As we enter a time of uncertainty, it is reassuring to watch spring continue in its natural routine. The crocuses are blooming, daffodils are emerging and honeybees have taken flight- the early signs that allergy season is upon us!
At this point in the spring, for us beekeepers, we need to be aware of our winter ‘dead outs’- which hives did not make it through the winter. You may have already taken stock of which hives in your apiary survived and which did not. If we have losses, we always ask, why is winter so tough for our bees?
There are many reasons why winter losses can be so high. Our winters are primarily rainy, and if rainwater enters our hives, our bees get wet and have a hard time drying themselves off- often resulting in mould and the unfortunate death of a colony. Other reasons may include not enough food stores, too small a population to keep the hive body warm, and disease build-up.
Although it is always upsetting to lose a colony during winter, especially after a full season trying our best to ensure the hive is healthy and thriving, it is important to assess why we’ve experienced a colony loss. By assessing our winter losses, we may find that there are preventative measures we can implement for the upcoming season. For instance, if your colony experienced a food shortage, ensure you have the wintering ratio: one box of honey to one box of bees and during breaks of sunshine come February, peek your head in and take note; does your hive need supplement food to get them through to the end of March?
As for disease build up, if you are suspicious that your hive loss is due to diseases such as Nosema or viruses transmitted from Varroa mites, you can send in a collection of bees to our BC Ministry of Agriculture in the apiculture department where they will test the bees for free! (for information on sending lab samples: https://bit.ly/2UHuJ8F). Finding out if your colony loss is due to Nosema is important because Nosema spores will live dormant on your beekeeping equipment awaiting the arrival of new bees. By disinfecting equipment or switching out for new supplies, you are preventing the transmission of disease to your new Spring hive.
By learning from our winter losses, we can make an action plan. How can we better support our bees for the upcoming season and the following winter? Through addressing our concerns, we can then start our upcoming beekeeping season with a renewed sense of confidence with the ultimate goal of setting ourselves up for success. Although, beekeeping may not be for the faint of heart, it is important and nonetheless rewarding. It should be reassuring to know that there is a fantastic network of local beekeepers ready and able to help!
Happy gardening and happy beekeeping!
Rachel Halliwell is a Bee Master Certified beekeeper in the Comox Valley. Her website is www.homegrownbee.ca