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Vancouver beekeepers working to prevent bee winter deaths

There are many reasons bees die over the winter, and beekeepers are figuring out how to keep up their populations

Inside of a beehive at EquiFlora. Photo by Lindsey Lloyd
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Reported by Lindsey Lloyd

With winter around the corner, beekeepers in Vancouver are readying their hives to prevent bee deaths.

Apiculturists, otherwise known as honey farmers or beekeepers, have many different techniques to keep their colonies alive year round, but getting through the winter season is difficult.

Bee deaths have been reducing in recent years

According to a study by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, beekeepers across the country have reduced their winter losses to about 17 per cent of the hives, compared to 33 per cent in previous years.

Bees at the EquiFlora micro apiary. Photo by Lindsey Lloyd

Janne Potter, the owner of EquiFlora micro apiary, said she estimates deaths over winter vary between 10 and 30 per cent.

“When I first started doing this, I would agonize over the loss of a hive but you begin to realize it’s going to happen,” Potter said. “I think the biggest concern going into the winter is that you have enough bees, healthy bees, and that, cross your fingers, your queen doesn’t die in the winter.”

Paul van Westendorp, the provincial government’s apiculturist, said that it is hard to identify a singular cause in the deaths.

Varroa mites cause bee deaths by spreading disease

One major factor in the deaths is the Varroa mite, first detected in B.C. in 1990, according to van Westendorp. The mites transmit dangerous diseases responsible for decimating many bee populations around the world.

“There is nothing more severe and nothing more damaging than Varroa mites in terms of diseases,” van Westendorp said.

Julia Common, co-founder and chief beekeeper at Hives for Humanity, monitors for mites all year long because of their destructive nature.

“The mites end up reducing the immune system of the bee which gives them all sorts of secondary infections,” Common said. “You don’t have a chance in hell if you don’t have mite control.”

Other practices for the winterization of bees include putting boxes filled with water absorbent material on top of hives and covering them to prevent damp weather from intruding.

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