Now that fall has returned to Alberta, beekeepers can complete their fall chores of feeding and medicating where necessary as well as wrapping hives for the the winter. The lingering warm temperatures of October have been a boon to our grain farming friends but a mixed blessing for our bees. They’ve not suffered from cold or snow but they have been spending energy (food) foraging for nectar that’s no longer available. The end result is that they’re using up their honey surplus quicker than normal so constant hive monitoring has been necessary.
It’s also a time for planning our beekeeping strategy for next season. For the last few years we (and many Canadian beekeepers) have had difficulties keeping healthy queens. Most queens used in Alberta come from either California, Hawaii, New Zealand, or Australia. The difficulties include queens that are not accepted by the worker bees, worker bees rejecting queens at mid season, the complete disappearance of some queens, queens that don’t lay eggs consistently and queens that lay eggs that become diseased. There is ongoing research on this issue that so far is suggesting two possible reasons. During long distance travel queens can be exposed to large temperature fluctuations which reduces their reproductive ability. Also, exposure to certain neonicotinoid insecticides have been found to reduce the egg viability of queen bees. How will we alleviate these risks going forward? Avoiding insecticides can be done by locating hives where they are not used, or communicating with surrounding farmers to ensure they protect the hives from them. To avoid long distance travelling of queens, it would seem that sourcing them closer to home (or rearing them ourselves) would be the best option. In both cases it would mean that well mated queens wouldn’t be available until mid season (late June or July). This would dramatically change the timing of re-queening, increasing hive numbers and ultimately the amount of honey harvested. As with all farming, we always need to be ready to change long established procedures to cope with new challenges!