Many bees didn't survive Alberta's long winter

The Greidanus Honey Mill in High River 'certainly' lost more than 30 per cent of hives.

High River mill lost more than 30 per cent of hives

One of the 6,000 beehives run by the Greidanus Honey Mill.

A beekeeper in High River says more than 30 per cent of her 6,000 hives died during Alberta's long, cold winter. 

"We have certainly experienced higher than average losses, I would say we have more than twice the losses we have from last winter," said Grace Strom, owner of the Greidanus Honey Mill.

Some of the the deaths can be attributed to pest problems, but weather was a major factor. Honey bees aren't able to relieve themselves when it's cold outside.

"A bee cannot defecate in the hive, it must fly. And so Chinooks are so crucial to a hive's success because it's that change in temperature that allows a bee to just pop out for 10 or 20 minutes, take a cleansing flight, and return. That is really, really important to the well-being of a bee. This winter we had so few Chinooks, that was really never an option for our beehives," Strom said.

Too soon to panic

Strom hasn't lost this many bees since 2001, but she isn't panicking. She has a plan to increase the numbers.

"It's called making splits. You take your strong hive, and you rob a few frames of brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) from that strong hive, and you introduce a new queen. And that can get a new hive started."

The new queen bees come from California.

"It may take us a couple of years to recover from this, but I think with time we will hopefully get our numbers back. What becomes critical is if we have two bad years, back to back. And we're hopeful that mother nature's not going to do that for us."

Higher than average losses

"There's some areas that did all right, but the talk out there is that everybody is also experiencing higher than average losses. You know that late cold blast in April, over Easter, was really hard on the bees," said Mike DeJong, a commercial beekeeper and the President of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission. 

DeJong is keeping his eye on the business end of things. He's hoping the weather cooperates and bee numbers recover.

"Most likely the amount of honey produced this year will be lower than average. It doesn't look at the moment like a bumper, but that's a farmer talking," he said.