Amid reports that North American honey bee populations are in grave decline, long-time local apiarist Joe Lomond says that mortality in our area over the past winter was 10–15%, which most apiculturists consider acceptable and sustainable.
“It was an average winter. Touch wood, we haven’t had much trouble with mortality,” said Lomond who, with his wife Marguerite, has operated in the area for 35 years, producing Lomond’s Ashcroft honey. “Some places in the province were as high as 30%.”
Other areas of the country have it much worse. In the spring of 2014, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists reported that it was estimated 58% of the bee colonies in Ontario did not survive the winter. The Ontario Beekeeper’s Association estimates that in the two years before 2014, some 35% of Ontario’s bees were lost each year.
Lomond says that one cause of the mortality is an external parasitic mite called Varroa destructor, which can only reproduce in a honey bee colony. They attach themselves to bees and suck a fluid called hemolymph which circulates inside the bee; by doing so they transmit viruses. A significant mite infestation can kill an entire colony over the winter, and Lomond says he and his wife take steps in the fall to control the Varroa mite. It was a lesson learned after a mite infestation more than 15 years ago wiped out 70% of their 500 colonies. “We didn’t do our homework,” Lomond admits.
Another possible cause of bee mortality, which studies are increasingly bearing out, is the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) on corn, canola, and some soybean seeds. The neonics—meant to stop the spread of worms and other pests throughout crops—are applied to the seeds before planting, which in the case of corn seeds is done by spraying the seeds out of air-pressurized seeders. This kicks up a large amount of dust which contains the neonics, and a massive bee mortality rate in Ontario and Quebec was observed in colonies near recently planted corn fields where the seed had been treated with the pesticide. And since neonics spread through the entire plant that has been treated, including the nectar and pollen on which bees feed, it can be spread to bees in that way.
It’s for this reason that Lomond doesn’t move his bees near where crops that have been treated with neonics have been planted. Indeed, he says that honey bees seem to do better in towns and cities than they do in outlying areas planted with feed crops. “People in towns and cities have more varied gardens, with more flowers that bloom all year round,” he said, which provides the bees with the nectar and pollen they need. He supports the Buzzing Garden seed kit set, containing pollinator-friendly plants (see article below).
“Just don’t spray your garden with pesticides,” he asks. The bees—upon which we rely for as much as a third of our food, because of their pollination—will thank you.