Pilot project aimed to help bee survival

June 3, 2013

From: Canada.com

New bees brought in from other areas of Canada

By Sarah Simpson, Citizen


Cowichan Beekeepers president Paul Peterson said despite all the efforts to address the issues of massive numbers of bee deaths over the last few years, bees are still under the gun.


“They’re doing a little bit better but there’s been a resurgence North America-wide because everybody wants to save the bees,” he said, noting membership with the Cowichan Beekeepers alone has seen a dramatic increase this year.


“Everybody wants to keep bees and they figure they’re going to solve the bee problem by keeping them in their back yard,” he said. While it’s not that simple, it helps.


“Not that anything’s wrong with that, but there are a lot of bigger issues,” he said.


But, stronger bee colonies that have fewer diseases and pests may mean bigger profits for beekeepers, farmers and so on down the chain thanks to the BC Bee Breeders’ Association’s successful Bee Stock Assessment and Training Yard project.


The program’s Duncan-based pilot project came as a result of declining bee populations over the last several years.


“We wanted to get better bees in our region. What we found is that people were just buying import stock and it wasn’t doing well here,” project coordinator Brenda Jager of the BC Bee Breeders’ Association explained. “They were coming from areas where it wasn’t cold. It was more dry and warm and those bees didn’t do well here.”


They’ve been in short supply in the last few years due to catastrophic losses caused by infestations of varroa mites and other pests.


Bees are responsible for the pollination of many species of food plants that provide us with fruits and vegetables and, with honeybee pollination in B.C. worth more than $160 annually in agricultural production according to the BC Ministry of Agriculture, something had to be done.


The goal was to find other Canadian stock that do well in the cold and the rain and the snow to restock the Island’s own diversity of bees. “We were looking for good bees,” Jager said. “We had certain criteria and we were looking for low var-roa mites, which is one of our major problems and the hives had to have zero disease at all. We weren’t breeding from anything that had any disease at all. We looked at temperament and we looked at honey crop.”


From 25 different test queens brought to the yard of Bee Haven Farms’ Steve Mitchell, three emerged as the best.


“The project ended in May 2012 and most of the bees went to Gabriola Island where Brenda was going to set up another project on over wintering of nucleus colonies,” Mitchell said. “The remaining residue of bees, six colonies, were left at our bee yard. They have done very well and I will be using one of them as a breeder in order to raise queens for sale and expansion of our operation here.”


Other bees were taken to Nanaimo for breeding.


Simple geography was the reason Mitchell’s Duncan farm was selected to be the site of the pilot project.


“It was the middle of the Island and many people could come for training. Most of the bees are from Campbell River to Victoria, but most of the beekeepers are from Nanaimo to Victoria,” Jager said.


“By putting it in Duncan we were making it accessible for training purposes and for the beekeepers to do the assessment work.”


Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada bee scientist Dr. Stephen Pernal is impressed with the program’s goal of finding the bees most resistant to mites and diseases.


“In my view, this is a move towards increased queen quality and greater self-sufficiency for stock production within B.C., and the Canadian beekeeping industry as a whole,” Pernal said. “Local selection will breed bees better adapted to B.C.’s conditions and lessen the need to manage parasites and diseases with synthetic chemicals.”


Now out of the development phase, Jager said, the project can be replicated in other regions “to keep bees buzzing well into the future.”

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