Meet the Bees — What’s the Buzz All About?

Debra Murphy, 2013

Debra Murphy, 2013

If you are aggravated by puns or organisms belonging to the family Apidae, a warning: this article may bug you. But honey, I’ll try not to drone, if you promise to bee open-minded.

There has been a lot of media coverage on the recent and very controversial propesed two-year suspension of neonicotinoids in the European Union (including Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiametoxam). The interaction between pesticides and bees is a topic I would like to pursue and will in later blog posts, but I think it’s important to first have a general understanding of the industry. So, I visited first-time beekeeper Curtis Hoffmann. I was unsure when he would be back from his eight-hour round-trip to Spruce Grove.

“The bees should be here between 1:00 and 8:00 pm,” Hoffmann had explained, “depending on if their flight gets delayed.”

Oh, the irony. But, actually, the bees didn’t fly in on their own. They arrived in style, aboard a plane from New Zealand.

The bees were transported in a long cardboard tube, a queen bee for each hive. There was plenty of room in the back seat of Hoffman’s truck for all five colonies.

“50,000 hungry, angry bees in my truck, four hours drive, and the warehouse guy tells me not to worry if they’re eating the cardboard tube that holds them captive…,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman is concerned about the effect of neonics on bees, but isn’t ready to rule them out of his operation entirely. He had been interested in seeding winter wheat on the alfalfa field the honeybees are on now, but after doing some research on the seed treatments available, Hoffmann says he definitely won’t be using them on this field.

“[Neonicotinoids] don’t kill bees directly, but they build up their system and mess up their navigational skills and memory, so they can’t find their way back,” says Hoffmann.

Hoffmann sees great potential for producers to diversify their operation with the use of honeybees and alfalfa leafcutter bes, and next year will begin trials to determine whether or not increasing bee population will impact canola yields within their flight zone (related: according to John Gavloski, provincial entomologist with MAFRI, they always do).

Join me in future posts, as I adventure further into the hives, exploring bees’ role in agriculture, Colony Collapse Disorder and the European Commission’s recent moratorium on the three aforementioned neonicotinoids.

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