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‘It’s been a hard winter’ for the bees

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today


Bees and the beekeeping industry in Northumberland and the province are still threatened despite legislation reducing the use of pesticides.

Some beekeepers in the county have already discovered significant winter kill of these very important pollinators and honey producers.

At least one Baltimore-area hobbyist, who has been doing it for decades, is so discouraged he said he is thinking of getting out of beekeeping completely. He declined to be identified until he can check the full status of his hives when the weather warms again.

“I think it is what is called a perfect storm,” says Mandy Martin, another beekeeper who is from the Colborne area. When it warmed up in mid-February and the maple syrup started to run, there wasn’t even a buzz from her solitary backyard hive.

“I can’t see them and I can’t hear them,” Martin said.

She also has bees in two other locations, but could hear them at those near Dundonald and Vernonville.

“I’m ever hopeful,” Martin said, adding she put out honey for them to feed on when the weather again warms.

“I know of other people with hive failures,” she added. “It’s been a hard winter.”

The factors working against the bees, Martin believes, include pesticides as well as the impact of last year’s drought on the production of nectar and pollen on which the bees feed. In addition, the Varroa mite can affect the health of the hive and constant vigilance is required to keep them in check, Martin said.

Ian Hartford of the Grafton area has been keeping bees for 38 years and is the president of the Central Ontario Beekeepers Association.

Hartford has 12 hives which he looked into when it warmed up in February and they were all alive, he said. But at least a few might not have survived of the 17 more he has in Roseneath.

The cold snap that hit the area recently was hard on the bees, arriving just when their food supply was low and they need to beat their wings rapidly to warm the hive and help the queen bee hatch her eggs.

In addition to the adverse impact of pesticides which can disorient bees and make them lethargic, mites, bears and skunks are threats to bees, Hartford said.

In addition, while more and more people are joining the beekeeping industry, some new hobbyists are just not caring for the bees the way they should, and every year they have to buy new hives to replace the ones that die, Hartford continued.

“Some don’t even inspect the brooding colony” to ensure the health of the hive, he said.

Dampness and mould are other issues that can do in a hive, Hartford said.

Pesticides, though, are a real concern.

That is why the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association has launched a lawsuit against Bayer, the maker of the neonicotinoids pesticide particularly used on corn.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association issued this recent media release.

“In a letter to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food Hearing on Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) proposal to phase out the main uses of imidacloprid, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association (OBA) warned committee members that the threat to Ontario bees and the Ontario beekeeping industry from neonicotinoid pesticides like Imidacloprid continues despite the initiation of legislation in Ontario.”

The health of bees is not just a concern for beekeepers, but for everyone since Ontario grows over 35% of Canada’s fresh fruits and vegetable that require pollination.

“The health of Ontario’s bees and all insect pollinators should be of prime importance for anyone concerned about Canada’s food security, ” the release states.

“Bees are exposed to these highly toxic, water-soluble insecticides via contact with dust from planting, from pollen gathered from target and adjacent crops or from ground water that translocates from the excess pesticide residues in the soil to streams and rivers.

“While Ontario Beekeepers applaud Health Canada for taking action to phase out neonicotinoids. the proposed three-to-five year phase out will do much to protect our environment and preserve our food security, the OBA has made several recommendations to enhance how this phase out can help provide a healthy environment for insect pollinators.”

These include accelerating the phase out and checking out any substitute pesticides very carefully.

“The current practice of the overuse of pesticides is destructive to our environment and benefits only the AgChem industry. Using pesticides in an IPM program and only when there is a demonstrated need is a reasonable policy for limiting their use.”

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association has been in existence since the early 1980s and has a long-term view of bees here.

“Exposure to neuro toxic pesticides is the most important issue affecting the health of insect pollinators in Ontario today and threatening the sustainability of Ontario’s beekeeping industry,” the release concludes.