Nfld. & Labrador

Buzz growing over Newfoundland's healthy bee population

The island of Newfoundland is becoming one of the last places in the world where honey bees are thriving.

Island isolation working in insects' favour

The honey bee population on the island of Newfoundland is thriving. (CBC)

The island of Newfoundland is becoming one of the last places in the world where honey bees are thriving because of the island's lack of pests, abundance of wild flowers, and relatively low levels of commercial farming.

Aubrey Goulding says his bee are doing very well with honey production, despite serious problems in bee populations worldwide. (CBC)

"The honey bees in Newfoundland and Labrador are doing phenomenal," said Krista Head, an industry development officer with the province's Natural Resources department. 

"We are blessed here because we don't have a lot of the pests and diseases that the rest of the world is dealing with."

Head said government's most recent research project showed no indication of the verroa mite or the tracheal mite, common predators for bees.

"That's it, for now. Fingers crossed," said Head. "I always say it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. And I'm always prepared  for the phone call that says 'We found it.'"

"But because of the diligence of beekeepers in this province, we've been able to avoid that."

'We've actually got the eye of a lot of jurisdictions around the world.'—Krista Head, N.L. natural resources department

While Newfoundland's beekeeping and honey producing industry has so far been small, with fewer than 1,000 hives in the entire province, Head said researchers in other places have expressed interest in coming to the island to do research. 

"We've actually got the eye of a lot of jurisdictions around the world," said Head. "They're very intrigued at the disease-free status we here in this province. So we're trying our best to keep it that way. And keep the healthy bees here." 

Aubrey Goulding has been beekeeping for 25 years, and he said his two dozen hives near St. John's have been as productive as ever. Goulding owns Paradise Farms — one of only two major commercial honey beekeeping operations in Newfoundland.

"Being an island we don't have the pests and diseases that the beekeepers have with the bees," he said. "Our bees are therefore not fed any drugs, no medications whatsoever. And they are for the most part, eating and foraging for wild flowers."

"That's about as good as it gets for honey," said Goulding, inspecting one of his honeycombs. "It's the right specific gravity, it's the right moisture content, and it'll never go bad".

Bee population facing worldwide trouble

Honey bees are in trouble worldwide, with rates of bee mortality rising steadily during the past decade. In Canada, bee mortality has surged during the past year.

The insects not only produce honey, but pollinate many crops.

"It's very disturbing," said Goulding. "As everybody knows, bees are vital to the food supply, and when you hear beekeepers losing 30 per cent, 50 per cent, some even 90 per cent of their hives, it's very disturbing to hear that, and it's disheartening".

Mass bee deaths have been linked to the spread of mites which feed on honey bees. There has been growing evidence, which links insecticides used on commercial crops to bee deaths.