Keeping Bees Buzzing

Beekeepers on Vancouver Island and beyond may find their colonies survive the winter better and have fewer diseases and pests, thanks to a demonstration project initiated by the BC Bee Breeders’ Association.

Bees have been dying in increasing numbers in the last few years due to infestations of varroa mites and pests such as the internal parasite Nosema ceranae.

Importing replacement bees every spring is not only costly, but beekeepers have also found that they are ill-adapted to the province’s lower spring and fall temperatures and are more susceptible to chalkbrood — a fungal killer.

“Varroa mites continue to become resistant to miticides so, rather than search for new treatments, we are looking for bees that show resistance and survive with mites on their own,” explains project coordinator Brenda Jager. “This is the way to ensure we will continue to have healthy local bees.”

With help from IAF, the Association was able to set up and pilot a demonstration yard to test cold-hardy Canadian stocks and assess their adaptability.

The project tracked productivity of each colony as well as their pest and disease profiles.

Breeders were also able to learn optimal stock selection techniques from Dr. Stephen Pernal, a bee scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), as well as practice hands-on assessments with stock provided by AAFC’s Beaverlodge Research Station and Bee Breeder Liz Huxter of Grand Forks.

Over one hundred queen cells of successful stocks have already been distributed across southern Vancouver Island.

For both Jager and Dr. Pernal, the project holds potential far beyond its island origins.

“This is a move toward increased queen quality and greater self-sufficiency for stock production, not just within BC but for the Canadian beekeeping industry as a whole,” Pernal explains.

The Association is now seeking breeder partners from the mainland to establish new assessment yards in BC. According to Jager, collaboration is a key factor in kick-starting subsequent projects.

“We’re seeing enhanced cooperation among beekeepers as a result of this study,” says Jager. “By sharing the risk and sharing the knowledge, beekeepers from all areas can also share the rewards.”

Funding: $11,029 through the federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. (A0646 ES)