Honey: it's complicated

By Jenn Watt

Published Aug. 21 2018

Health Canada announced last week a proposal to phase out neonicotinoids pesticides linked to bee population declines. This news was welcomed by many who had worried about the impact these pesticides were having on bee colonies and other pollinators.

It is thought that exposure to these specific pesticides weakens bee colonies and can alter normal behaviour of the insects.

Pesticide is one of the many challenges that face beekeepers in the province.

Minden Hills based honey producers Ray Martin and Juliette Arsenault sell honey pollinator seed packs and offer beekeeping consulting through their company Honey From The Hills.

They say the upkeep of healthy bees can be complicated – particularly when weather doesn’t co-operate.

Disease and parasites are the biggest threats a beekeeper needs to keep in mind they say. “There are a number of health challenges that can affect honeybees such as tracheal mites nosema European and American Foulbrood; but the most serious health challenge for overwintering colonies are varroa mites and the virus complex they vector” Martin and Arsenault said in an email to the Echo . “There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 viruses that Varroa destructor can transmit from bee to bee. Bees can’t tell you they don’t feel well so the symptoms have to be observed by a beekeeper…”

Ontario beekeepers are also watching closely for an invasive insect called the small hive beetle which is mostly in the United States but has made forays into Canada in recent years.

Found in Essex County in 2010 the area was quarantined. Another beetle found in the Niagara region was dealt with through depopulation of the hive where it was found.

The small hive beetle larvae can stress a colony spoiling food stores and feeding on developing brood. So far the beetle has been kept under control and has not become a major issue in the province.

And then there’s the winter.

“We can do everything right: treat for mites leave enough honey for them to eat throughout winter wrap and prepare hives for winter; and still experience huge losses based on weather” Martin and Arsenault say.

Through the toil of beekeepers we all benefit from delicious products and the service of pollination that bees provide. The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association says nearly $900 million of Ontario’s fruit and vegetable crop relies on bees for pollination.

Starting Monday Aug. 27 Abbey Gardens will be highlighting the world of apiculture during Honey Week. Martin and Arsenault are leading a workshop on beekeeping on Aug. 27 and will be helping Abbey Gardens in a honey extraction demonstration.