Windsor·Video

'Wiped out' southwestern Ontario beekeepers in recovery mode after big winter losses

Beekeepers in southwestern Ontario have a tough year ahead as they recover from big losses in their colonies over the winter.

Infestation of varroa mites caused large numbers of bees to die off over the winter

Nucleus Hive

5 months ago
Duration 2:01
Darryl Walker, owner of Anderdon Bee Co. shows off one of his "Nucleus Hives". He uses hives such as these to recover losses he suffered over the winter.

Beekeepers in southwestern Ontario have a tough year ahead as they recover from big losses in their colonies over the winter.

"Previous years we've been able to deal with it, but last winter it just created a lot more havoc with the bees," said Darryl Walker, owner of Anderdon Bee Co.

He said a big reason for the winter losses is an infestation of varroa mites, brought on by an early spring last season. The parasitic mites weaken the bees and causes a higher number of losses through the winter than usual. It's something being felt provincewide.

Closeup of a varroa mite.
A microscopic image of a varroa destructor, a 1.5-mm mite that lives on honeybees. (File photo)

Walker said he normally loses about five or six per cent during winters, but this year, he lost 40 per cent. Walker said that equated to about 60 hives in his colony, each containing about 50,000 bees. 

"It's going to be a multi-year event to replenish all these bees that were lost."

Walker said is spending money to rebuild using nucleus hives, colloquially known as nucs, to revive his stocks.

"Our hives that survive that are strong, we'll take bees from those hives and then put them into smaller boxes... then we introduce a queen to them."

I don't think any one beekeeper hasn't been affected this year.- Guy Langevin, beekeeper

He said that due to the rebuilding effort, the honey production that would normally start in July likely won't begin until August.

"We'll have a loss this year for sure because of it," Walker said.

Walker said he imports the queens from Australia to start the new hives, adding that many other beekeepers who had surviving bees have been coming by to buy queens from him as they are trying to recover as well.

'A loss position'

In Sarnia-Lambton, losses range much higher than those Walker faced.

"I don't think any one beekeeper hasn't been affected this year," beekeeper Guy Langevin said. 

Langevin runs the Sarnia Bee Group, a Facebook page that promotes beekeeping and the health of bees. He said there are about 150 people signed up, everybody from casual beekeepers to medium- and large-scale producers.

He said his hives saw a 60 per cent decline over the winter, but some saw up to an 80 per cent loss and others lost even more.

"A lot of hobbyists have lost all their hives, so 100 per cent wipe out," he said.

Beekeeper Guy Langevin says he lost about 60 per cent of his bees over the winter, but others saw bigger losses. (Guy Langevin)

Langevin said the larger honey producers will spend a lot of the year rebuilding their hives instead of producing, and that will mean a big financial hit.

"Wiped out," he said. "Most beekeepers will be in a loss position... their production of honey is pretty much decimated."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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