‘The bees just pick up and leave’: Island apiarist loses hives to varying weather and imported queen bees

 

Amanda Ellis holds the biggest beeswax candle they sell at Moonsnail Soapworks & Nature Store in Charlottetown. The Lucky Clover Candles are made with 100 per cent beeswax in Ontario. Beth Atkinson photo. 

Elijah Jory hasn’t been beekeeping for long but when he started finding empty hives he knew something was wrong.

Jory started working for Milk and Honey Farm in Murray Harbour in early September. He’s already found a few hives abandoned by their colonies, he said.

“They look like ghost towns. You go from looking at clusters of bees to nothing.”

He described the bees as mailmen. They deliver pollen from blossom to blossom, which then makes the fruit grow, said Jory.

“Take away the bees and you have no fruit or nectar products.”

As the bee population has decreased, Island apiarists have had to find other ways to pollinate trees.

Before becoming an apiarist, Jory had the job of hand-pollinating the blossoms of the trees at an apple orchard in Alliston.

He worked there for three years making pollination easier for the bees by planting and taking care of the 72,000 trees, said Jory.

“We had to clip off the blossoms by hand.”

Brushing the pollen from one plant to another was the help the bees needed, he said.

“It clicked in that it would be more of a hassle, and in the long run disastrous, if we didn’t find a way to keep them growing.”

Now, as an apiarist, Jory travels to each of the 93 yards from East Point to Hunter River to clear the hives of honey and prepare the next generation of bees, called the brood, for the upcoming winter.

He’s glad he has moved on from working at the apple orchard, but he knows the pollinating has to be done by someone or something, he said.

“I would rather the bees do that.”

Jory isn’t the only beekeeper finding empty hives.

Kenneth Peters is a beekeeper and the owner of Drake Farms Pure Honey Company.

Last year he found a lot of empty hives, but none have turned up so far this year, he said.

“The hive dies out and the bees just pick up and leave.”

One of Peters’ hives can produce 40-80 lbs of honey and he sells each pound for $6. Last year he lost eight of his 10 hives because they had been abandoned, said Peters.

“That’s a pretty big loss.”

It’s partly due to the crazy weather P.E.I. has been experiencing the last few years, but the kind of queens the farmers have been importing is a problem too, he said.

Farmers choose to import their queen bees from California so they can start farming earlier, but those bees lack the natural instinct to swarm, said Peters.

“It’s convenient, but it isn’t doing the population any good.”

Bees bred in Atlantic Canada have that natural instinct, which keeps the colony warm and keeps all the bees alive.

If local beekeepers started breeding their own queens, hives would improve in five years, he said.

“We’d have stronger queens and a stronger hive.”

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