a glass of wine, because grapes don’t need bees for pollination. They’re self- pollinating.
Chisholm has been around bees all
his life, and says when he moved here a decade or so ago from the Maritimes, the property he bought had a few hives on it. Since his family was in beekeeping, taking care of bees was not foreign to him.
From a hobby, it developed into a business.
Most orchardists are very aware of the need to protect bees while they’re pollinating crops, he noted, and most won’t even spray in adjacent areas when the bees are flying.
In fact, he’s only had one problem with sprays, when a neighbour sprayed and his bees had to fly through it to get back to the hive. “I lost a quarter of them.”
Obviously, the less spraying done the better for bee health, Chisholm says, but most commercial sprayers know enough to be careful.
Mowing down the dandelions prior to bringing in bees is recommended, after their peak bloom period, so bees are not distracted by dandelion flowers, explains van Westendorp.
Good pollination is very dependent on weather because the flowers won’t release the nectar bees need until the weather is warm, so bees will wait for warm weather to fly.
Bumblebees are capable of foraging under more adverse conditions because they are native to the Northern Hemisphere, where they’ve been pollinating plants for tens of millions of years, noted van Westendorp. Although honey bees evolved in a sub-tropical climate, they are better pollinators.
Van Westendorp goes as far as recommending growers take a course on bees so they are more
knowledgeable about what a healthy colony looks like.
“They pay for the use of the colony so they should know what to look for.” A good relationship between the grower and beekeeper is important, he notes. Usually a beekeeper will be proud to show a farmer what it’s all about.
“It’s a question of understanding each other’s needs so as to optimize the opportunity for a productive season,” he explains.
Historically, a beekeeper’s job was simpler, with only a disease called foul brood to worry about.
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However, in 1990, varroa mites were introduced to B.C., and the task of the beekeeper immediately became much more complex. “Beekeeping radically changed. It’s
much more complex. It can stump the best minds keeping them healthy and pollinating,” he comments.
It’s not just the mite itself, although they can kill a colony of bees. It’s the fact that they are vectors for viruses which can harm bees. They can also weaken the bees’ immune systems so they are more vulnerable to viruses,
explains van Westendorp. On Vancouver Island this year, he suspects there could be a problem with the varroa mites becoming resistant to the Apistan used to control them. However, he says there’s a
correlation between late summers when bees keep flying late into the fall, as they did last year, and overwintering losses.
Losses became apparent in January, but the bees themselves likely died the previous fall, he says, so it’s too late to determine why they died.
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