There’s a buzz in the air as beekeepers in Saskatchewan and across the country are hard at work with honey bee season underway.
However, there is concern among the beekeeping community as some operators have been reporting higher mortality rates in honey bees in the province.
One Saskatchewan company that recorded a higher than normal mortality rate is Hamilton Apiaries located just north of Regina.
Andrew Hamilton, the owner and operator of Hamilton Apiaries, said 2021 was a good year for many beekeepers in Saskatchewan after the previous winter provided a good start to the season.
However, the situation is not looking as positive this year.
“This year, there are some good ones, a lot in the middle of the road and some bad ones,” admitted Hamilton.
Hamilton shared that 18 per cent of his honey bee colonies died this past winter. He’s used to lower losses at his farm, but he said he will take the loss given the stories he has heard from others in the industry.
“I know a few beekeepers that lost everything and a lot that lost 50 per cent, so I’m more than happy with this,” he noted. “We had one yard that took a bad loss of 60 per cent, but we had a lot of really good yards, too.”
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So what caused more bee colonies to die this year compared to last year? A cool spring, especially cold spells in April, is what Hamilton considers the biggest reason behind honey bee losses. He said the bees were not able to get going as early as they normally do.
“People were looking at their hives at the start of April and thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got 10 hives.’ But at the end of April, they only had five.”
Simon Lalonde, a member of the board of directors with the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission, mentioned the mortality range in Saskatchewan is normally around 15 to 20 per cent.
This time around, he expects the province will see a 30 to 40 per cent final mortality range.
“There were a number of things that have affected honey bees between mites and a long, cold winter, not to mention really no spring so far to allow the bees to build up. All of that is pushing the bees backwards a little bit.”
Another problem has been a little mite that attaches itself to honey bees and feeds on them. Varroa mites, an external parasite of adult honey bees, had a high population in the fall. They ultimately had a negative effect on the province’s beekeepers, including Hamilton Apiaries.
“We can definitely try and manage the bees as best we can — try and control the mites. That’s what a lot of the work is going on right now,” added Lalonde.
Despite the setbacks, beekeepers like Hamilton are staying positive as they’re seeing bee numbers rebound and strong honey prices which seem to not be slowing down any time soon as demand increases.
“They are coming back fast. They are growing and improving every day,” said Hamilton. “I need lots of warm, sunny days and lots of pollen. So, I’m staying optimistic.”