A sunny late-winter day in New Westminster and the crocuses are blooming, offering a rare early source of pollen for overwintered bees.  (Copyright: Jeff Lee)

B.C. honey producers begin to report high winter losses

Spring is around the corner, and at least in the Fraser Valley the crocuses and big leaf maples have started to bloom, offering some of the first pollen sources to overwintered bees.
But this winter has been hard for some British Columbia beekeepers, with some reporting losses of more than 50 per cent, and not because of harsh weather conditions.
Earlier this year I reported on an apparent mystery involving unexpected colony losses due to a disease similar to nosema. Paul van Westendorp, the provincial apiculturist, said early tests of about three dozen samples had failed to show detectable levels of nosema spores, even though there were large amounts of fecal staining on hives that contributed the samples.
We’re now hearing anecdotally that a larger number of commercial beekeepers in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley have lost significant numbers of hives just as they get ready for the blueberry set, the first major demand for pollination services.
Commercial beekeepers are already working long hours getting ready, working their hives to check for deadouts and to feed stores necessary to meet the standard 8-4-1 configuration for a pollination unit: eight frames covered with  adult honey bees of which,  at least four frames containing all stages of brood and a laying queen.
The first batches of packages imports from New Zealand, Australia  and Chile have also already been settled into their new homes. Up the valley major producers such as Jean Marc Le Dorze of Mission-based Golden Ears Apiaries have already filled many local orders for overwintered nucleus colonies (which he was selling to clubs for $140 per nuc, based on minimum orders.)
This weekend I’ll be at the B.C. Honey Producers Association’s semi-annual general meeting in Kamloops, which includes both a day of business discussions and a spring education day. On the business Friday we’re likely hear an update from van Westendorp and a roundup of reports from regional representatives, which will give us a better picture on how severe or widespread is the no-no-nosema mystery.
Barry Denluck of the B.C. Bee Breeders Association will also follow up on new initiatives in breeding disease-resistant bees, and Brenda Jager will give a report on the DAY (Duncan Assessment Yard), which involved cross-breeding queens from a number of sources, including Saskatraz bees.  At the BCHPA meeting last year Jager suggested turning the localized project into a “BAY” or “breeding assessment yard” project that would provide queen cells on a larger scale to the province’s beekeepers.
The BCHPA is also expected to deal with two issues arising from last year’s meeting: a governance review looking at how to make the organization more effective, and the curriculum for a new beginners beekeeping course.

Pollen-laden honey bee working a crocus in New Wesminster, B.C. in March, 2013

Pollen-laden honey bee working a crocus in New Wesminster, B.C. in March, 2013

Saturday’s education day is given over to the advice many will need for recovering from winter’s effect on our colonies.
Elizabeth Huxter of Kettle Valley Queens, arguably one of the best queen-breeders in the province and who has been involved in developing varroa-resistant bees, will give a session on managing nucleus colonies”.
Former BCHPA president Stan Reist of Flying Dutchman Honey will talk about wintering shelter for nucleus colonies, and Joe Lomond of Ashcroft Honey will discuss queen rearing for nucleus colonies.
Eric Stromgren, the BCHPA’s first vice president, will have lots of advice on advanced management for backyard beekeepers.

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