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Bee biz sweet and sour

Providing these very necessary insects is a tricky enterprise, with demand bound to be on a steady increase.

By Judie Steeves

M

ike Campbell sees himself as the thief who steals the bees’ honey. However, he is

responsible, in a sense, for the livelihood of three million essential pollinators of food crops, at the peak of the season.

And, he admits management of bee hives has become much more involved during the past decade or so, with the arrival of varroa mites in British Columbia.

It isn’t just the mites themselves, but also the viruses for which they are the vectors. There are 26 different viruses beekeepers have to be concerned about today.

There didn’t used to be any. Also there are no longer any wild colonies of honeybees around, because the varroa mites have destroyed them. Three years ago, the Abbotsford beekeeper says, he had losses of 80 to 90 percent in his colonies as a result of a varroa mite infestation. One diseased hive can infect all hives of bees from five miles around, he said. All it takes is one careless beekeeper to affect millions of bees, other than his own.

Of even more concern is the aging of beekeepers and the need for more young people to move into the field, notes Campbell.

Although he’s a retired teacher,

JUDIE STEEVES

Mike Campbell with just some of the millions of bees he provides to Fraser Valley farmers.

Campbell says he is one of the younger beekeepers around. Beekeepers and their small charges are going to be in more demand than can be satisfied as more and more blueberry acreage comes into production in the Lower Mainland. Campbell says there are other problems, including the trick of getting bees and flowers in sync with each other each spring.

This year, for instance, following an easy winter there was an early spurt of warm weather, followed by a return to colder temperatures, which caused some spring die-off in his colonies.

Pollination of blueberries is, in itself, a problem as bees need to make eight visits to blueberry flowers in order to achieve pollination. With seven million flowers per acre, that’s

British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2010

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