While official statistics from Ontario’s provincial apiarist have not been released, anecdotal evidence and a survey by the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association suggest that Ontario’s bees didn’t winter well.
Hugh Simpson of Osprey Bluffs Honey, a commercial beekeeper in Feversham, says the cold winter that extended into spring was a major factor in his hives’ losses. Simpson runs a small to mid-size operation with between 300-400 hives and estimates he lost more than 50 per cent of his hives over this past winter.
“Even within that number there are some variables regarding which of the hives left over are strong and which ones are okay or weak. Within the 50 per cent that ‘made it’ there’d be a lot of bees and hives that are still questionable for their viability,” Simpson says.
Simpson’s priority is making sure the remaining hives are stable and up and running and has noted weather has been the main factor but doesn’t feel that he’s behind in production at this point.
“It’s early yet. We haven’t had a great spring (weather wise) to have strong hives in May. I’m looking forward now more to July to September for a honey crop,” says Simpson.
The weather coming out of the spring 2017 wasn’t what he’d call great bee weather. When he looks back at the last 18 months, from the time the bees were wintered in 2016 until May 2018 there’s been only two to three months of ‘normal’ beekeeping weather.
“In 2017 we came out of winter, (the bees) and they never had a chance to do all of the things needed to make a healthy hive during the summer 2017,” Simpson explains.
A normal year should offer four to five months of good beekeeping weather and he believes the unpredictability has made a significant difference in how beekeepers are dealing with the success (or lack thereof) of their operations. He feels that the effects of winter too, have impacted the bees’ ability to get the diversity of nutrition that they need in order to combat pests and disease.
“If bees are spending more time inside the hive due to weather your ability as a beekeeper to influence their health as it relates to disease, mites, viruses, and diversity of nutrition is more challenging,” he says. “Just like farming you’re a victim or a beneficiary of the weather.”