To bee or not to bee …

Pollinator crisis subsides, but hives not out of the woods yet

  • Sep. 14, 2012 5:00 p.m.
The hives are healthy at Nanoose Edibles Farm in Nanoose Bay

The hives are healthy at Nanoose Edibles Farm in Nanoose Bay

The worst of the crisis in Island apiaries appears to be over for now, but beekeepers aren’t relaxing their guard.

That’s probably a good thing, because as Sol Novitz pointed out at a special pollinators picnic at Nanoose Edibles farm in Nanoose Bay Sunday, there is no shortage of threats just itching to get into the hives.

“There’s always something trying to wipe you out,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s amazing we end up with anything. It’s a big challenge.”

Novitz said the Central Island has recently become home to European fire ants which, from personal experience, he knows can deliver a sting akin to a hornet’s. As well, wood ants love nothing better than to invade a hive and take out one juicy larvae after another. Similarly, wasps have a taste for honey bees and are not shy about harvesting them. Insecticides also pose a problem, with bees succumbing just as readily to the products as the other insects it’s targeting.

The biggest  problem however, is the veroa mite, a parasitic creature that feeds on bee larvae while they’re still developing, resulting in a dramatically less healthy hive, with a resulting crash in population — to the point where an entire hive can be wiped out.

“This was the first decent crop we’ve had in six years,” he said. “The devastation with the mites began in a big way in 2006-07 and that was compounded by a very bad summer for bees — probably the worst on record. The next year wasn’t bad, but nobody had any bees to take advantage of it. Then we had the huge loss in 2009-2010, when 90 to 95 per cent of the bees on the Island were totally obliterated.”

With new miticides and protocols in place, the bees, at least in his Nanaimo apiary, are recovering, but he’s not letting his guard down.