Ontario's honey bees in peril

A tiny parasitic mite, a very tough winter and a cold spring are blamed for significant honey bee colony losses in Ontario.

Both Innisfil Creek Honey in Cookstown and Adam's Honey are feeling the pinch of larger-than-normal die-offs in their hives.

Brian Scott of Innisfil Creek Honey Beekeeping Supplies said he'd lost about 40 per cent of his bees, whereas an annual die-off of about eight percent is average.

However, he said the Canadian average loss this year is 80 per cent nationally.

At the Ontario Beekeepers Association, general manager Melanie Kempers said honey bee losses in Ontario are much higher than what is considered normal for the industry.

"Currently, according to beekeeper reports, the losses in Ontario are averaging 52 per cent. Some regions are seeing even higher losses, like Niagara, Northwestern Ontario and Central Ontario, but the losses are great across the board. It seems that these losses are not restricted to Ontario, but are occurring in many provinces across Canada," Kempers said.

Kempers said losing more than half of the province's bee population is "staggering and unsustainable."

She said the loss of pollination for a variety of fruit, vegetable and farm crops in the province would be detrimental to the yield and quality for plants requiring pollination.

While Kempers can't say what has caused the losses, she said beekeepers must contend with pests and diseases.

Although parasites have been wreaking havoc on beehives since the mid-80s, the harsh winter and cool spring have created an atmosphere many where honey bees have struggled to survive.

"There are environmental aspects, like access to proper food for nutrition and potential exposure to hazardous elements that also play a role," she said.

According to Adam Ritchie of Adam's Honey in Victoria Harbour, the losses are stretching the industry's queen bee stocks.

Ritchie, who raises queen bees, said queens are now in such high demand across the country to help rebuild struggling hives, he has been sold out of them since March.