How fast things can change in a single year! From disaster last winter to fortune this spring, from crying over rows of dead hives to laughing over whole yards of live ones. After a disatrous winter last year our honey bees have come through winter in “flying” condition.
Last year we were down on our knees, having lost 85 per cent of our colonies to diseases and other problems in the winter of 2018-2019. We had to spend a small fortune to start again in the spring in order to meet pollination contracts and our honey needs. This year? We have a stunningly high overwintering success so far of 90 per cent.
I shot this video of this booming hive on the afternoon of March 19. It is representative of many of the several hundred hives that have made it through winter. What a relief!
This is a complete turnaround – at least for us – from the major losses many beekeepers across Canada and the United States endured over the 2018-2019 winter. We weren’t the only ones who were dealt a severe blow, and much of the problem appeared to be a combination of lack of food, a late winter cold snap, and an unusual disease profile that could be summed up as “parasitic mite syndrome”, where the bees just collapsed from a variety of problems.
What Did We Do Different In The Wake Of Disaster?
Last year we completely retooled how we did things. We spent a lot of effort to irradiate diseased comb at Iotron Industries in Port Coquitlam. That alone took down the potential for residual pathogens. We left lots of honey on for winter. We monitored and treated for the virus-carrying mites that can do so much damage. And we took our losses in the fall, collapsing or uniting weak colonies that we didn’t think made the grade.
Three weeks ago we gingerly popped the lids to find many good, strong hives. We put down dried sugar blocks as emergency feed and added some pollen patties to boost brood-rearing. We’ve been rewarded with many hives now growing fast with new bees.
We’re also seeing bees bringing in several types of pollen, of different colours. Deep red, orange, and a lighter yellow. Willow? Maples? Not sure. But it is a sign of spring right around the corner.
The bees are not out of the woods yet; we’re still forecast to get a bit of snow this week and next. We also have lost a few smaller hives and overwintered nucs that have succumbed to what looks like Nosema. I also expect we’ll still lose a few hives before the end of the month. But there is such promise now as we head into spring!
So What Doe This Now Mean?
If the hives continue to thrive we’ll be able to split hives and build more colonies next month as we go into and come out of the very important cherry and apple pollination season. We have a large block of imported queens coming in at the end of this month to allow for that increase.
It also means more hives available to help Creston Valley’s orchardists. Last year many of them either couldn’t get bees or had to reach out to beekeepers far beyond the mountains. This year, however, it looks promising that they’ll get more bees from us.
I am now beginnig to assess how many colonies will be available for orchardists and will be contacting them in the coming weeks.