The bees should be buzzing, but with spring taking its own sweet time arriving, there has been little for the bees to buzz about. Normally by this time bees are busy collecting their first loads of pollen from the alders and pussy willows. This pollen is the protein source the bees need to feed their new larvae and produce a new generation of workers to carry out their major job of pollination as well as create that golden harvest we all know as honey.
When beekeepers took away the insulation from the wintering hives earlier this spring all was not as well as hoped. Colony collapse disorder which has been stalking the industry these last years is always a fear. Then what started with a bit of warm weather early in April turned downright cold, preventing the early bloom of alders that traditionally supplies that first flush of pollen for the bees. Continued cold, windy weather further prevented the bees from foraging at all. Veteran beekeeper Rick Neilson of Seven Bends Honey now keeps only about a dozen colonies of bees and was quite pleased with his colonies survival rates losing only one weak hive he had not expected to survive. He credits some of his bee's success to a new colony insulation method he uses. A 4-6" layer of shavings between a tarpaper wrap and two colonies stacked side by side seems to have been very successful this past winter. He noted the first signs of bees bringing in some pollen on April 21st.
Varoa mites which parasitize honey bees, weakening the colony, has also been a problem over past years. But Neilson claims a new treatment - fumigating colonies with oxalic acid - appears to be a very successful treatment. Oxalic acid is the substance found naturally in rhubarb leaves that makes them noxious to humans, (and varoa mites) says Neilson.
Other District beekeepers have not been so fortunate with several reporting losses approaching 75 per cent of their overwintering colonies. Although some losses were expected, this was extreme. Beekeepers have limited choices on how to restock their apiaries. The quickest and simplest method is purchasing “nucs" which is a box containing frames, feed, worker bees, and a laying queen that is then placed in an empty colony. This "nuc" will quickly expand to take advantage of the spring nectar and pollen flow. But at over $250 per "nuc” it is a significant investment.
The alternative is to split your existing colonies that are ready to swarm, dividing the brood and “requeening” the new hive. This is a process that takes time and a good deal of skill.
District beekeepers have a Facebook group. Search for Beekeeping Rainy River District. All the best to a local group of entrepreneurs as they not only struggle to keep their industry vibrant, but provide the pollinators for our food supply. The results will be sweet.