If it’s not climate change we can still call it downright unusual weather! Southern Alberta has experienced a wetter, cooler summer but at least we haven’t been saturated with rain as badly as central Alberta. The word from Edmonton area beekeepers is that their honey harvest is down 50-60%. Our harvest looks like it will be lower than normal but we’re hopeful that the lack of frost will precipitate a good second nectar flow in September!
Canadian beekeepers are honoured that Apimondia, the International Apicultural Congress, is being held in Montreal this month. Chinook Honey Company beekeeper Jessie and co-owner Cherie will be attending. Look for their daily posts on Facebook and Instagram starting September 9th.
In the past few months we’ve been discussing the plight of pollinators in general terms. Honey bees, as managed livestock, are the easiest pollinators to monitor. And although they are not presently at risk, they face more challenges than ever before. Indeed, the role of beekeepers used to be relatively simple – place hives close to a good source of nectar and pollen, ensure adequate water is on hand, add honey supers regularly and reap the reward of bountiful honey throughout the summer and until frost arrived. Gone are those days. Many of the issues facing honey bees and all pollinators have been reported in the news extensively; parasitic mites, diseases, pesticides, etc. But there is one issue that hasn’t had much coverage.
Crop monocultures have become the norm in many areas. As crops that rely heavily on pollinators, soybean dominates our eastern provinces while canola dominates the west. Not only is a monoculture diet harmful to all living things but in the case of pollinators it means a brief feast and and an extended famine. During the brief flowering stage pollen and nectar are bountiful but once it’s over the plants have to no value to most pollinators. It’s a very limited nutritional window that can only be sustaining if farmers diversify with forage crops (clover, alfalfa, sainfoin, etc.), peas or herbs. In moderate climates berries, fruit and nuts also help. But how often do farmers consciously provide a smorgasbord for their pollinators? The issue is compounded because such practices don’t deliver sudden death – they weaken a species to the point that they can’t fight diseases and other stresses. Does this scenario sound familiar?