Beekeepers in Richmond, B.C. start effort to create a “locally adapted honey bee”

There is a new plan to try and develop a “local bee” in British Columbia’s Metro Vancouver area that takes advantage of hardiness of overwintering bees.
Because of B.C.’s generally cool winter climate and historic industry standards, beekeepers generally have had to rely on importing packages and queens. At first, they came from the United States but with Canada’s closure of the border 20+ years ago because of the advent of the varroa destructor mite, beekeepers turned to other countries, primarily Australia and New Zealand. Queens continue to be imported from Hawaii and California, but packages are out.
That’s meant a booming package bee import business to supply B.C.’s blueberry farmers, Alberta’s canola farmers, Manitoba’s honey producers and legions of hobbyist beekeepers.
But that Merry-Go-Round is costly, with packages costing $150+ and there are some substantial drawbacks to using bees that are raised in an entirely different part of the world and then expecting them to acclimatize and become successful producers here. There are now efforts by local beekeepers to try and develop locally sustainable bees that can overwinter, spin up brood faster in the spring and be resistant to disease. That’s a tall order in a part of the world where honey bees are not natural and are susceptible to the vagaries of weather.
The University of B.C., in concert with a number of B.C. breeders, has been trying to identify bees with better hygienic traits, and to breed them for production in local supply.
But a more modest and less scientific effort is being started by the Richmond Beekeepers Association, which wants to create a special mating yard in Terra Nova Rural Park in Richmond.
On Tuesday night the club voted to approve a project to house as many as 30 hives in the private park. The hives will have to meet some basic criteria in order to be eligible for inclusion in the mating yard. Although the experiment is still in its formative stages, a subcommittee of the association has suggested this is a beginning definition of what is a “locally adapted honey bee”:

  • It must have overwintered within the “local bee” region for at least two winters;
  • It can’t have had any treatments on the last calendar year;
  • OR to have been treated only with organic acids for the live of the colony;
  • It needs to have survived a honeybee disease without treatment for one calendar year;
  • Be gentle and easy to work with;
  • Be a good honey producer;
  • Be able to requeen itself without beekeeper intervention.

That may seem like impossibly high standards but club president Brian Campbell believes there’s enough hives among the 100+ club members to give the project a start.
He and the subcommittee members acknowledge the yard may take several years to start producing identifiable results, but they believe in the long term it will help give local beekeepers access to decent local genetic stock.
In future the group may start to charge for access to the yard, but at this point it’s still in the formative stages.
The effort comes as club members continue to pursue identification of hygienic bees through the use of liquid nitrogen tests.
The club will hold its annual field day on June 23 at Terra Nova Rural Park, where there will be a demonstration of the liquid nitrogen test.

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