The relatively cool spring so far will likely mean a late start to the pollination season in the Central Okanagan.
West Kelowna beekeeper Brad Ingram says he doesn’t expect to start sending out hives until mid-April or later. He also predicts he won’t have enough hives to pollinate every orchard that wants them.
“I usually do about 220, but just the way things worked out last year, I’m not going to have quite that many ready this year,” says Ingram. “I could do another 100 easily and have them all go out to pollination, but there’s a lot more to it than just pollination.”
He has been hearing of more hives being lost again this year in western Canada due to a number of factors, including the parasitic varroa mite, which feeds on honeybees.
“It’s happening here and the Prairies. We had our monthly meeting with the North Okanagan Beekeepers last night (Monday), and the provincial inspector was in. He said he’s been to quite a few hives lost this year already, which is pretty unusual,” says Ingram.
That creates a dilemma for fruit growers in the Okanagan, because many rely on beekeepers to ensure they have abundant crops. In recent years, some key operators have retired or quit the business, meaning more bees have to be brought in from outside the area.
The West Kelowna beekeeper also runs Okanagan Beekeeping Supplies. He sees plenty of hobbyists getting into backyard beekeeping, but very few people interested in operating on a commercial scale to aid in pollinating local crops.
He’s been selling a lot of bees to other commercial operators who have lost hives. In fact, he’s nearly sold out of nucs (nucleus colonies).
“Nuc’s are actually our biggest business. We sell more bees. That’s where we get our primary revenue from, rather than pollination,” explains Ingram. “A lot of them end up going to Alberta, the bees we sell to replace their winter losses.
“But pollination, we need more of it here, definitely.”
Ingram points out that wild bees simply aren’t able to pollinate commercial crops the way honeybee operators can.