Shorter winter favours honeybees

Some high overwintering losses may be attributed to inexperience and not the winter weather

While it’s too early to know for certain, this year’s shorter winter has all the hallmarks of overwintering success for Manitoba beekeepers.

“I would expect good overwintering success,” said Allan Campbell, president of the Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association, adding that winter is a key factor for Prairie apiarists.

“The winter conditions, I expect that to make a huge difference this year, winter is probably one of the biggest threats in Manitoba,” he said.

Industry officials say it’s too early to gauge overwintering losses, but the fact that it was a shorter winter raises optimism. Long winters are considered more damaging than exceptionally cold ones, but when the two are combined, it can decimate colonies. Overwintering losses after the winter of 2014 were an average of 46 per cent.

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Waldemar Damert said however, that it’s not only weather that impacts a bee colony’s ability to survive.

“A mild winter definitely helps, but it’s not everything… our bees are actually dying because of a few factors,” said the president of the Red River Apiarists’ Association. “Agriculture these days uses a lot of pesticides and so that’s another big impact right there.”

The commercial beekeeper also believes that high winter mortality may be linked in part to a surge of new honey producers who might not have the experience they need to keep colonies healthy.

“Since 2006, we’ve had a fairly big influx of newer beekeepers who don’t have experience, and experience is very important with this — in this climate specifically,” Damert said. “So many people go into beekeeping with the idea that this is a wild animal and will take care of itself, all I need to do is just extract the honey. That’s not the case.”

Campbell noted he’s only heard from a couple of beekeepers regarding winter losses this spring, but he added the apiarist with the highest losses he’s heard of so far is also new to the industry.

“I’m not really sure what’s behind that, other than the guy who lost 50 per cent is a new beekeeper,” he said. “So that could be just due to experience.”

As for his own 4,000 hives, Campbell said they spent the winter in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

“So I can tell you I had a great winter,” he said, adding his bees are now heading to the blueberries of the Fraser Valley, before returning to Manitoba for the summer months.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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