‘Knockout punch’: Georgina beekeepers predict higher food prices as bees continue to die
Expect to see higher prices, lower supply of berries, melons, apples, pumpkins this fall
June 21, 2022
On a gloomy day, Michael Harris drives to one of his honeybee hives to make sure the new bee colony is taking to their new queen.
“The bees are a little snappy. People get moody with the weather. (Bees) get moody, too,” said the owner of Mike’s Bees in Sutton bedecked in a white mesh beekeeper suit.
He pries open a hive and pulls out a frame that’s buzzing with bees and another that’s near empty.
Over a typical winter, most beekeepers report losing between about 10 and 15 per cent of an entire hive, Harris said.
Harris winterizes the apiaries scattered throughout Georgina with wind tarps and thermal probes to maintain a balmy 95 F degrees inside the hive.
He also started new colonies using a nucleus or nuc -- a frame of comb removed from an established hive littered with a brood at several stages of development, some honey and pollen. Later in the spring, he introduces a new queen bee.
Even with all the winter preparations and years of sustainable and regenerative methods used to keep his hive abuzzing, Harris reported about a 20 per cent loss this year.
He’s one of the lucky ones.
The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association reported on average a loss of about 50 per cent of entire colonies within the GTHA this year alone. Other areas such as Niagara suffered significantly higher losses, with some beekeepers reporting up to a 90 per cent loss.
“A 10 per cent loss over winter is normal,” said Hiveshare owner Chris Campbell, who reported a 30 per cent loss in bees this year.
“It’s very worrisome, especially for pollination, which will be compromised this year. There are not enough bees in North America to cover the losses.”
And bee recovery will take several years before getting back to normal numbers, Campbell added.
“Fingers crossed bees don’t have another terrible winter. It is terrifying what could happen.”
Many fruits such as apples, nectarines, peaches, pears, grapes, melons, squash and berries rely on pollinators such as honeybees to cross-pollinate the seeds in the blossoms.
Without pollinators, no fruit or less fruit will be produced -- honeybees are of great importance to the yield and quality of various fruits and vegetables.
While the lack of bees might not be noticed now, dying bees will be all the buzz when there’s a lack of summer favourites such as blueberries and melons, Harris said.
“There’s really going to be a shortage -- no ifs, ands or buts,” said the retired teacher.
“It’s news, but I don’t want to generate a crisis.
“It's different if farmers came out with 20 per cent of their cattle dead in the field in the spring. But they’re insects. Cattle take years to breed.”
Beekeepers across the province are pointing to two deadly factors -- the cold winter and a mite infestation.
The long, cold winter kept the bees in their hives longer and the lack of a typical January thaw didn’t allow for a cleansing flight, Harris said.
“Bees need a few days of mild weather to allow them to move about in the hive and for a short relief flight outside,” he said. “Like all living creatures, bees sustain many stressors on their health. This winter was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many.”
While mites feasting on the blood and protein of honeybees is not a new phenomenon, coupled with the increased use of pesticides compromising a bee’s immunity to fight off mites with lasting cold temperatures spelled disaster for local beekeepers.
“This year has been a knockout punch that is hard to overcome,” Harris said.
Residents can help lessen the sting, such as by planting native wildflowers and buying locally produced honey.“Dozens of wildflowers will follow in the months ahead that will provide the crucial nectar for Georgina’s bees to make some of the best tasting honey. It’s something we should really take pride in,” Harris said.