a device whose design has not changed for a couple of centuries and which bellows smoke to make the bees docile.

“The smoke is like a narcotic,” explained Mr Roban. “It calms them down and makes them kind of drunk.”

Mr Sinclair added: “It also masks any pheromones that help the bees to sense that someone is approaching.”

However, Mr Roban explained that certain colonies have different temperaments and this hive was teaming with particularly aggressive bees. “The queen carries all the primary genetics and the bees reflect her genetics.”

One of the hives was gently pried open using a metal hive tool and as they lifted out the honeycomb containing the precious honey, its creators began to swarm around the trio. Mr Furbert received a sting through his face mask and our videographer, Kyle McNeil, who was standing a considerable distance away given his lack of protection, also received a sting to his head.

Mr Roban said it was a rite of passage to get a sting as a beekeeper. “If you haven’t been stung, it means you haven’t been getting too deep into it.

“I got stung on my eyelid and it swelled up. I looked like I had been in a fight.”

The honeycomb cells were partially filled and in need of a little more work before the bees will be ready to seal them each with a little white cap.

Mr Roban explained: “Most of it will be harvested and the bees can still eat. Because there are so many flowers around bees can easily collect and build their food supplies.”

He said the location, which was surrounded by crops from Pacheco & Sons Farm land, was perfect for beekeeping. A symbiotic relationship is struck where the bees collect nectar from the abundant flowering trees and plants, while the bees go about busily pollinating the crops.

“You might have a peppery note because of the Mexican Pepper and other flavours from different varieties of plants,” Mr Roban said. “Because Bermuda is small there is a high concentration so the honey is unique.”

While the visit to the beehives evoked an era of the past, the bees are assisting with modern technological advances as beeswax is being explored for use as a renewable fuel source for space satellites. Bermuda recently announced that it is on board a testing effort.

Mr Roban said: “We are the first international partner outside of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology space project. Our wax is unique. It has already been part of the experiments and we will soon share more developments about that.”

Beekeeper Tommy Sinclair pulls out the honeycomb of one of the hives to inspect the supply (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Minister Walter Roban, Beekeeper (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 14, 2021 at 8:09 am (Updated June 14, 2021 at 10:54 am)

The minister with a passion for bees

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