Wendell Honey Faces Challenges After Worst Winter in Decades

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New Bee
Mar 9, 2022
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For Canadian beekeepers the 2021-22 winter was worse than any in recent memory. Winter honeybee colony losses exceeding those of the peak of colony collapse disorder in 2006-2008. (You can read more about the challenges facing Canadian beekeepers here: Canadian Beekeepers Facing Severe Winter Losses - )

Wendell Honey Farm was no exception, facing the worst colony losses since Tim started wintering bees in the 1980s. Tim and the beekeepers at Wendell Honey attribute the severe losses to a perfect storm of factors that include worsening Varroa destructor parasitic mite infestations due to the long, dry summer in 2021, an especially long and severe winter followed by a cold spring, and, most importantly, the rare occurrence of honeydew honey on the Canadian prairies in late summer 2021.

Honeydew honey is the honey that bees make when they forage secretions from aphids, rather than nectar from flowers. It is rare, especially in Canada, and often considered a delicacy. However, honeydew honey is not a good source of winter food for honeybees. In regions where honeydew honey is more common, smaller-scale beekeepers will often remove frames of honeydew honey from beehives before winter, replacing them with a better winter food source. Unfortunately for commercial beekeepers on the Canadian prairies like Wendell Honey Farm, going into each hive to remove frames is not an option – there just isn’t time.

The winter was devastating. Many Canadian beekeepers are struggling to survive. Not only did unprecedented numbers of honeybee colonies die over winter and spring, but the ones that did survive were seriously weakened. A colony needs sufficient “strength” (bee population) in order to produce excess honey for the beekeeper to harvest. The beekeeping team at Wendell Honey Farm faced challenges like never before in trying to bring the decimated colonies up to strength in time for the summer honey flow.

The difficulties didn’t stop there. Every year, we raise new queen bees and nucleus colonies to replace our normal winter losses. To make the nucleus colonies we need some brood (bee larva/pupae). You can see the process in this video. Wendell Honey Farm has 575 hives whose purpose is to donate brood and young nurse bees for making nucleus colonies (rather than producing honey). Of course, these brood-donor hives were also hit hard by the winter, leaving the honey farm with a shortage of brood to make nucleus colonies to replace next winter’s losses. Making a honey crop in 2022 is proving to be challenging!
Great video. Probably not what I was expecting; not a single call for a government handout, just a lot of people with really positive attitudes and determination to keep going.