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Hives at risk: Victoria honeybee hobbyist laments cool Vancouver Island spring

Bees at risk as temperatures hover below 12 C

Bill Cavers notes the temperature, edging up to 12 C under cloudy skies, as he dons a full white suit in preparation for opening one of two hives tucked away in his Fairfield yard.

With the Victoria air just warm enough, honeybees zip in and out – or more accurately out and in – collecting pollen to feed the clan. The cooler spring is proving a problem with fewer days above 12 C when the bees can forage to find plants and nectar and return to the hive. Below that they can become hypothermic and die.

This spring is varied with temperatures as low as 8 C during the day.

“It’s not as reliable or as robust as it normally is this time of year,” Cavers said.

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Thus the bees tend to stay in the hive on cooler days and this spring that’s stretching supplies pretty thin inside – so Cavers feeds them.

Covered head-to-toe to avoid the fury of an interrupted bee hive, he carefully pops off the outer cover, then pries off the inner cover to reveal two pools of sweet solution with wooden slats across them.

“Bees cannot swim, I’ve tried to teach them, they can’t swim, so they land on the raft here and take in the sugar syrup,” Cavers said. The bees return to the hive below and use it as food.

Supplementing for the late blooms isn’t a big deal for him, a keeper of two hives, but for larger growers with 10, 20 or 30, it tends to be a big task and an expensive one, the apiarist noted.

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Generally, colony winter mortality in southern B.C. is 12 to 15 per cent. By late February most colonies have begun brood rearing to replace the colony’s wintered adult bee population as it dies off from longevity.

Happily, Cavers sees brood in his hive and the bees are coming back with pollen when they do go out.

But the cool spring is just the latest in weather worries. Last summer’s heat wave prompted a higher infestation rate of mites, the varroa destructor, that many say is responsible for hive collapse syndrome.

Mites are a parasitic infestation and have spread across North America over the last decade or so. A mite will latch on to a bee and be carried around. When two bees are alight near each other, it can migrate to another and invest another hive. They climb into larvae cell and chew away at the bee’s liver.

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“The bee will either die in the cell or come out damaged and have a shorter life span. Also, the mites are a vector, they bring other diseases with them,” Cavers said.

Cavers is membership secretary for the Capital Region Beekeepers Association, with about 200 members, the largest club of its kind on Vancouver Island, but far from the only one.

According to the province, B.C. has more than 2,300 beekeepers operating about 47,000 colonies as a hobby or business venture.

Studies show honeybee pollination in B.C. is responsible for over $250 million per year in agricultural production, while the total market value of hive products accounts for $12 million per year.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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