It’s been a great growing summer in southern Alberta and the bees are loving it! We’ve never had so many pollinator options in our fields at Chinook Honey – alfalfa, red clover, sweet clover and sainfoin – it’s a smorgasbord of nectar.
And we even caught donkey Matt Dillon pollinating canola! But wait – who’s in the wrong place? If you guessed the canola you’d be right. This is a large patch of volunteer canola and a common sight in farmyards and pastures everywhere that canola is grown. Canola seed is small and can blow a few miles from its original field.
Canola plays a large role in our world of beekeeping but we and some others have a love-hate relationship with this popular Alberta crop. The following summary explains many of the Pros and Cons.
Canola provides abundant nectar & high protein pollen for bees.
It’s dominance creates a mono-culture which reduces variety of nectar & pollen and thus overall honey bee nutrition.
Canola pollination provides a large income for many beekeepers.
Dependence on a single income stream can be hazardous if politics or other causes close out a large market.
Canola has been genetically modified for higher yields, disease resistance and is a reliable, hardy crop.
GM canola is resistant to the herbicide ‘Round-Up’ so all of the extensive volunteer patches are very hard to eradicate.
GM canola and honey from it are banned from countries such as the EU. Also the presence and potential of canola seed drifting makes it very difficult for a farm to achieve organic status. (GM organisms cannot be present)
Canola often requires the application of pesticides which, if improperly applied, are fatal to beneficial insects such as honeybees.
Canola honey crystallizes quicker than most other nectar sources and must be extracted very quickly.
There is anecdotal evidence that honey bees with a heavy diet of canola nectar and pollen develop aggressive behavior.
In the meantime, although Matt Dillon doesn’t find canola plants very tasty, he sure appreciates them as a natural belly scratcher!